The Stages of Flood Grief

I am almost back to my normal pleasant personality. The smile isn’t quite there yet, but I am taking things more good naturedly, seeing the humor in things, hugging and breathing in the love all around me and appreciating it all.

My life is good. I can’t lose sight of that.

As someone with psychology training, I know that there are stages of grief following a loss. If you read my Huffington Post piece, the first commenter – an unknown person named Mar Wilson was dead on with this assessment of my loss:

“Although you didn’t lose a family member, you lost the second most important part of your life. You lost your home, the place where you go to be safe and loved. You grieve that loss as you would any other and it is important that you grieve. Yes, “stuff” can be replaced but, nonetheless, it was your stuff and you loved it. The road ahead is indeed a long one and strangers will be going in and out of the structure in what will seem like an unending line. You will have hundreds of decisions to make but, in the end, it will be up to you to make this structure your home once again. I know exactly how you feel right now. I was flooded twice in Houston, the first time my home was less than six months old, and it is nothing short of a nightmare you think will never end; however, it does end and you will once again find your home is safe and you are loved in it. Watch your health, eat well and take care of yourself! Best wishes!”

Yes, I lost my home. Not my house, but the place where I made a warm comforting environment for me and my family, where I loved to celebrate holidays and entertain, where I welcomed my elderly dad to live when he couldn’t live on his own. So of course I grieved.

I also grieved for my entire neighborhood. I live in an area called Meyerland, and if you look it up in Wikipedia, you can read all about this wonderful place to live. (I am even one of the references from a Houston Chronicle story.) It is a little slice of surburbia within the Houston city limits, where neighbors aren’t strangers, they are close friends. If you go to the store, you are bound to bump into bunches of people you know. It is a friendly, gorgeously tree filled, custom large and luxurious home filled, convenient place to live. It is dangerously close to bayous, but just about every place in Houston is close to bayous – it is like Louisiana – you can’t avoid them. As John Fogerty sang, my children were “Born on the Bayou.”

After this flood, my entire Meyerland was decimated. It looked like a war zone, because as far as the eye can see, there are piles of rubble outside of homes.

Flood piles

Up and down, street after street, there are work trucks and piles of rubble. Although we are not finished, ours is this:

Flood pile

Aside from discarding half of our house and contents, we must sort through, document everything lost, fill out tons of paperwork, and pack the remainding belongings into boxes so contractors can come in and rebuild. What a living nightmare.

So yes, I grieved. At first I walked around like a zombie in denial. I am a type A do-er, but I couldn’t get into motion, and I even joked about it. Then after denial came sadness. I cried constantly. When someone came over to hug or cheer me, I cried. When I looked around at my now rubble filled home, I cried. When I looked around at my neighbors piles, I cried. When someone brought me something or did something nice for me, I cried. I was sleepless and cried out.

Next came anger. I was snippy with everyone. I couldn’t take a joke anymore. I lashed out at people, even people helping me, even my son and husband. I wanted to know WHY. I wanted answers as to how the city could let this kind of disaster happen. Grrrr, I was fit to be tied.

Somehow, miraculously, after a night’s sleep (on a sleeping pill) the clouds lifted and I began to enter the last stage today – acceptance.

In other words, this happened and there is no undoing it. This is still what I have to sort through, organize, discard and document or pack away:

Flood Stuff

We brought Dad back and we were a little worried how he would deal with the utter chaos of our home. Yeah, didn’t need to worry about that. He is accepting too and looks like this:

Dad in flood

(As long as he has his tv, the remote, and some snacks, he is good to go.)

Not only did I enter the acceptance stage, I am now getting things done. I have angel teams coming in to help me pack away 30 years worth of stuff in 4300 square feet. I have meals delivered, people looking after us, helping in any way possible. It is still the Houston I love so much because of the Houstonians. The people here are just incredible, and my friends and acquaintances even more so. I am a natural giver – it is hard to keep receiving, but under these circumstances I am learning to do it gratefully and graciously.

Plus, we met with the builder today. Although I already had a modern renovated home, it will be even more renovated, fresher, and better when we are finished- if we can navigate past the rules and requirements and permits and regulations to get the work done. This is the red tape that is still unknown. Will  I get it done exactly the way it was, or change some things if we get approval to start rebuilding?  The creative side of me, the one that designed this home and decor and others before it, is excited about that.

Not that I needed new projects. I am pretty tapped out with work, writing, parental care, and the like. But I will take each day as it comes and muddle through this mess like I have any time before that I was tested. There is a whole new level of exhaustion from this process that defies describing. I am strong, thank G-d and I will survive. I only hope all of my neighbors and friend fare well too. We will rebuild this great place to live and restore it to its former glory.



  • Maya Hassanieh

    You are inspiring many people around the world … Sharing your personal thoughts , experiences , problems , conflicts , and hard times etc.. have a huge impact on every person who reads your blogs .
    You’ve actually helped me in hardships especially when you talked about love and how eventually we don’t end up with the ones we love … Life assuredly isn’t a fairytale but at least sharing our harsh times and personal experiences with others is a great relief to everyone .
    May God be with you and bless your family

  • Arlene, I can see you rebounding as you write this. This will pass. It is already passing.
    You are going to be fine.

  • Neat article Arlene. It captured everything I’ve been feeling too. This too shall pass

  • You are amazing. This was your home, not a house. But your loving touches and memories will
    make it a new home.

  • Jane ginsburg

    my thoughts are w u and ur family!!!! You sound like your on a good path!!!

  • Arlene, my heart breaks for you! Although I haven’t personally dealt with a flood, I helped flood victims in Yardley, PA a few years back, when they were hit by the Delaware river. I’ll never forget the devastation and the smell. I pray for great strength, patience and good sleep for you and your neighbors as you go through this horrible ordeal. Hugs! Liz

  • Patrice Granaldi

    Head in the sand! I am so sorry Arlene. I know your moving forward and I also know your strength. You are a survivor above all. I know you don’t need anything from me, but should something pop up that I can help with from my corner of the world don’t hesitate to ask. Patrice.

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