Hurricane Katrina Seven Years Later: The Role of Gratitude and Social Connectivity
TLC GUEST BLOGGER: Barb Dorrington, MEd
Hurricane Katrina changed our society. Our sense of complacency fell unguarded, while we watched reports of survivors being left without food and water, living in shelters, and sometimes looting to survive. After eight debriefing trips over three years, I watched the struggle to survive first hand.
Katrina also changed me as a trauma debriefer. Not long before Katrina, I had just completed another level of training with TLC. Debriefing in a large-scale disaster location requires a unique skill set and is different than debriefing a single incident trauma, the kind that often happens in a school, agency or business setting. Armed with organized protocols and learning about large-scale disasters, I was able to make a real difference, along with another trained debriefer, Barb Desjardins. We were new at this, and sometimes we telephoned back to TLC for advice.
Fast forward to this 7th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I asked survivors how their lives have changed. “What are you grateful for since Hurricane Katrina?” Many factors influence how resilient a person is, including neurobiology.
One woman in her 80s was grateful for her house being spared. She offered Sunday dinners, complete with white linens and crystal, for friends who were not so lucky. Seven years later, she still hosts dinners and the linens and delightful food still appear. She is grateful for connection. A man in his 50s notes that he felt guilty when a casino seeking land bought his destroyed home for more than 10 times its value. His daily acts of kindness helping others make him appreciate family and friends.
What of the younger people and their families? One 23-year-old woman has completed a degree and is raising a baby with the help of her family. Her home is currently being built after a long battle with government as to whether the cyclonic winds did the damage or whether the water from the levee break was to blame. This family tried to live in the condemned house, but toxic mold made it unlivable. The woman does not focus on this. She is grateful for the love of her family, her community and her church. Triggers remain such as the Green Day song called, “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” a song that played repetitively right after the storm. She is grateful for her toddler’s laugh and plans to become a doctor.
Seven years ago, I watched survivors teach younger children how to play basketball outside a shelter. Seven years later, I watch a Louisiana friend come to terms with the news her ex-husband conspired to have her killed. This was a man hailed as a hero for saving the lives of people and had wrongfully been jailed as a looter himself. The toll on this family was huge, but the woman, now in hiding, talks calmly about how her life dramatically changed after the storm. She was cut off from supportive social contact, but once again she has found her voice and speaks out on domestic abuse. She is grateful for just being alive and being able to hug her children.
Gratitude can be practiced as well as experienced. Dr. Robert Emmons, a California psychologist, researches gratitude and has discovered that either journaling about gratitude or writing a letter of gratitude in appreciation and then reading it to that person can change one’s health and level of happiness. Katrina survivors have learned this first-hand.
As for me, I still rely on TLC programs and annual training. TLC has become a frontrunner in training responders to be on the front lines of disasters, including the tsunami that affected Japan and 9/11, as well as a recent tornado in Goderich, Canada. I am grateful for the connection and community support of TLC. Such training continues to be timely, given the recent rash of mall and school shootings. TLC continues to offer leading-edge training and resources to communities all over the world. With that commitment to helping victims of trauma, TLC and its certified professionals will continue this wonderful and much-needed work.