Life event

 Life event
Katrina was a hurricane in New Orleans that impacted many people. It was the costliest and one of the five deadliest hurricanes to ever strike the United States.  Its effects were long lasting, more than 80% of New Orleans was flooded, and the flooding and the hurricane winds caused major damages all over. Oil refining in the area was closed due to the damage and this impacted on the oil prices globally. Over 90% of the residents of Louisiana were evacuated which was seen as one of the most successful evacuation of an urbanized area. Nevertheless, many still remained especially the poor and the elderly.

The famous Louisiana Superdome used as the home for those who were left behind in the city. Those who remained in their homes were forced to swim for their lives, or remain trapped in rooftops or other high places. Although, the disaster caused major impacts for a large portion of the population, politics and economy of the United States as a whole, to some peoples this is a lifetime event. The damage and loss of life caused by this massive hurricane in Louisiana and Mississippi were overwhelming; with considerable effects being felt as far as the Florida panhandle, Georgia, and Alabama.

Considering the extent of its impacts, Katrina was one of the most destructive natural disasters in United States history. What occurred during this period lingers in their mind till date and may haunt them till death. Katrina effects cuts across all generations, it had severe effects on the young, adults and the elderly in the society. As a result of this its effects will remain to be felt for a long time. The total number of people affected either directly or indirectly by Katrina was one thousand eight hundred and thirty three. However those who were directly involved were approximately one thousand five hundred across the four states that is Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, with Louisiana recording the highest and Alabama the least.      

Douglas wife, daughter and in-laws lived in the New Orleans area and all lost their lives in the hurricane.  Douglas a middle aged man was faced with a difficult time having lost his wife, daughter and relatives. Tony, a 17 year old male and Melissa a 72 year old granny were all interviewed about how the storm impacted those focusing on their thoughts, perspectives, behavior, reaction and lessons learned.  The hypothesis used by the researcher was: The hurricane will be more disturbing to the older person than the younger interviewee’s based upon a greater fear of death?

The researcher found out that the hurricane was disturbing to all those interviewed. However the hurricane was indeed more disturbing to the old, this can be attributed to the fact that they knew a lot of people who were directly or indirectly involved than the younger ones did. Though all the interviewed had fear over death, the older interviewee showed that she coped up with the death of loved ones than the younger interviewees.

How did you deal with the potential of dying during the hurricane? 

Douglas a 54 year old man says that the potential of being killed by the hurricane still lingers in his mind as if the disaster happened yesterday. According to him he escaped narrowly simply because he could swim in the flooded area. Though he survived he says he would like to forget the experience that claimed the lives of his loved ones. He is however, happy that he survived the disaster that claimed the lives of many. He says he thank his God for saving him during the incident, “I pray every day and night and thank my creator that though I lost my loved ones I am alive and health. Many people were crippled by I can walk and do my work comfortably, so I give much praises to the Most High.”  

Tony a 17 year old man says that the hurricane has made him wiser; according to him most of those who died did not adhere to the evacuation calls. This disaster has taught him a lesson in life that life is more important that the worldly thing. He agrees that the disaster traumatized him and to deal with it he had been going for counseling classes to help him cope with what happened. Above all he says believing in God and asking for comfort from above is the most healing moment.

Melissa a 72 year old granny shares her experience in dealing with the potential of losing her life in the hurricane. She says that together with a group of other old people they share their experiences of the time and they get a reason to celebrate that they are still alive. She has since then joined several groups in her region in helping others deal with the potential of losing their lives in so doing she is in position to feel relieved and gets a reason to celebrate life. 

What did you think of the hurricane?

Melissa says that she thinks that the hurricane was very unfair to them; she argues that it claimed the lives of many innocent people. She prays that such a hurricane never strikes again as it is very destructive and leaves permanent scars. However, according to her it was an act of God and she says that we should not question God for what he has done but pray him for guidance and comfort through difficult time.

Douglas on his side thinks that the hurricane is caused by human destruction on nature. He says that they are to blame for such incidents, because of the prevalent global warming and climatic changes. According to him God created the earth and He does not interfere with nature but mankind interferes with it leading to the occurrence of natural disasters. He also says that the hurricane reminds him of unpreparedness to tackle disaster when they strike. He argues that if there was proper disaster management plans more lives could have been saved.

Tony says that although he believes in God and that such incident was an act of God. He strongly believes that mankind is to blame not only for that incident but for other disasters in other areas. He says that we people have polluted the earth and that’s the reason why people will continue suffering. He says that the young generations are likely to face more hurricanes that might be more devastating. “I believe that we will have a harder time than our fore fathers, but our children will have even more devastating life if the trend does not change.

What emotions did you feel?

Starting his remembrance of the last days of August, 2005, Douglas says, "The story I want to tell today is about my family." Speaking of his wife, daughter and mother-in-law, Douglas says, "The three women in my family have steered my life for the past 59 years, to the man that I am today."Prior to Hurricane Katrina made landfall, the family retreated to Douglas’s mother-in law's house, as they had for many storms. But a look out into the bay behind the house convinced Douglas that the water would rise too high. As he tried to warn his family about the danger, the roof collapsed. Douglas's wife, Linda Allen , 57, and daughter, Donna 35, died, as did Linda's mother, Nadine, 79, and her husband, Edward Gifford, 79. Douglas says that he sheds tears every time he remembers the incident that claimed the lives of his family.

Tony, 17, evacuated their home in St. Bernard Parish just before it was reported that the levees had broken. Tony remembers that their home was flooded and then caught fire that had started next door. When Katrina hit his father was 75 and stayed at home, he suffered a heart attack immediately and was airlifted to hospital. Tony and the rest of the family moved to stay with their elder sister in Alabama. Tony vows he will never leave his new home he fears that the disaster would strike again and that going back will make him live in fear. 

Melissa a 72 year old granny says she spent more than week in the Superdome. The Superdome was meant to be a refuge, a temporary shelter before those trapped in New Orleans could be evacuated. However rather than resisting the storm, Melissa says, "The roof literally looked like an eggshell. It started to peel. And you could hear the wind." The floodwaters rose all around the Superdome, basically trapping those who wanted shelter there. But, Melissa says, "The people never stopped coming in." Melissa says, "All I wanted to do was let you know I wasn't dead, I was alive." "The whole thing felt like a really bad dream," Melissa says. "I remember just feeling like I just reached the end of my life," Melisa recalls. When she was finally evacuated "That was the happiest day of my life," Melissa says.

How did your behavior change?

Melissa says that since Katrina hit her life has changed completely she has now got the courage to face the odds in life. “Life is not always about wining and dining it has its ups and downs, I am now usually ready for anything that may come along”. Melisa says. She further says that she has learned to thank the Almighty each day she wakes up. She has also give much of her life in serving the needy and contributing for charities.

Tony on his part says that he creates awareness among his peers on the need for change to cope up with the current climatic change. Since then he has also enrolled for a course in disaster management. He says that he would give his life serving others and helping prevent such occurrences where possible. On his part Douglas says that his behavior has changed on the way he valued material things. He says that accumulating earthly wealth is not a toll order in his life any more; to him there is more to life.

A life event such as the one discussed, causes major implication in the lives of many people irrespective of their age. Various intergenerational theory help understand how a life event impacts on their reactions, perspectives, attitude and behavior. According to Cassel (2001), one such theory is disengagement whereby the older person disengages from the society and the society disengages from the person. In our situation the older individual does not fully disengage from the society but does not seem focused on any long term plans. However, the young individual lays blame on the older generation (Cassel, 2001).

The other theory is on successful aging and life-span models are moves towards to living and developing for older adults that is empowering and reflect the facts of growing older and not the myths of aging. Life span models of development are a way for older individuals to reflect on the past and look positively toward the future. Feminism has informed us as to the oppressive nature of dominant society and its ageism. On the other hand, theories of successful aging highlight the strengths of growing older, ways to maximize personal health, and benefits of an intergenerational approach. 

Fry  (1992), argues that other dominant theories on aging included continuity and activity theories, Activity theory was grounded in a longitudinal study done in Kansas by Robert in which 300 people were interviewed over a six-year period. Activity theory maintains that in order for an individual to successfully age they need to remain as active as possible in middle-age activities. When roles are lost through widowhood or retirement, activity theory would suggest that substitution and adaptation of new roles would be imperative to a successful aging process.

Another applicable theory, continuity theory, suggests that a well-integrated personality is the key to successfully ageing. Continuity theory contends that our personalities and core values intensify with age. In other words, a person’s satisfaction with ageing will depend on how well they continue to entertain personality traits and values rather than changing their lifestyles to match the norms prescribed by society. There is still much about older individuals that is assumed and generalized by society (Lynott,  & Lynott, 1996). For example, myths such as declines in mental capacity after middle age and the inability of older persons to work effectively have contributed to the way we perceive and treat older populations. Ageism, like sexism or racism, has hindered our society and our fastest growing population.

From the above interview it is evident that similar life event causes different attitudes, perspectives, behavior and reaction of the different individuals. Various intergenerational theories have been used to explain or rather to understand human behavior. It has been noted that every generation reacts differently to the impacts of live events. According to some theories the older individual tends to disengage from the society and the society also disengages from them (Schroots, 1996). However, other theories suggest that the life span models of development are a way for older individuals to reflect on the past and look positively toward the future.

Cassel, C. (2001). Successful aging: How increased life expectancy and medical advances are changing geriatric care. Geriatrics, vol. 56, (1), pp. 35-46.

Fry, P. (1992). Major social theories of aging and their implications for counseling concepts and practice: A critical review. The Counseling Psychologist, vol. 20, (1), pp. 246-329.

Lynott, R. & Lynott, P. (1996). Tracing the course of theoretical development in the sociology of aging. The Gerontologist, vol. 36, (2), pp. 749-760.

Schroots, J. (1996). Theoretical developments in the psychology of aging. The Gerontologist,        vol. 36, (1), pp. 742-748.
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