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Archive for July, 2013

mom

There’s no place like home.

In the summer of 2011 Victor was planning a 57th anniversary extravaganza for his bride. Vic’s rather intense focus on this event gave his family pause. Did he know something that they did not?

In his retirement Vic spent the hours of his day weaving together better lives for his children, grandchildren and his wife Joan. Whether the focus was a particular job market, insurance policy or recently enacted labor law, Vic stayed versed to ensure his best advice was shared. He was an intellectual jack of all trades and a rock for his family.

In the summer of 2011 Joan spent her days selling real estate along the Jersey Shore. When not showing a property, possibly to the son or granddaughter of a long ago client, Joan could be found perched on her back deck. Calling over the railings to one of her beloved neighbors, or dropping a crab line with visiting family, in these moments Joan’s life was content.

The following April, Vic would be taken from Joan. His diligence in all things, including his health had enabled Vic to reach his 80th year, but not beyond. Joan, a strong and independent woman, was left to find her new norm. Her large pool of family and friends bolstered her on.

October 2012 rolled around. The flood of family and seasonal neighbors tapered off as summer fun turned to school and commitments. Though still grieving, Joan rallied. In the six months since her husband passed she joined clubs, made some new friends and did her best to engage life. Though the effects of a degenerated back limited her physicality, Joan’s hardworking mindset and headstrong spirit, would yield not to the morose.

Hurricane Sandy hit and entire lives were washed away. Whether a 1950’s bungalow on Long Beach Island to a 1920’s multi-family in Staten Island, as is the case with mass devastation, neither class nor structure had the upper hand.

When Joan returned home it was determined her entire 1st floor would need to be gutted. Into the dumpster went sheet rock and wood floors, wedding albums and furniture. Even the special couch she and Vic had recently picked out together, held hands on in his final months, was gone.

Lagoon muck layered the deck and exterior walls of Joan’s home. Other homes were overtaken by sand. Evergreens and carefully tended gardens would later succumb to the salt water that had penetrated their roots.

Within a week black mold began its ascent on closet walls within Joan’s home. Stagnant water, caught in venting and crawl spaces, was quickly becoming a hazard. Communities scrambled to find contractors to remediate, to rebuild. Residents followed directives best possible as they searched through damp paperwork and for places to live. The weather turned cold and slowly, as winter pressed forward and holiday celebrations were impossibilities, yellow marks denoting demolition began appearing on house after house. Permanent and secondary residents scrambled to determine coverage, if any. Food trucks and shelters provided a meal or roof for those dazed by life altering conditions and who had no other doors open to them.

Joan began her life as a gypsy. Living a combination of thankfulness for her blessings and fury for her loss, she adopted the mantra that this ‘too’ shall soon pass. She was required to sign a contract in the mist of chaos that locked her in with a construction firm. They promised fast remediation and a rebuild by March. Chin up Joan reasoned, ‘March, I can do that.’

Joan was living on a fixed income. Sporadic sales from real estate, in such a depressed market, were little help. However, her Vic had crafted solid home owners and flood insurance policies years prior to his death. When he weighed financial implications, should one of them grow ill or pass, after months of research he signed a reverse mortgage. The insurance coverage was a Godsen for Joan. Too many permanent residents, elderly retirees, low-moderate income families and other, have nothing tangible to rebuild their lives.

As neighborhoods and memories were leveled, properties were reassessed and nest eggs cracked. Those whose retirement was supported through the years of hard work and equity built into their homes, were and are, in dire straits. A depressed housing market compounded by the crushing effects of Sandy knocked years of eligibility off reverse mortgages. In all of the fine print banks do not have an allowance for ‘Acts of God’ that might impact their elderly client base.

March turned into summer. It became apparent that processing the necessary permits and hustling for permanent residents was not the priority. This was partly due to the chaos but no doubt impacted by money and individual aggression. Companies hired inexperienced laborers to keep up with the volume while people like Joan waited in their temporary housing, waited to restart their lives.

Joan’s experience was riddled with one mistake after another. Out of state insurance adjusters, temporary hires that have since moved on, instructed remediation companies on how to proceed; what to rip out and how high to go. Seven months later these many costly directives never made it to files and subsequent insurance payout. Companies like Comcast, whose services were wiped out for months, created SOPs for customer’s post Sandy. Many people, like Joan, who were dealing with matters far greater than cable and internet, did not know to follow these directives. Though her home was uninhabitable and her suffering enormous, when recently asked to waive, mitigate or credit the 8 months of bills Joan paid out for unused services, she was declined. She did not follow the ‘SOP’ as explanation…but ‘let me save you some money on your triple play package moving forward!’

Joan moved back in the last week of June. She would reside on her second floor, step over the exposed wood stairwell and bare the heat, as her air conditioning was not yet replaced. She would use a mini fridge in a spare bedroom since the electrical was not completed on her main floor and because of insurance mishaps and the dragged feet of her contractor, her kitchen would not arrive for perhaps another 6 weeks.

Upon returning home she learned the electrician was fired. Shortly thereafter the general contractor was fired. All of electricians work would need to be reviewed or redone. Workers erroneously covered over electrical boxes and vents with sheetrock, and these issues would need to be addressed as well. Joan was exhausted, but elated to be in her home finally. To look out over her still messy post Sandy yard and see the smiles from her neighbors alongside and across the lagoon, was heaven to her. She would have her new norm back, soon.

The day after she returned home, a health issue sent Joan into the hospital. Four days later she was back in her house and now in addition to the debacle of an unfinished home, she had significant health concerns to tackle.

Joan’s family, seven children and their many spouses and children, have stayed by her side throughout this ordeal but maybe no one has been on watch more than her husband Vic. A day following her ‘second’ return home, with temperatures in the 90’s, workers shuffled around her upper attic. That evening Joan and two of her daughters, following some card games and laughter, headed to bed after midnight. Joan fell asleep in minutes but her daughter Pat, lying in bed beside her, noticed something was not right. The ceiling above them was open. An entire seam, extending wall to wall was bowed and the darkness of the attic above exposed.

Pat jostled Joan awake and they headed to the first floor. Early in the morning the ceiling fell down directly on the bed, where Joan would have slept. Though this event may not be the fault of current laborers but rather poor construction choices by the original builder, compounded by heat, Joan has yet another issue to address.

The one place not impacted by Sandy was Joan and Vic’s bedroom. Surrounded by their ‘things’ she felt a peace sleeping in this space, a sense of comfort she had not felt in too many months. Through the watchful eye of one of his children, it’s believed Vic was looking out for his Joan.

Recently, two friends were discussing the new ‘Stronger than the Storm’ slogan. They felt, with people still homeless and struggling on so many levels, it was too early to promote tourism and depict a rebuilt shoreline in advertisements being played along the east coast. I see their point but do not agree. Tourism, for these shoreline communities is imperative. For many who will visit these locations and see Sandy’s devastation for the first time, their awareness may help to aid the job still very much at hand. ‘Stronger than the Storm,’ depicts the people, like Joan, who love their communities and who remain strong and optomistic these many months later.

When asked about her most recent encounter, Joan’s reply was, ‘at least I’m alive.’ Joan is not a complainer. She’s the strongest woman I know, my mom.

Do you need help post Sandy?
http://www.nj.gov/dca/divisions/sandyrecovery – up to usd10,000 available for non construction costs incurred by Sandy impacted (cost of living/ incidentals etc). Pass the word.

How you can help:
http://www.strongerthanthestorm.com
contact@sandyrelieffund.org or visitwww.sandyrelieffund.org

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