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Our house during Super Storm Sandy and then after rebuilding

Our house during Super Storm Sandy and then after rebuilding

This past weekend, 11 months and 2 weeks from the day that SuperStorm Sandy devastated our area and destroyed our home, we moved back into our newly renovated and updated house.  It’s gorgeous, if I do say so myself.  The design is updated, everything is NEW and fresh and clean.  Everything is top notch or at least as top notch as we can afford.  We have a new foundation, walls, plumbing, electric, natural gas, paint, design, colors, furniture, bathrooms, kitchen, bedrooms, appliances, etc, etc… it’s truly amazing all that our contractor (Billy Flanzer of Flanzer Construction) and my husband have done to get this place in order.  I will say this:  I am blessed to be surrounded by all this beautiful stuff and to now have a home to enjoy with our family for years to come.

I’m so happy about moving back home that I almost forgot the heartache, stress and physical pain we all endured this past year.  My sense of optimism WANTS me to claim that the storm was a blessing in disguise.  Matter of fact, so many people have said it.  They say, “WOW, you made out after the storm”, “Oh how beautiful your home is, wasn’t this a blessing in disguise”, “We can’t feel sorry for you anymore! Your house is amazing!” or less directly “aren’t you glad you did all the work now?”

However, this pain and suffering is not yet over.  Despite the beautiful home, there are lasting negative effects of Super-storm Sandy that I don’t think I can forget just yet. (Sorry optimists!)  Here’s a few I simply can’t get out of my head…

1.  I have lost my sense of security that if you do the right things, you will be rewarded:  Thanks to the federal government, insurance and mortgage industries my sense of security and trust has been completely destroyed.  As I continue to fight for my insurance settlement, and get lost in unnecessary paperwork, phone calls, incorrect information, etc., they destroy me more and more each day.  This will not go away.  None of their processes, systems or people will change.  It saddens me (and worries me) that other people will have to deal with the same things we’ve dealt with this past year.  I really need to write a book or something to help these poor people!  Unfortunately, since the process and systems only get worse each day, and the people are less and less focused on helping others get through the mess, anything I write will be irrelevant in minutes.

2. My aching back, his cough, the kids’ unhealthy attachment to their toys… they’re all after effects of the storm.  I am physically injured due to stress and falling down the stairs, and then again falling through our broken deck and lifting heavy boxes through the 4 moves we made this past year.  My husband has been coughing since October 30, 2012… the day after the storm.  The mold, dust, exhaustion has gotten to him but unfortunately there is no test to prove it, no “cure” to take.  The only indication is his cough.  It’s constant and almost reflexive.  He doesn’t go 3 minutes without coughing and he’s a 30-something, healthy man.  My kids are confused, they don’t understand nor are as resilient as everyone says they are.  The baby (2 year old) hasn’t lived in one place long enough to know what is home.  She has anxiety when new people are around, she holds onto her “stuff” and is possessive over people taking her toys.  She has to bring EVERYTHING with her when we leave the house.  Now, this may be regular 2 year old behavior… but her night terrors are real, her confusion when she gets out of bed each night searching for mommy and daddy is real.  The 6 year old is more resilient.  She was just so happy to ride her bike again and have her room with all her things.  She’s excited to ride the bus to school again with her friends and have a play date with the kids in the area.  She’s planning fun things but has sacrificed a lot for a little kid. She’s also possessive over little things that she’s collected. It’s almost hording behavior and she won’t give up a thing no matter what compromise we make.

3.  Our financial situation is not pretty.  We’ve always lived within our means.  Both my husband and I work full time (60-70 hours a week) on salary, the kids are in school/daycare/aftercare, we take one vacation a year, focus on saving for retirement, pay our credit cards off each month in full, are never behind on the bills and don’t have to borrow from anyone.  In this past year all those ideals have broken down.  Our life savings is spent, we’ve borrowed A LOT of money, our credit cards are maxed and we’re only making minimum payments.  Yes we invested in our home to make it better than it was before but that all came at a huge cost.  We no longer have our emergency fund and we owe money to so many people that it’s a full time job to track.  I know we’ll get things back in order, but that comes at a cost of my own sanity and our credit score.

Well then, lets get off of this pity party.  We’re “blessed” in that we do have a semi-healthy family, a home to grow in (that is beautiful!) and a lifetime to live.  It was amazing eating our first home cooked meal.  Doing the basic stuff like playing with the kids on the floor or going for a walk down the block make us feel amazing.  I missed this so much.  I really felt my stress level go down the minute we moved back home.

Over the next few months I’ll continue to fight for our money from Wells Fargo, our mortgage company (they’re holding it in escrow), from our insurance company National Flood Insurance Program and from FEMA. We hope we will get grant money from the NY Rising program despite the fact that we make an income.  It took me 3 full days to fill out that application! AND last but not least, we will recover.

Our Family has only just started recovering – our mental recovery will take a while but being home was the biggest and first step in that recovery.  I only hope that others who are still rebuilding, still displaced and still begging for their money from their insurance and mortgage companies get what they need to move forward.

So, thank you to all our friends, family and neighbors who have wished us well along the way.  We are blessed to have you to help us through and hold us up through the difficult times.  I do not ask for your pity, only your support and understanding that going through a disaster like Superstorm Sandy will never really be a “Blessing in Disguise”.  I would much rather have renovated my house within my own means, on a schedule without uprooting my family and financial situation.

No, Sandy was not a Blessing.  But we learned from the experience and are stronger because of it.