The Year I Lost Everything, and Joined a Global Community of Those Left Standing

23 Sep 2019 - Ashley Williams, Customer Experience Manager, Eterneva


I am a child of Katrina. Fifteen years ago, this was my life:

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In August 2005, I was 12 years old and sitting on our porch with my mom and the neighbors, debating whether or not we were going to evacuate.

I told my mom that I just had a bad feeling and would like to evacuate if possible.

And so we did.


Gas stations were already running out of fuel by the time we evacuated, making lines for gas hours long. The highways and interstates were backed up, too, and it took 8 hours to go 60 miles. Traffic went along at a pace of dead stopped.

I panicked plenty of times on drive, worried for my father who wasn’t going to be able to evacuate until the last minute. He barely made it out before they shut down the highways.

Sixteen hours later, my mom and I finally made it to Lafayette, Louisiana where my mom was raised and has friends and family. We settled in, watching the news and waiting for the hurricane to hit.

It was such a fun night before the tragedy hit, and I went to bed full of food and life, the Louisiana way.

When I woke up, my whole world was changed.


The levees had broken, and the news helicopters were flying by my house. There it was on national TV –– my entire life and everything I had known was underwater.

My school, my home, my life was destroyed.

It was in those moments that I knew everything had changed –– that I felt it at a guttural level. But as they say in the south, bad news comes in multiples, and there was more headed our way.

Three days after the hurricane hit, I received a phone call. My grandmother was on the other line –– and I was excited to hear her voice, to feel a sense of family and normalcy despite our deep grief at our material loss.

We made brief small talk and then, she told me that my grandfather had passed away.

He battled cancer for a long time, but with a stem cell transplant he entered into remission. He was cancer free, and supposed to be fine.

And yet, his weakened immune system couldn’t’ battle the stress of the storm and a common cold. He died cancer-free in the days following Louisiana’s most historic tragedy.


My Grandfather was an incredible man.

His stories enthralled all, and his ability to connect with every individual, even when speaking to large crowds, is one thing I remember most.

Beyond speaking, he also wrote, and published several books that helped so many. In one of those books, Tracks of a Fellow Struggler, he wrote about losing his daughter to Leukemia at age 10, and the effects that grief had on his life from then on. In short, it tore his life apart, and later, helped glue it together.

“…if we are willing, the experience of grief can deepen and widen our ability to participate in life. We can become more grateful for the gifts we have been given, more open-handed in our handling of the events of life, more sensitive to the whole mysterious process of life, and more trusting in our adventure with God.” – Tracks of a Fellow Struggler

Reading his books during my own struggles have helped me cope.

Every time I read his books, I hear his voice and feel his warmth. He is there with me in those moments.

And he is always a part of my life because he is a part of me, and the lessons he taught me in his life and through his life’s work –– unconditional love and unyielding compassion –– remain foundations of who I am.


That year was hard. It really sucked.

I don’t know what life I would have led without Katrina. I don’t have the rosy 20/20 vision looking back that sees it all as a blessing in disguise. I’d prefer, even today, if it wouldn’t have happened.

I think so many who grief deeply, whether it’s the loss of all your things, the items which make you feel grounded, which prove your existence, or the loss of a loved one who built your internal moral compass and changed your world for the better –– you grieve that loss forever.

The saving grace in storms both physical and emotional, I’ve found, are those left standing with you. My extended family and our friends helped pull us through a dark time, a year in which we felt we lost nearly everything.

Their unyielding compassion and unconditional love proved that my grandfather was only a vehicle for inspiration, but that the spirit of help and connection lives within us all.

This is why I am at Eterneva, because Eterneva is for the living.

It is for the those who are left standing. It exists to uncover the compassion and the love, to bring small moments of joy to the forefront, even when you don’t want them, and definitely when you don’t expect them. As resources, as support systems, as a ray of light in otherwise desperate times.

This is what I want to give back to the world.

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