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

The Legacy
4 min read

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

The Year I Joined a Global Community of Those Left Standing
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Words by:

Ashley Williams

Illustration by:

Words by:

Ashley Williams



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


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.

  • The discussions about the sounds of the wind when it whistles through the power lines were swirling in the air.
  • The memories of past hurricanes we’d faced, and the seemingly small comparison of a category three, hung in the rafters of that porch.
  • The power would likely go out, all agreed, and August certainly is hot in New Orleans.

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

And so we did.

The Calm Before the Storm

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.

  • We felt the winds.
  • We watched the rain fall.
  • We had music playing and food cooking.

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 First Major Blow

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.

  • I remember in slow, silent motion how everyone around me began to sob.
  • I remember fumbling to hold my mother, and tell her that it was going to be OK.
  • I remember, later, watching my dad try to figure out how he was going to completely rebuild his life.

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.

Navigating the Waters of Loss

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.

Compassion as Genetics, and Legacy as Lineage

My Grandfather was an incredible man.

  • He was an Episcopalian Priest that traveled the country speaking at various churches.
  • He was highly revered as a Minister in the church and was a Professor of Preaching at the McAfee School of Theology.
  • He baptized me when I was a baby.
  • He was the kind of man that when he spoke, everyone in the room listened.

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.

  • They make me feel close to him.
  • They make him an accessible resource throughout my life and all the major moments.

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.

Those Left Standing, and What You Do Next

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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Written by Ashley Williams. Ashley is one of our customer experience managers at Eterneva.

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