A Bully Called Ian by Niamh McAnally

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Niamh McAnally

He came from the south, this bully called Ian. Like most bullies, the less resistance he encountered along his path, the bigger the monster he became. It was 28 September 2022. My husband, Gary, and I had just flown back from my book tour in Ireland. For the previous six years we had lived on our forty-foot sailboat, Freed Spirit, cruising the Caribbean. Now, back in North America, we watched the TV in horror as Hurricane Ian took aim at our first home on land. Not just ours but at hundreds of thousands of homes across the State of Florida. For our neighbourhood, in Punta Gorda, he reserved the meanness of his eye wall, the wall that contains his strongest winds. During the hours we waited for his inevitable wrath, the phone rang. Twice. One call delivered words of comfort, the other not so much:

“Do you have insurance?”

A well-intentioned comment, I’m sure, but, in that moment, unhelpful. After all, the soon-to-be storm victim either has insurance or they don’t. Trying to bind a policy when the storm is big enough to have been named is futile. That question just adds to that person’s anxiety. To those who have insurance, it suggests how little the well-wisher understands what they are going through. It’s a bit like saying to a grieving widow “Ah well, he’s in a better place.” Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t, but it doesn’t ease her sorrow. Yes, an insurance reimbursement cheque covering a loss (minus a hefty deductible) can ease the financial burden of rebuilding some far off day in the future. But it does nothing to take away the emotional toll they’re experiencing as Ian comes storming at them bringing flood waters that could swallow their house whole. And, having been mandatorily evacuated, how long before they’ll know the outcome, or be allowed to return?

In the days and weeks that are to come, a cheque doesn’t turn the power back on, or insure clean running water. It doesn’t prevent the mould growing up the inside of walls that once displayed family photos, or clear away the piles of sawn up trees and rotting vegetation that pollute the air with a fetid stench. Nor does it restore internet, TV or reliable cell service, or put food in the supermarkets, petrol in the stations.

When curfews are lifted and roads are passable, even the savvy driver can get lost on their way home. Gone is the oak tree, mango or palm where they used to turn left. Street signs lie in the ditches. Displaced roofs, collapsed seawalls and mutilated boats further distort the landscape. Unlike other bullies who retreat when pushed back, where the victim regains control, there is no pushing back mother nature. Instead, there continues a feeling of powerlessness.

So, no. None of these returns to “normal living” are speeded up by a cheque in the mail. With widespread demand following a natural disaster, storm victims know it could be weeks before an adjuster can come, and months or even years before contractors are available to rebuild. Where are they going to live in the meantime?

Communities will come together, neighbours helping neighbours. But just beneath the surface, right behind the eyes, you’ll see the constant bubbling of stress. No matter the damage to someone’s house, minimal or catastrophic, it’s a violation of their home. It creates vulnerability. Hearing “it could have been worse” is another comment that doesn’t help. They know it could have been worse. There is always someone else worse off. Now they face the secondary storm where gratitude and survivor guilt collide.

So how can you comfort someone who is affected by something out of their control? What do you say during the days of dread or later in the aftermath of a disaster? My suggestion is to just listen. Ask how they are feeling. Validate their emotional responses no matter what they are, and, where possible, offer practical help. The other call Gary and I received the day Hurricane Ian bullied our town did just that: “We’re thinking of you, can’t imagine what you must be feeling. But know this, if you need a place to stay our home is yours. We’re here for you.”

(c) Niamh McAnally

Author photograph (c) Gary Krieger


About Flares Up: A Story Bigger Than The Atlantic

Flares Up

Flares Up is a true story of adventure, tenacity and the capacity of the human spirit to triumph over adversity. Firefighter Paul Hopkins, 55, survives a brain haemorrhage. The experience motivates him to undertake the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge – to row 3,000 miles across the Atlantic. He teams up with entrepreneur Phil Pugh, who is aged 65 but renowned for undertaking extreme physical challenges in honour of his disabled son. They encounter major financial and physical setbacks, which cause years of delays and put a strain on both their marriages. Finally, on 12 December 2019, in a fourth-hand 20ft wooden boat, they set off from the Canary Islands. Violent storms, 30ft waves and equipment failure leave both men seasick, dehydrated and sleep-deprived. Alone on the ocean, they are forced to examine their lives. Was the decision to undertake this challenge brave, selfish or foolish? After 70 days, nine hours and 11 minutes at sea, they cross the finish line, two changed men. Will either of their wives be there to greet them?

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Niamh McAnally, The Writer On The Water, is an Irish-born adventurer and author of Flares Up: A Story Bigger Than The Atlantic. Her short story ‘Haul Out’ about how she and Gary coped when ports closed all around them due to the pandemic, is featured in the anthology A Page from My Life, and she has been published in various magazines.

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