Renowned American poet, the late Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Heart-wrenching was the mournful screams and tearful tributes by grieving relatives of Hurricane Dorian victims in Abaco, who together with local funeral director Denelee Penn-Mackey, held a candlelight memorial this past Sunday in honor of their missing and deceased loved ones.
Hundreds of Abaconians and Bahamians from across the country attended, but noticeably absent were the island’s MPs and members of Cabinet – a signal of a level of disconnect in the aftermath of Dorian which has created wounds that may not heal.
That the event was not organized by the government is immaterial.
What is salient is that families of the deceased and those presumed dead – whose wishes should always be honored and reasonably accommodated – chose to hold a public and publicized memorial service open to all who wished to join with them in their time of mourning, reflection and desperate search for closure.
It was a cornerstone moment in the aftermath of the deadliest hurricane in our nation’s living memory and an important moment for an island torn asunder by indescribable loss; one which ought to have received support via attendance by the island’s representatives and those charged with leading our nation and overseeing Abaco’s recovery and reconstruction process.
It is no secret that many Abaconians are disappointed with the government’s post-Dorian response and what strikes at the heart of their disappointment, even above the lack of resources and on-the-ground efficiency by the state, is the feeling they say they have been left with, which is that their government is disconnected from their pain and does not care about the struggles on their storm-torn island.
In numerous articles by this newspaper, Abaconians have echoed the refrain of feeling abandoned by their government – the kind of wound that exacerbates their immense sense of loss, since the fundamental role of any government is to protect and provide for its citizens.
No greater a disconnect could be seen on the day of the memorial than a press conference held in the capital by the Disaster Reconstruction Authority, where its Managing Director Kay-Forbes Smith announced plans for the burial of over 50 unidentified bodies in a refrigerated trailer in Abaco and a national service for the families of those missing and presumed dead.
Smith said of the planning process, “During this process, the Christian council and morticians association will meet with family members of people presumed deceased to discuss any special considerations and concerns they may be having regarding the burial.”
The obvious special considerations and concerns for families would be that due to the painfully frustrating process and bureaucracy encountered in seeking to determine the identity of bodies housed in a refrigerated trailer in Abaco, many do not know for certain whether their loved one is in the trailer at all.
It seemed lost on officials that a bereaved family member will likely be that much more traumatized and distressed by being asked to participate in a service held by the state in a few weeks time, when they have yet to obtain closure from the state on the identity of the remains set for burial.
Moreover, to announce a national service just over an hour before families were preparing to say farewell to their loved ones at a public memorial, suggested two separate and alternate realities in existence in the aftermath of Dorian.
In the first reality, surviving victims are struggling to rebuild their lives and in the other, politicians who are no doubt wary of ongoing criticism, are seemingly trying to build political capital and build walls to shield against the darts of public disaffection.
Dorian has understandably stretched the government and its resources and even with the best of intentions, shortcomings will occur.
But it has been insensitive public statements, exploitative and divisive government policies and an apparent lack of government cohesion that have have added insult to the storm’s injury both in Abaco and in Grand Bahama.
We can rebuild buildings and infrastructure, but the wounds of Dorian victims who feel abandoned cannot be bound up by brick and mortar.
And a sincere atmosphere for healing must be facilitated, because if the wounds of Abaconians and Grand Bahamians cannot heal, the nation cannot heal.