“Rain, rain, go away,” my grandmother would sing whenever the skies began to thicken, darken, and then release a torrent of raindrops. “Sing it with me doll-girl. ‘Come again some other day.’”
At six, eight, ten, thirteen, I was not afraid of storms, and even loved the electric crackle of lightning, and the distant (and not-so-distant) booming of thunder, which I imagined as a conversation among mythic figures, like the Greek gods and goddesses I read about in stories. As recently as 2019, I got excited when a storm bore my name, though of course I feel horrible about the damage caused by Hurricane Melissa, especially in the Carolinas.
It wasn’t until recently, as I was watching my mother react to a severe storm warning notification, that I recognized that my grandmother hadn’t been so much trying to keep my (non-existent) storm fears at bay as allaying her own.
And yet, there’s a part of me that also recognizes that as I’ve had decades more life experience under my belt, that I no longer react to storms in the same way. A deep freeze, and the resultant four days of no power, at my home in Texas in 2021 still has me flinching every time the power flickers, even if it’s just the air-conditioner kicking in, and I now go still whenever a television screen goes dark.
For caregivers, of course, stormy weather brings a complete set of challenges in addition to our own concerns. If we’re caring for young people, we must make sure they understand that while weather can sometimes be dangerous, most storms aren’t going to hurt them, if common sense is employed. More than once, I’ve held my younger cousins’ hands during a violent rainstorm and tried to figure out how close the storm was by counting the seconds between the flash of lightning and the bang of thunder. (Generally, five seconds equals one mile.)
With older people, there is often a heightened sense of danger, especially if they are experiencing cognitive disfunction. What I didn’t know as a child, but learned in retrospect, was that my grandmother was already showing the early signs of dementia. She was terrified of storms because she’d experienced dangerous weather in unsafe conditions as a child, and her brain could no longer differentiate then from now.
I still feel bad about the night of a hurricane in 1976 or 77, when she took a flashlight and huddled in the hallway between the powder room and the hall closet – the only part of her house that didn’t have windows. The chances of any more than a temporary power outage in that part of New Jersey were extremely slim, but her rational mind had been overtaken by fear.
I know, now, that there are things my grandfather and I could have done to help her. We could have turned off the news, so that there wasn’t a constant inundation of weather information. We could have made the house as bright as possible and played board or card games – my grandmother loved card games – to distract her.
I now live in Florida, where hurricane season means being weather-aware in a way you don’t have to be when you’re not on a coast. I still love storms, though the lead-up to them is a serious migraine trigger for me, but I also recognize that my mother’s compulsion to watch The Weather Channel and CNN obsessively during violent weather may be a sign that she will eventually share my grandmother’s condition. (She already talks to herself and repeats stories constantly, but that is more likely a factor of living alone.)
There’s a squall building as I write this, and the skies are rapidly becoming heavy and ominous. We’re not on the beach, but close to it, so we get marine warnings as well as normal weather alerts. Sometimes, I take a moment to fantasize about what it might be like to be in a cozy sailboat cabin, with all the hatches battened down for a storm, but mostly, I recognize that the thrill of an oncoming storm, while a joy for me, is a challenge for others.
What about you? Do you live for stormy weather, or is it a challenge for you and the people you care for? How do you handle it?