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Rising from Ruin is an on-going MSNBC.com special report chronicling two coastal Mississippi towns, Bay St. Louis and Waveland, as they rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

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Day by day the personal loss of possessions seems to get easier, both for myself and Heather. To quote Tom Waits "Memory's like a train, you can see it getting smaller as it pulls away, til the things you can't forget, and history puts a saint in every dream."

Since Heather and I lost our entire house and EVERYTHING in it (we've found 2 or 3 items, but not much), it has been a challenge to deal with the loss of "things" and especially mementos and keepsakes. At first I likened it to a mine field, where one walks along unsuspectingly and sees something to remind them of (fill in object lost) and then -- wham-o!!! -- just like a kick to the heart, the pain of loss would hit.

Well, over the course of the months this has gotten easier. Although we saved most of our family photos, Heather lost lots of her childhood photos (left in album that we forgot to bring. Many things from my childhood that I had managed to hold on to through the years were gone as well -- my Star Wars figures and Lunchbox, the chairs that Dad and I refinished together, all of the mementos from my Chinese Artist friends from when I worked at the Gulf Coast Exploreum, my yearly birthday letters to myself (started at about age 16).

The list goes on, but I have to work increasingly hard to bring them to mind. As a sentimental person from a sentimental family, it was extremely difficult to cope with having to "let go" of everything. For instance, (about my family) my brother Ben, the family joke goes, still has EVERYTHING he EVER had! -- EVERY record album, EVERY T-shirt, EVERY pair of jeans (OK, it may be a SLIGHT exaggeration). He used to keep lists of the serial numbers of every dollar bill he ever had, and was endearingly referred to as "Stingy Benji" by our sister Mary Helen, but this storm has changed even him.

The last pang of loss that I recall feeling was when I remembered that I had left a book on the bookshelf on Jazz legend Charlie Parker, and inside that book was my autographed picture of Jazz Legend Dizzy Gillespie.

After feeling the nausea of loss and regret for a minute, I was able to shake it off by remembering what Dizzy told me as he signed the autograph. He took the pen, signed, and looked up at me from those tired old eyes of his and said, in his gravely jazz-man voice "Man ... what the (blazes) you gonna do with that(mess)anyway?!?" From that moment on, Diz has been my guardian angel, helping me cope with loss of possessions through his words of wisdom.

Long story short (too late): On Christmas morning I opened up a box from my brother "Stingy Benji." Inside the large box was a piece of paper, blank except for the words of Dizzy in my brother's handwriting. ... Underneath was HIS poster autographed by Dizzy Gillespie.

I think I'll have it framed, and ask Ben if I can keep it at his house.

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Wow Steve, how well you put it! Before I read your words I thought I was ok, then I started thinking about the things I've lost but forgot I lost, and BANG the pains run down my spine. I'm so glad you wrote this because even my own fiancee tells me I should "let it go" and "let the past stay in the past" but I have to keep reminding him that I've lost everything! Everything except life, which is really really precious but still our past is what made us the people we are. The memories are in our minds, but we have no material things to share with our family and friends, or to leave for the next generation; only words now. Thanks for this great entry. It really helps to know that my pain and agony is not all that "far-fetched". God's blessings to you and your family.

Steve, you have to be around my age{i think}....no age givin...i would buy baseball cards....and get that harda***piece of chewing gum....and throw Willie Mays and Johnny Beenches....around like frisbees.....what a shame....but ...smile on brother...we just have another day!!!!

Hello Steve and family. This is Chanel White, I married Mrs.Jan White's son, Todd. The story was wonderful and inspiring. TOM WAITTS RULES:) sorry for that outburst. Even though we have been dislocated to Oklahoma City we are still rebuilding in our hearts souls and minds. I would love to participate in the blogging here I have alot to write, it has helped deal with the weight of everything that has happened in all of our lives. Sincere wishes from ours to yours. If "ya'll" are intersted in pics of Dutch please e-mail. He was two weeks old when Katrina hit wow that is a story in it's self.

You're correct about passing time making the loss of possessions easier. I have also been a sentimential person, but not quite to the extend of Ben...

I only had three feet of water in my home from Katrina, but those three feet ruined about 80% of everything I owned including most of my memorabilia.

I had picked things off the floors and put books and mementos on loer shelves up high enough - mostly on tops of tables, about 18 to 30 inches off the floor. Well, all that stuff was underwater anyway.

At first, while cleaning up the mess, I would come across something I particuarly valued and suddenly start to sob. I attempted to keep some water damaged items, but then realized seeing something I had cherished and kept in mint condition for so many years all water logged and messed up made the loss worse. So I chucked it all.

I now have the memories of what my lost memorabilia meant to me. The reminders of old friends, family, and pleasurable past events. And I am making new memories now, and finding myself able to put the loss of possessions in their proper perspective.

Man...i ain't too sure....but i think....we have been abandand....by [email protected]#**^%.....they might forget Mississippi.....but i can't....i live here!!!

My husband and I are in the same situation. Home destroyed and lost everything except what we could dig up. Found a couple of mementos, but still keep remembering the things we lost. Just like you described; someone says something and WHAMMO! Another thing to add to the list. But we are all alive! We will survive. I have had family members send me things from my childhood. What a gift. Keep on trudging. It will get better. And hope you get to tell the Prez exactly what a great town Waveland is and how special the people are, and that he needs to get on FEMA and the insurance companies. God bless you both.

Steve, what a poignant diary posting. Times like this have a way of shaking us to our roots. I'll be praying for you and your family.

Very nice entry...we do seem to hold on to "things" too tightly, don't we? God always has a way of showing us what is really important and that is each other! You have a really cool brother, bet you knew that all the time, didn't you? ;-)

Hang in there Monkey Boy. I can’t imagine what you’ve been going through but I know if anybody can rise above this, it’s you and Heather. I’m just glad that I didn’t lose two of my too few friends. Please know that even though we haven’t spoken in far too long, you have been in our thoughts and prayers. Give me a call the next time you get to Mobile, we’d love to see you.

The best way not to be forgotten is to keep "talking" to each other through these blogs. Let others across the country and the world know how we are feeling and what is happening.

Your messages are so moving. I am a professor in Wisconsin, but I grew up in Mobile, and lived in New Orleans and Mississippi before I moved here. My family lost a house in Frederic, and it is amazing how your description brings feelings back. I've so loved the Gulf Coast, and I've shed so many tears. I know that you will come back. Several of my students are now in Bay St. Louis with a group from Whitewater Wisconsin. They are helping out in the schools. If you see them, say "hi" from Ann

Stevie, I know this seems easy for me to say, I haven't lost all me earthly belongings. But I have sold or given away most of my posessions at one time or another. I wouldn't mind right now if all my stuff were swept away, then someone gave me a check for the value of it all.
People often get rid of all their stuff as a means or side effect of self reflection. I guess what's hard to take about this is that it wasn't through your own choice that it happened.
Try to see it as a mixed blessing. It gives you a chance to start over fresh. You are lighter now. They are just things. How many times did you take out that pic of Dizzy and look at it? Why was it so important? In your case, you didn't have to see all the things all wrecked up and go through the bother of cleaning up the mess. God took care of that for you.

You will accumulate more stuff, don't worry.
It's true what you say, that you have the most important thing, yourselves.

Reading these helps (to know that other people are feeling exactly the same as we are about lost possessions). My mother and my brother both lost everything. To make matters worse, we just lost my Dad a couple of years ago. My mom is having trouble with the fact that so much of the house was renovated by my Dad's own hands and now she has nothing left of that, nor any pictures of him (I'll be giving her mine when she finally gets a steady home). Like everyone says, it's hard to let go because as humans we cherish material things because our memories are tied to them. Since Katrina, I've had many moments of not knowing waht to say to my Mom and that's something I've never had trouble with before. I cry mostly for her and her loss but also that my childhood home is gone, as well as the home of my grandparents.

Steve, I've been trying to reach you and Heather. Did Amanda tell you guys I called???
Anyway, I think I may have found some of Heather's costume jewelry. Please give me a ring. And, did you get your package?
I tried emailing your address, but no luck. Have you changed it?
Miss you guys, fondly, your old buddy from across the street and down a bit, DeNeice

Steve, you hit the nail on the head....It's like we've been robbed....the insurance company wants all your content's written down...Well I tried.., but something comes to mind everyday....that I forgot to write down..you don't really know what's missing until you look for it ..If that's possible...god bless, and this too shall pass

Great, great heartfelt stories. I have been to a place in MS. called Katrinas Kitchen twice last year with our church. We were helping to feed the people left homeless and their hopes and dreams shattered and all the volunters. You don't see much about MS but it sure was damaged. I too hope that we don't forget all the people needing help. I think it is time to do local mission work instead of sending our resources and people to some foreign country.

Steve, Dr Reed passed your message through the family. I'm sorry for your loss and those of your community. As I read the comments of others, it is obvious you have touched the hearts of people and brought them a shared sense of purpose. From our fond memories in the Fort, we are are wishing you a healthy reconstruction. A hearty hoosier howdy to the rest of the Harper clan. Best Wishes Bob and Janet Reed.

I feel for you and know your pain, Not only did I lose everything in katrina, but a tornado hit our trailer last year in ivan, when we was digging trough the mess trying to find anything that could be salvaged, the least little thing become so important to me. I also put things into the top of the closet and left my husband's deer head hanging on the wall cause the water couldn't get that high. Little did we know Plaquemines Parish in La would be totally wiped out. I find myself saying "I got one of them" then only to correct myself that it is "I used to have one of them". It hurts to see your possessions taken away from you, I spend so much time saying why didn't you take that or why didn't you take this. I must of cried for 6 weeks, once again everything gone, what had I done so bad that I kept losing my belongings, the answer is the choice in where i decided to live. Somethings like my husband's deer head, that he killed the deer when he was so young and the ribbon it won, can never be replace no matter how many more you kill.
But I have the handle on packing now, take the kitchen knife that you used that was so sharp, and the recipes box that you made dinner out of. the things you used and depended on each day that they don't have in other places where you might end up. I find that the recipes that I had made dozens of times, my mind now blank as to what went into them, stress I'm told. So once again you start over and you wonder every day when will I lose this because there are storms of some kind no matter where you go. I'm so tired of starting over. I don't know about others but it takes a lot to go and rebuild a home in personal possessions, and it doesn't matter what FEMA or the insurance company pays you, it is never enough to take the pain away.

i havnt had any loss by disaster of any kind,but we all lose somthing every day.a good friend now long past had a thing,right foot,stomp,stomp...well im still on the right side of the grass...that after three cancer surgeries...god be with you,brad

can't seem to make that 30 minute drive South to this day.....five months....sometimes still like a dream. i have been within hour to 30 minutes north of coast all my life. stone co. resident now...depressed about lose on coast...blessed and thankful for God taking care of our families and friends.

I want you to know that your stories of survival are so heart warming. I have volunteered for nearly 45 years. I currently took a job in Los Angeles, and am going to quit to move back to Texas, and devote some months to volunteering helping people there in the Bay of St. Louis. God Bless and know that you are in my prayers,

hey all. this has been very moving and positive. it is weird the things we miss, or don't notice are gone til we go looking for them in. you are right...just add it to the list. just last week, i was making pasta and had my daughter tear the kitchen apart looking for a particular colander to drain it in. i was convinced we still owned it. same goes for my 30 year collection of cello sheet music and pics of the kids when they were little...then there are times when see pics of my "old" life and home and wish just ONCE could i be back there and be ableto see our beautiful coast in its former glory. i am personally very displeased by the proliferation of condos and other eyesores popping up. if i were rich, i would buy the beachfront back and give it back to US! then there are the days when you discover something you thought was "saved" is now pitted, corroded and unusable by the "katrina punch" it marinated in. in some ways the storm has been good to us, but in many, many others it is still like it happened yesterday. recently i went to NOLA. all i can say is that things are still very grim over there. let's keep on keepin' on and holding each other up. way to go bay st louis and waveland. i have been driving over 2-3 times a week to work. every visit reveals a new business open, a home rebuilt or in the process of, a positive sign of recovery and the tenacity of the people of our coast. g-d bless you all. shalom.

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