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Apparent suicide by fishing boat captain underlines oil spill's emotional toll
"Oh, Lord," she said. "That is really, really sad."
And she immediately began to fret about her fisherman husband, Gerry, and their 19-year-old son, who were spending five days on the Gulf, helping clean up oil.
"I do worry that my husband isn't one to show what he's feeling," she said. "He doesn't want me to worry, but I do. I think he's going to keep it all bundled up."
She sees the stress in those around her. "I was with a next-door neighbor [Tuesday], and he's a 42-year-old fisherman, and he just broke down crying," she said. "It was a shock to see him so upset. He's afraid we're not going to have anything left. We all are."
On Monday afternoon, Helmer chatted with a half-dozen other wives of fishermen as they sat in a crowded hall of a nearby Catholic church waiting for gift cards to a supermarket. Many agreed that their husbands -- some of whom weren't fishing and shrimping because the waters are closed, and others who are out helping to clean up oil -- are in need of counseling. But few thought that their men, raised in the self-sufficient lifestyle of the bayous, would actually seek it.
Tony Speier, assistant deputy secretary of the Louisiana Office of Mental Health, said that what makes the oil spill harder for people to deal with than, say, a natural disaster such as Hurricane Katrina is that "people don't know how long this is going to be."
"They can't put a psychological boundary on it and start their recovery because this is ongoing," he said.
At Our Lady of the Isle Catholic Church in Grand Isle, La., the Rev. Mike Tran said he's getting more phone calls from worried fishermen and their wives. He's offering daily Masses and a support group for those trying to deal with the spill. Some parishioners have said they're drinking more and have little energy -- signs of possible depression.
"This is really taking a toll on people," Tran said. "It's devastating because it is dragging out. There seems to be no end in sight."
Some in Louisiana were just getting their businesses back on their feet or moving back into rebuilt houses five years after Katrina.
Lorrie Grimaldi, her husband, Lance Melerine, and two young daughters recently moved before the spill into a new brick home after years of living in a FEMA-issued trailer and with family members after Katrina.
Now she's worried about how much her husband, who's trying to do some shrimping in waters that are open, will make this season. Her doctor put her on medication to help deal with her anxiety and the onset of depression.