Cemetery invites public to participate in unique Katrina memorial

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NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) -  At Metairie Cemetery, a field of flags symbolizes each Louisiana life lost to the storm. The simple white flags flutter but stand strong—much like the emotions of survivors facing this milestone week.

“As we go through this week there will be a lot said and discussed about hurricane Katrina and about New Orleanians' resiliency, and about our city coming back—but we should never forget those who lost their lives," says Community Relations Director for Metairie Cemetery, Jerry Schoen.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu encourages people struggling with the anniversary to try to establish a peaceful mindset. "There's no way to take away the agony , and I would just tell people just spend this week being at peace and being calm, remembering what we lost and being grateful that we got a second chance,” he told WGNO.

For the living, it's not only about finding a way to remember but also finding the strength to move on and look forward even 10 years later.

In Plaquemines Parish, where residents have weathered a decade of disasters, from Katrina to the BP Oil spill, Community C.A.R.E. Centers Foundation, Inc. Executive Director Julie Olsen says counselors are bracing for an increase in requests for help.

She says the marking of a milestone disaster anniversary can increase stress, which usually means an increase in domestic violence, child abuse and substance abuse.

Olsen has this advice for those who are feeling anxiety about the Katrina 10-year mark: “We ask them to try to divert their interest and energy into some other activity: exercise, playing with their kids.” Volunteer work is another idea or attending community events, not necessarily tied to August 29th.

And she's found the silver lining: overcoming the stigma surrounding mental health.

“Because of Katrina and the other disasters more people are realizing we all get stressed out, we all have those bumps in the road and we all need a little help sometime.”

And whether you're a politician, a journalist or an average citizen, finding a path to mental peace is a personal challenge.

Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts says those who need help should refrain from comparing themselves to others.

“They may see the triumphs of different people and see people that are a little farther ahead than they are in 10 years—but not to lose hope and not to be afraid, to raise their hand and ask for help.”

Meanwhile, Metairie Cemetery welcomes anyone who wants to fill out a flag with their loved one’s name, or a simple message of remembrance.

The cemetery had similar displays the first three years after the storm, with names already printed on the flags, but the organizers decided to do things differently for the 10-year mark.

“It was such an emotionally charged event that we thought that it would be best not to put names on this time, and we welcome people to come out and customize and personalize these flags with their loved ones names who were lost directly or indirectly during Hurricane Katrina,” says Schoen.

Bring your own permanent marker, or you can borrow one from the nearby Lake Lawn Funeral Home, between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily. The flags will be in place for at least a week.