Too Much To Bear


The horrible reality is setting in. The adrenalin is starting to ebb, giving way to the devastating realization that this disaster has forever damaged the lives, the culture and the hopes of the people of the Gulf Coast. The fishermen – the boat captains and the deck hands – are understandably taking it very hard, perhaps the hardest. And rightly so. You could argue that they’ve lost the most, just about everything really…their work, their love of the Gulf waters, their means of providing for their family, their self-esteem and pride, their hopes and their dreams. And they face that brutal reality…that it’s all gone, everyday, skimming thick oil from the waters that once provided their means and purpose.

I saw it after Katrina, the disbelief and the horror and the desperation on people’s faces…the uncertainty whether they would ever be the same again. If they could ever get back to the way it was before.

When I learned of Allen Kruse’s apparent suicide last night, I felt a cold chill for his family and for the fishermen and for all of us down here. The 55-year-old Kruse had been a charter fishing boat captain for more than 20 years, taking families and parties out into the Gulf to catch fish…and have fun. No longer able to fish his waters, Kruse went to work for BP cleaning up the spill. Everyday for more than two weeks, Captain Kruse and his deck hands would do the dreary, dangerous work of oil spill responders. They found the captain yesterday (Wednesday) in the wheelhouse of his boat with a gunshot wound to the head. No note. No explanation. I guess he didn’t think one was necessary. He is survived by his wife and his two children.

While many Americans will deal with relatively minor inconveniences, like no oysters on the menu or higher priced shrimp at the seafood shop, the people of my home state will deal with far more significant losses and burdens. The Kruse family just suffered the biggest of all. So in addition to the physical health impacts of this spill, we must also be vigilant of the psychological toll. According to the Washington Post, “1,500 people have received counseling services from Catholic Charities.” Howard Osofsky from LSU tells us: “We’re already having reports of increased drinking, anxiety, anger and avoidance.” The cleanup crews are powder kegs. They should be encouraged to seek counseling. There should be PSAs up all over town providing counseling information. And the federal government should be figuring out how to create real jobs down here, very quickly.

This disaster is a heavy, heavy load to bear. The story of Captain Allen Kruse is a profoundly sad one, and I fear there will be more of them before we’re through.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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