One man's heartache during Hurricane Katrina and his determination to keep a promise to his late wife captured the nation's attention.
Hardy Jackson lost his wife to the storm surge. He recalled what happened to CBS Atlanta News' Jennifer Mayerle hours after the floodwaters receded. The two have kept in touch since then.
"Seven long years. No, I thought I'd never see seven years pass by. It's been a long, long hard seven years, too," Jackson said.
Hardy Jackson lives in Palmetto, GA, along with two of his kids and four grandkids. They are hundreds of miles from Biloxi, MS, the place they used to call home before Hurricane Katrina roared ashore and changed their lives.
"When we did try to leave, it was too late. The car was doing this and stuff," Jackson said.
Hardy Jackson lets his mind wander back to a happier time, a marriage with Tonette Jackson, full of life and promise. A love so unwavering, Hardy Jackson's heart is as full today as the day he lost her.
"We were up on the roof, all the way in the roof. And the water came in, and the house just opened up, divided. I tried. I held her hand tight as I could. And she told me, 'You can't hold me.' She said, 'Take care of the kids, and the grandkids,'" Hardy Jackson told Mayerle on Aug. 29, 2005.
It's a promise that weighs heavily on Hardy Jackson's mind. It's one he kept after he lost his oldest daughter Mary to ovarian cancer last summer. Hardy Jackson now cares for her two sons.
"It hurts to even talk about Mary. To watch one of your kids fade away right in your face, you know. Nothing I could have did," Hardy Jackson said.
Hardy Jackson adjusts to seeing the inside of a doctor's office more and more himself these days. Doctors diagnosed the 60-year-old with stage four lung cancer in May.
"They told me I'm going to die, exactly what he told me. Maybe a year, maybe six months, maybe three months," Hardy Jackson said.
"It is a lung cancer which has spread to the brain, and unfortunately this is considered a stage 4 disease, which is incurable," Dr. Shyam Khanwani said.
Now facing his own mortality, Hardy Jackson received a letter he'd been longing for, his wife's death certificate. Tonette's body was lost to the storm surge. The court order reads, "The date of death is hereby established as August 29, 2005, the date of Hurricane Katrina."
"It gave me a whole lot of closure. Dried my tears up, eased the pain in my heart," Hardy Jackson said.
He told CBS Atlanta News that despite the obstacles that sometimes seem insurmountable since surviving the storm, when he looks around, he realizes he's been making good on that promise to his wife, "to take care of the kids and the grandkids."
"I say if I go now, at least I did do something right, because I ain't give up. I ain't give up," Hardy Jackson said.
Hardy Jackson said he will keep that promise until his eyes close and his heart stops. He'd like to be remembered as a good dad and a good man.
Mayerle still receives emails from people around the world who want to know how Hardy Jackson is doing. He thanks everyone who has thought of him through the years.
Copyright 2012 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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