Home After Home Burned Down
It’s been seven weeks since the worst fire devastation our state has ever seen. We spent nights away from our homes. We were scared, worried, and fearful as we watched our local heroes fight in the middle of the night to save our beloved town. State, national, and international firefighters poured in so that local firefighters could have a break. We listened to local radio more hours in a day than we thought possible. We watched the news and scrolled through Facebook and Twitter for any and all up-to-date information. Home after home burned down, and we were powerless to stop it.
And now we’re here. The fire trucks have left and the buzz has settled, yet we are missing so much. Homes, cars, photos, documents, memories, and parts of us. We’ve tried to explain to our children that sometimes things like this happen. We have cried tears – thousands of tears. We have begun the long process of insurance claims and rebuilding. We’ve whispered “It will be okay” a million times. Some were able to return home, while some only returned to ash.
My Advice to You
I am writing to you, my friends, because even though my house is standing this time, it hasn’t always been. Without going into a long story, the simple explanation is that our home burned down when my son was one month old. It was the hardest, most devastating, gut-wrenching, and embarrassing thing we have ever dealt with. My heart was broken, my soul was shattered, and my body was weak.
While everyone around you is struggling to find the right words, I won’t provide you with blanket statements or tell you that things could be worse. Even though that may be true, right now it feels like things couldn’t possibly get any worse. So from one broken heart to another, here’s the advice I have to help you start healing. These things helped me feel more whole at a time when nothing felt like it would be whole ever again.
#1 :: Mental rebuilding takes a lot longer than physical rebuilding.
The grieving process is a doozy. Just when I thought that I was taking a step forward, bam! I was back two more. I never felt like I really grasped the grief until I started paying attention to my mental health. While the physical rebuilding of my home began (and things felt like they were starting to get better), I was still in a state of brokenness. I felt like nothing was ever going to get better.
Eventually, things did get better. Mostly because time is the only healer. However, I needed more time than I thought I would. My husband, family members, and therapist told me to, “Allow time to do its job.” When I allowed it to, I finally found myself able to mentally rebuild.
#2 :: Find comfort in a fresh start.
When we first met our insurance adjustor, I was so anxious. She got out of the car, well-dressed with a neatly stacked folder, and shook my hand. She immediately said, “I hope you have some ideas for the new house.” In the state that I was in, I’m sure that my response was anything but appropriate. My house was still smoldering, and she wanted to talk about cabinet choices!
But in a way, she was on to something. I quickly became obsessed with home magazines and Instagram feeds. Pinterest became my best friend, and I was obsessed with all things that felt new. I often wandered Home Goods, Marshalls, and Sur la Table on days where I needed a pick me up. I found healing in the fresh start that was on the horizon.
#3 :: Revisit the home for closure.
While my husband and family discouraged me from doing this, it felt really important to me. I needed to see my home one last time. I needed to remember all of my favorite memories and say goodbye to the things that were lost. While I know that this is not for everyone, it helped provide me some closure for something that felt like it would never end. Most of you are probably past this stage, since all neighborhoods are now open to residents. If you have visited your home, I hope that you found closure there, even if it was just a little.
#4 :: Continue to be you.
I’m always surprised at the resiliency of the human brain. The ability to put one foot in front of the other and march on. So while you’re rebuilding (both mentally and physically), take care of yourself. Get a manicure, pedicure, or both. Sit in a café and drink coffee while reading a book. During tragedy, self-care is usually at the bottom of the list (I see you fellow Moms). However, in this case it must be towards the top. Try not to lose yourself in the brokenness.
#5 :: Lastly (and maybe most importantly), know that you’re not in any hurry to fully recover.
It’s been three years since our home burned down, yet I can instantly return to that time and experience those feelings. While things will become more normal, things will also shift to a new reality. The level of destruction in our community is like nobody has ever seen before. Triggers will be present long after the community is healed, and we will continue to be fearful and worried. So take your time during the recovery process. It’s the least you can do.
I hope this advice helps to give you peace during such a difficult and uncertain time. From someone who understands the loss, sadness and weakness that you’re feeling, know that I am sending all of my love and light your way.