What NOT to Say After a House Fire: “At Least You Got a New House!”
It is so strange to see your life frozen in time.
Last week I was featured on Houzz.com with the article “10 Real Ways You Can Help After a House Fire.” Houzz was a helpful resource throughout the rebuild, especially during the planning stage. I’m delighted to write for them.
If you are a long time reader you might remember the struggle I was having trying to write a concise account of the fire. Only recently has the “story” felt over and how long it has gone on has been a source of sorrow and—if I’m honest—shame. I could never have imagined how painful this entire experience would be nor how long it would take, even after everything was “back to normal” although I can’t tell you exactly what that means now.
As I was reading about the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs, I came across an interview with a woman who evacuated her home in Colorado Springs and had already gone through the Hayman Fire of 2002 in which she and her husband lost their business and livelihood. Regarding the Waldo Canyon fire she said, “It’s not the fear of losing stuff. It’s the fear of starting over.
When I read that I sighed. She knew. From what I can tell, most people who lose all their possessions—in one way or another—tend to hold more loosely to things afterwards. You know what you can live without and it’s practically everything. Our old house was more than 2500 square feet and the things I have wept over could fit into a small closet with room to spare. And yet, just the thought of going through the process of rebuilding again makes me want to climb into any closet and never come out.
A peculiar aspect of a house fire is, in most cases, there is a brand new house at the end of the story, so you know, happy ending. I know someone whose 100 year old farmhouse burned. She is grateful for her new house and she misses her old one. I do not miss my old house, but my nine year old daughter does. She has wept many tears for her home.
Unless we pay it, we can’t ever know the full cost, can we? I’m still paying the price for our fire, literally: our mortgage increased and figuratively when I get up at night and walk by any of the windows on the north side and reflexively glance out and scan the yard for a dark figure. I’m not consciously afraid, just assessing conditions, making sure another arsonist isn’t out there.
When someone has experienced a grave loss, it’s not the responsibility of those of us on the outside to extract the possible benefits of the situation. When we preface anything with “At least” we are ignoring the loss and that doesn’t make it go away. For a sorrow to heal it needs to be acknowledged and mourned.
And for those inside the tragedy, “at least” comes from such a weak place. When I’m looking for a lifeline to pull me through the pain, I prefer the strength of gratitude.
In the early days after our fire, I was only thankful. As time and trauma wore on, this seemed to slip and I was so ashamed. What helped me in the middle of everything was when people asked, “How is it going?” When I told them, with perhaps a little too much detail, but then caught myself and apologized for going on and on…or didn’t and just went and went…or started to cry, they were gracious and kind, tolerant and forgiving. They were curious and listened. They taught me so well and I’m forever grateful.
4th of July
If you’re visiting from Houzz, welcome!
I have been blogging since the olden days (2005). I began to stay in touch with old friends and to get in the habit of daily writing. I couldn’t know this blog would serve as the remaining archive for our family stories. I was never good at keeping scrapbooks but I wrote down what my kids’ said every day of their lives.
When our house was set on fire I lost all my journals, but this blog remains.
Thank you for stopping by.