In 2007, my husband, Greg, and I lost our home to the Buckweed Fire. We lost everything but ourselves, our dog, and a few changes of clothes. All over California that year, countless fires raged and thousands of homes were lost.
Living in Colorado Springs this past week has been one sickening moment of deja vu after another.
Nine days after it started, the Waldo Canyon Fire has claimed over 17,000 acres of fire, well over 300 homes, two lives, and thousands of hours of combined efforts of firefighters who came from far and wide to save our community. It’s still not over.
346 families returned to their homes to find only rubble and this post is for them!
I know what you are going through. I know how hard this is. I know the out-of-body experience you had as you saw your house for the first time. This feels like a nightmare and you keep praying that you will just wake up!
I know how lost you feel. No matter how hard bad a day you had prior to this, there was always a sense of belonging and rest to be found once you pulled into your driveway. Without that release, your body is tense and confused.
I know the grief you feel as you remember another precious item that didn’t make it out.
This is so hard! It feels like it isn’t going to end.
I have a few things, from my own experience, that might help you cope with all of that.
1. Grieve! Cry. Journal. Talk. Be angry. Go running. Throw things. As long as you don’t damage yourself, anyone else, or anything you want to keep. There is a well of emotion that needs to be let out before you can process what has happened.
Are you a quiet, steady, rock of a guy? Who cares. Cry if you need to.
Are you the mama of the family, quietly strong, while everyone else falls apart? There’s a pillow nearby. Go cry into it.
Talk to a grief counselor if you don’t know how to “do” grief. They know what they are doing and will be able to help!
Feel better? I hope so!
2. Don’t let anyone tell you “it’s just stuff”. Yes, it’s stuff. It was your stuff. Your memories. Your cherished items that brought back happy memories of your childhood, your early life as a married couple, the ragged toy your child slept with as a baby, or something saved that represents a hope for the future. It’s stuff, but it was so much more than stuff! It represented who you were, who are you, and who you want to be.
3. Keep moving. Even if you didn’t sleep at all last night, make a to do list. If the only thing on your to do list is “shower” and “call the insurance agency”, do it! If you can, go for a walk, borrow a bike, find a pool and go swimming, play with someone else’s Wiifit. Your body has had a massive shock to it’s system and getting moving will literally help get it all out.
4. Drink water. Another silly sounding thing, when your house is gone, but it will help. A lot. Remember the panic, shock, stress you’ve been feeling? Just like exercise, water will help get it all out.
5. Allow people to help. This was one of the hardest tasks for me after our fire. People I didn’t know, and quite frankly, some I didn’t even like, wanted to help me. It was a very humbling experience to take clothes, food, towels, and toothbrushes. Five years later, I’m glad I took the stuff, though. Even though it’s hard to understand right now, there is an entire community of people who would willingly give you the shirt off their back. Let us all care for you. If nothing else, it will be one less shopping trip for you!
6. Realize that people are going to stop helping after a while. From way too much experience with this, I’ve found that people go back to their own lives after about six weeks. It’s natural for them to need to get back to their families and jobs. The first day you don’t receive a card, phone call, or hug is going to be weird. Soak it all up now! By way of encouragement, there will be the faithful few that will stick by you no matter what, no matter how long.
For now, that’s enough to do.
As hard as it is to wrap your brain around, it will get easier. Five years after our own fire, we’ve moved to a great new state, we’ve found a wonderful new home, and a pretty fantastic community. I open my door every day to new treasures that remind me that I’m home. I won’t ever forget my sweet little house that burned, but I can re-visit those memories without anger, without bitterness, and with a very grateful heart for those who helped us through.