In 2001, we lost our home to an electrical fire. This was one of the most traumatizing events for our family. For me personally, I was devastated to see my children’s belongings lost to fire and smoke damage. I had many sleepless nights afterwards realizing how bad this could have been had we all been asleep when the fire broke out and reminding myself to be thankful we were safe.
The timing of our fire was uncanny. It was a day of great highs and low lows. That morning I had received a call that we were approved for purchasing a new house. I wouldn’t be able to move into the house for another 60 days. Those 60 days were supposed to be spent preparing for, and selling our existing home. I was on the phone making arrangements, while also listing the things I wanted to complete to show our current home to potential buyers when we began to smell smoke.
First the frustration sets in
I still believe things might not have been so bad had we lived in another area, or people from our town not been so nosy. Now what do I mean by that you may ask. We lived just outside of town in an area that didn’t have fire hydrants, so the fire department had to bring a tanker of water to fight the fire. The first trucks arrived, but had no water, we stood around wondering where the tanker was. We found it stuck in traffic.
Many people in our area have scanners, when the call went out many of them heard the call and decided to get in their cars and drive to watch the house that was burning. We stood angrily watching the firemen trying to get people to move the cars and give room for the tanker to get onto our street. People refused. Everything we had worked for was going up in smoke, while people were blocking the help we needed so they could take pictures. I kept hoping they would move so we could save the house, but soon saw flames shooting out of the roof and knew all would be gone soon.
I had just recently, and I mean days before, completed the gutting and remodeling of one of our bedrooms. I had sunk a couple thousand dollars into this remodel. And just the day before had purchased $200 worth of food to last most of the month. All was now gone.
While waiting for the firemen to get the fire under control, my grandfather came to see if we needed anything, yet his first question to me was to ask if I had saved a family heirloom, a picture that had been his mothers, which he had given me. His displeasure at finding out I hadn’t thought of that when herding kids and dog out the door and calling for help, only reinforced at that moment the responsibility of being the benefactor of these heirlooms.
Once we had the okay to enter the house, our hearts sank. Nearly everything was damaged. The newly remodeled bedroom was gutted again, this time by the fire. The food was cooked, but not edible. Food in the refrigerator was spoiled, as well.
The heirloom my grandfather was worried about was saved, although nearly lost. The heat from the fire had melted the paint right off the wall where the picture had hung, the picture was covered in smoke, yet when we cleaned it, it was luckily intact.
Pain and regret sets in
My oldest son had lost everything in his room. My youngest, who’s room was the one recently remodeled was able to salvage a few pieces of clothes in his dresser and his bed frame, an antique my great-grandmother had left me when I was young. Most of our clothes were gone, with the exception of the things we had in the clothes dryer, which were mostly towels.
Dishes cracked from the heat, and our pots and pans were beyond saving. The television was destroyed but the movies in the cabinet were salvaged. What do you need movies for when you have nothing to play them on? Our books were destroyed. Not a single one was protected from the smoke and water damage. To make matters worse our home owners insurance had been canceled, but that’s another story.
Rationalizing comes next, but lessons weren’t learned
I tried to look at this as some weird blessing in disguise. The family we were buying the house from, offered to move sooner making our wait to get in only 30 days, and a friend put us up in her house. We couldn’t take our dog with us, but another friend took the dog in. Most importantly, my children were unharmed. The saying people before possessions was never more true.
We now had a clean slate to begin in our new house. I should have learned more than I had from this experience. Instead of re-evaluating what we really needed, all I could think was that I wanted to relieve some of the pain for my children. To do that, I wanted to give them everything back they lost and then some, they had lost everything. So many people came to the rescue to try to do just that.
Looking back, I don’t think I took the time to feel anything, I was numb. Being numb all I thought about had been to relieve my children’s pain, but I went about it all wrong. We never asked each other what was important from those lost items. In our pain, everything lost had been important.
Ending up with more than we started with
My grandmother had died the year before, with her gone my grandfather cleaned out his kitchen and offered me any of her baking items and appliances. I took many thinking it would be nice to have this or that. Most I never used and finally after lugging and storing them I passed on to others who would use them.
Strangers showed up with towels, televisions, DVD and VHS players (yes multiples of each), clothes, furniture, even pictures to hang on the walls, and so much more.I ended up with two sets of kitchen table and chairs, and new mattresses for all of us.
So began the purging. We thanked everyone and began to beg for no more. Then we had to pare down to what we would use and find homes for the rest of it. And do you know what I did for me? I bought a bookcase and began to replace all the books I had loved and lost. I wasn’t ready to live in a home without an overflowing bookcase.
Our gratitude for all the assistance can never be expressed, but I hadn’t learned my lesson. I still believed those things we loved, and lost, were so important it felt as if we had lost a member of the family.
Finally, learning what was really important
In less than ten years time, I would look around my home and wonder why I had all this stuff. I had continued to acquire things during those years after the fire, things I thought I needed. In reality, I was buying and acquiring more and more to comfort that inner child who had her toys taken away. It’s much easier to give something away than to have it taken.
One day, depressed and lost I realized I had stuff, but was missing out on so much more. It was time to examine my values, finally. It was a process, yet I found my way. Today, I have so many things I love, but few are material things.