Friday, April 13, 2012
Slept in! Until 6:35am, that is. And, woke up twice in the night. At 4am, I thought I wasn’t going to go back to sleep. I did – and dreamt that parts of the house were still standing. I was attending a concert and decided to check my office for my tickets – lo and behold the wall with my bulletin board was still there and I found my concert tickets. As the dream went on, more and more of my house was standing. For some unknown reason, we lit a fire in the woodstove. Then little fires started popping up places, one at the neighbors, one in another stove that we hadn’t lit and we had to run. I didn’t want to leave it, again.
Tomorrow we will do our second clean up at the site with another crew of angels. We will sift through the rest of the rubble of the house (still looking for David’s ring and perhaps a few more treasures) then we will move to David’s workshop – an 18x20 building with a loft, full of his tools, reloading equipment, old barn wood and antique furniture. It is a disaster.
Yesterday, I interviewed 4-Mile Canyon fire survivor Andi O’Conor whose house burned to the ground (along with 168 others) in 2010. She was out of town, with only her dog and a car full of camping gear. Brutally, this was the second time she lost everything in a fire. When she was a child, her family home burned down. She chronicles her experience at www.burningdownthehouseblog.com.
It was an enlightening interview to say the least. I cannot think of anyone better for my first guest since the fire. My show (“What Are YOU Waiting For?” on Contact Talk Radio) airs on the 2nd and 4th Thursdays of the month at 1pm Pacific/4pm Eastern. Eerily, the day of my last show (3/22), I had noticed the “controlled” burn (it now only gets quotes as there was no control. But that is a different post…). I did what all mountain residents inherently do, I searched my fire info sources until I knew what was happening. Forest Service conducting a “controlled” burn was the posting. A sigh of relief, and David and I went on hike with the dogs before my show. During my intro, I talked about the dangerous dryness we had been experiencing and how ominous it was for our summer ahead. Four days later, that fire raged out of control.
I could have spent hours in the conversation with Andi. There simply wasn’t enough time to say all we could have said. There will be more conversations, as she is becoming a great support – and I imagine she will be a great friend. She has learned a lot over the past 19 months since her fire. When we first spoke, she warned me to expect this process to take at least 22 months. She and many others from that fire are not yet back in their homes. Still. She continues to deal with insurance snags and ups and downs and twists and turns in the road.
Andi offered great advice for those who want to support us fire victims. (Side bar, I have never ever ever used the word “victim” to describe myself. I am not a fan of the word as I think it can become an entrenched mindset. I worked as a Victim Advocate for some years in domestic violence and sex crimes and child abuse cases. Victimization certainly occurs, but we can be trapped in the powerlessness of the definition. However, I will use the word for now. It actually means: to be affected, harmed, or deceived by somebody or something. Affected and harmed - check! Victimization certainly happened to those that died in this fire.
So back to her advice around support! Andi cautions that both well-meaning and not so well-meaning people will come out of the woodwork – and then one day, they will disappear and we will miss the outpouring of support, yet be happy that the predators have returned to their caves. Fortunately, I haven’t dealt with too many predators as of yet. “Rest assured”, the seasoned tell me, “they are out there”.
I always believed I was well-versed in dealing with others pain and crisis. I am trained as a therapist after all – and I bring a personal track record of my own addictions as a young woman; a cancer diagnosis; infertility and losing pregnancies; the death of dear friends; the death of my beloved dog, Jaxson… and a host of other things. I know how to be in the darkness with people, how to show up, how to stick around. Through this process, I am seeing that there is still so much more for me to learn.
You can apply these suggestions to people in any crisis, but of course I am speaking of this particular one. And, I am putting a big, fat “PLEASE” in front of all of these!
Don’t start sentences with “At least____”, as in at least you got your wedding album, at least your animals are ok, at least you are alive (we know that one particularly!)
Don’t say, “Now you can build the house you have always wanted!” or “you can fix all those things you didn’t like about your house.”
Don’t say, “You are so lucky that your house burned to the ground! In my house fire, it only partially burned so it was a bigger nightmare to deal with insurance…” Someone actually said this to me publically 4 days after the fire. Way too early to hear this one!
Remember that this is a long, long, long process. We may appear to be fine on the outside. And, sometimes we are. And, we have gone through a major trauma that even we don’t know the extent of (yes, a dangling preposition, mom!). Andi shares that almost 2 years later, she is still remembering things that were lost. Recently, someone mentioned their graduation pictures from college and she realized she had lost hers. I too lost all pictures from my earlier eras. Everything from childhood, college, baby albums etc are gone. I have pictures from when I began shooting digitally. And, the lovely Joleen grabbed a bunch of framed pictures off my shelves. But, I have nothing else in the way of photos. There were rows and rows of albums in the shelves below my window seat. In the mad dash, I didn’t remember them. I really wish I had Jaxson’s “baby puppy” album.
Be patient with our process too. Please don’t think it is “good” when we are doing well and “bad” when we aren’t. We just will be where we will be and we are where we are. I certainly appreciate the acknowledgment of our spirit and character during this!!! And, please know that darkness still looms (if you haven’t already guessed that from my blogs…).
Remind us that you still want to do something to help. I have heard that the support is enormous in the beginning but that people naturally drop away after a while. This is to be expected. Life goes on. So many people have offered to do something. As mentioned before, in the beginning, we don’t know what to ask for. So, for those that want to hang out for the long haul, can you ask again in a month? I may not remember that you offered, or what you offered. If you say it once (especially in the beginning), I have certainly already forgotten. I simply cannot retain information. There is too much rolling through my brain – and the sleep deprivation is taking its toll.
Overall, email is better than calls. I have 14 saved messages and 10 more every time I check them. I can more easily save the emails and refer to them later. What did they say they would help with again???? Ahhh, I have it in an email.
Rest assured, we will need help. That damn inventory list is an enormous undertaking. I need people who love love love data entry - or at least those who will pretend to love it. I need people to go to stores with me and price everything. I need to visit REI, William Sonoma, Pottery Barn and more. Did I mention we have to list EVERYTHING we ever owned? Eeeeegads.
Once clean up is complete, we need to spread some love on the land. We will need crews again to help us seed and plant and nurture that barren soil. Put that on your list for a month out if it appeals!
You also can help us by continuing to spread word of my blog. (the permanent address for it is www.walkingthroughfire.com) As a writer, there is nothing more fulfilling than the echoing back of my sentiments and message. Knowing you are out there listening and reading is making a tremendous difference. It’s keeping me going. As, I say to my author clients: write on, people!
To listen to my interview with Andi O'Conor (worth an hour of your time especially if you are engaged in this process with me), please go to www.whatareyouwaitingforshow.com and scroll down to the left. Thank you from the very bottom of my heart.