The human psyche is an amazing thing. During my life journey over the last half year I have become aware of some interesting observations. It has also been pointed out to me that in an effort to heal I should try to put into words...so here goes.
When my Dad became ill and diagnosed with cancer, I hoped & prayed that he would get well. He did not. Then I hoped and prayed that he would not suffer. He went unexpectedly fast, so at least time wise his suffering was short lived, leaving the long term to those of us left behind. I hope & pray that we have the strength to manage the grief.
Four days after burying my Dad, my house caught fire. During those first moments of awareness I hoped & prayed that my son was alive. As my husband disappeared into the smoke & heat to search for our son, I hoped and prayed that he would make it out alive. When I became trapped and spots started dancing before my eyes, I hoped and prayed that I would get out alive. As a policeman carried me across the street I saw my husband, water hose in hand fighting the flames shooting out of my sons room. With little hope I prayed with all my heart that my son had made it out. After an eternity we discovered that he was alive and fine and as a wave of relief washed over me, I realized I hadn’t seen my pets. Once again I hoped and prayed that when my husband had opened the doors they had gotten out. They did not. In the aftermath that followed, with all the responders gone, we stood barefoot in the driveway, grateful to be alive, but overwhelmed at catastrophe before us and I hoped & prayed we had the strength to deal with it.
As the whirlwind of the next few days became weeks, I found a we were living in a new reality. Wonderful people had come to our aide. Relatives, friends and Insurance people were all helping and doing the best to be supportive. There were people everywhere, but I found myself feeling unbearably lonely. It seemed that I was constantly reaching for things that were no longer there. I would reach for the phone to text or call my Dad, but he was no longer there. I would cook and reach down to give the pets treats, but they were no longer there. I made deviled eggs for a 4th of July party, I reached for my lovely antique deviled egg plate my sister in law gave me, but it no longer existed. It seemed as nothing in my old reality existed and the grief was palatable.
The morning of the fire with no sleep and still in shock we met with the adjuster to assess the damage to the house. The house was still filled with the haze of smoke, there was no electricity and the smell was overpowering. The firemen had broken out windows, doors, ripped out ceilings and thrown furniture out of the way. Ceilings & walls were black with soot. The adjuster told us that he considered everything inside our house a loss. He advised to only try to save what meant the most to us. He explained that the content of the house would have to be inventoried for loss and replacement value. He meant everything, clothes, toothbrushes, couches, everything in every room, drawer, closet & cabinet. It soon became apparent that my husband & I had a different opinion on how to deal with our content. He wanted to save as much as possible. I wanted nothing. As we surveyed each room it was hard to comprehend that everything we owned, everything that we had collected, loved, inherited or created was covered in black soot. Soot covered everything. It had oozed inside of every closed cabinet, every drawer, every crack & crevice. At that point the only thing that became important to me was the art. My Grandmother's paintings. My Mother’s, Daughter’s, Aunt’s and the one and only painting my Dad ever did. I panicked over the thought of losing them and I hoped and prayed that I wouldn’t. Soon I would remember that my photographs were also irreplaceable and the hard drive in my computers. But that was it, I wanted nothing else. My husband couldn’t understand this. He kept pulling things out to try to save. I admit as the inventorying went on, I found other things that I remembered were important to me. The artifacts that I had collected, the old books my daughter I collected. The tiny silver saccharine holder that came from my Grandmother's house, that my brothers and I played with as kids, and Jolly my plastic dinosaur. My husband couldn’t understand my unwillingness to try to save as much as possible. I couldn’t understand why he wanted to.
The insurance company hired a cleaning service that helped us clear out and inventory the content of the house. Without the wonderful lady that was in charge I’m sure I would be hospitalized somewhere. She was patient and caring and understood what heat and soot does to things. We waited toward the end of the process to inventory my art room. It was at the end of the house that was hit the worse. My beautiful art room was unrecognizable. Half the ceiling was down, everything was black. Twenty plus years of collected art supplies, boxes of ribbons, tools, craft supplies, frames & trinkets gone. My ancient giant easel with eons of paint globs gone. The current painting that was on it, gone. The inventory of art I was building to go into a little shop, gone. All my fairy forest paintings, that were most important to me, gone.
Insurance doesn’t pay for what they call intrinsic value. They will pay for the cost of the supplies to create it, but that's it. My patient cleaning mentor came to my rescue. She explained that they would list my art as “has sentimental value” and that would make it worth more in the insurance company’s eyes. That’s when it hit me. It wasn’t the fairy forest paintings that were so important to me. It was the memory of making them. The joy that it brought me that my daughter, son & nieces willingly went along with my vision and played with me in the forest. In fact wasn’t that exactly what everything in the house represented, a memory. That’s what my husband kept asking me, how could I just throw away all our memories. But a fire can’t take away your memories. Memories like the soot are invasive. They seep into everything, the good along with the bad. In twenty plus years of living somewhere you have both. The content in the house is just stuff. Stuff that evolved over the years through happenstance. Stuff that defined your style, your life, you're living conditions. Stuff that was collected and pushed into closets & drawers that you forgot you even had. Stuff can be replaced.
They gave us money to buy new clothes, toothbrushes & shoes. They moved us into an apartment. They rented us furniture, dishes, pots, pans & laundry baskets. Other than Jolly there is no personal stuff. The walls, floors & horizontal surfaces are empty. The place echo's. My poor Mother keeps trying to give me stuff to make me feel more at home. I don’t want it, I’m not at home.
What I have discovered is that life is a little like sweeping in the dark. You can see what's directly in front of you, but have no idea what you might be missing elsewhere. I know that right now I don’t want the responsibility of owning any stuff. My house will be taken mostly back to the studs, almost every part replaced. While the foundation and basic structure will remain the same, it will evolve into something new. That’s how I feel about me. I am no longer bound by preexisting conditions. I have the opportunity to explore new styles, new forms of creativity, new dreams. I hope & pray I’m up the challenge of creating a new reality and not holding on to the all invasive soot. My grief for the loss of my pets and especially for my Father will be a part of me forever, I can embrace and let go of the loss of my possessions. What I have now is freedom. Freedom to discover a whole new me.