Thursday, March 22, 2012

3 Weeks Later

I've been back in Florida for just over a week now. I have good days and bad days, not many in the middle yet. Every day I seem to alternate between desperately wanting to return back to Texas and feeling like I should stay here a bit longer. I'm lucky to have some really amazing roommates who have been superb at keeping me busy. I've finally ventured over to our apartment pool, which looks like it's straight from a resort, and also over to Universal Studios. I finally made it to Hogwarts! That was a much needed mental health day.

The only plan right now is to take one day at a time, and to try not to make any major decisions on the bad days.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Facing the Fire

Shortly after getting the call from my mom telling me our house was burning down, I did was any person living in the 21st century would do: I googled "what to do when your house burns down." Yep. Thankfully, it took me to a blog called Life After The Fire written by a woman named Brooke, who began her blog after her house burned in 2008. She was able to put things into words in a way I cannot, so I'm including some excerpts from several of her blogs and will attach a link to her blog at the end if you want to read more.
Brooke- wherever you are, I hope you don't mind my quoting you! Your blog has been a tremendous help to me and I am grateful to have stumbled upon it.

  •  First and foremost, watch what you say. But please say something. "I am SO sorry. What can I do to help?" is always a very safe bet. Avoid phrases like, "At least you're ok" (because they probably aren't) or "It's just stuff" (because it probably wasn't).  [Amy here- in addition to this, please don't say, "at least your whole family is safe." Burying 2 of our cats, without knowledge of the third, does not feel like our whole family being safe. We lost precious members of our family. I am beyond thankful my parents and brother are safe, as well as the dogs (and duck) but we are allowed to mourn our deep losses. Also, hearing "I know exactly what you're going through," ... not helpful. I promise, unless you've lost your home like this, it's impossible to relate.]
  • I have done a lot of shopping in the last few weeks. I'm not happy to have new things, even if they were things that I have wanted for a couple of years. Instead, I am just really bummed that I even have to do this. There is nothing comforting about shopping to replace the items you have lost. Many of the things I had are no longer sold. Not only can I not replace those items, but I don't have a way to determine the replacement cost for insurance.

  • Now we have a new normal, although it still doesn't feel right. It is returning to normal, but it is still not what I planned. I come home and sort through piles of donated clothes. I go to the store to buy the things I need and try not to break down over losing simple things like a spatula. It used to seem fun to be able to go out and buy all new things. That is a delusion... especially when you are buying it to replace everything you lost. 

  • In moments of tragedy, you learn to say, "I'm sorry," if you can't say anything else. [Really, sometimes less is more.]

  • We need space to grieve as well. And I hope that space is filled with the love and comfort that most of this community seems so willing to provide. As for those who can't understand, know that in your time of need, this community will still come through for you. They will stand alongside you, grieve with you, and then lift you back up. [There will be bad days for us- please be patient and realize we won't always be our old, normal selves.]

  • I do not feel like a victim. Our home was the victim of a fire. I was a homeowner who lost my past... and to some degree my sense of peace and security. I look at a candle and think, "Will I ever be able to burn a candle in my house?" My husband hears the A/C making funny noises in the hotel and turns it off because he is worried about fire. But even with those losses and the emotional toll this week has taken, I am not a victim. I believe there are things that I can control, foremost amongst them being my attitude. As long as I can do that, no act or circumstance can MAKE me suffer.

  • This week has been really hard. I am starting to see the toll this is taking on me emotionally. Like I said yesterday, I was surprised by how angry I was when I started talking about our loss. I've cried more this week than I have since the first week. The grief cycle isn't linear. There are moments of acceptance, moments of anger, moments of incredible denial.

  • I see this experience as a path that is forever unfolding. I will continue to learn and grow from it likely for the rest of my life. I cannot judge myself based on one day or one week. It's ok to have low moments. As Mandela said, "The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall." I will rise from this experience. And I will be better for it. And it's ok if I don't always enjoy the ride.

  • I know that I am strong.
    I am learning it's ok to be weak.
    I know that I have (literally) a community of support.
    I am learning it's ok to ask for help.
    I know that our house will be beautiful.
    I am learning that it often takes patience and time before we can see the beauty.
    I know that I will come out at the other end of this a better person. I know. I wish that I didn't have to go through this. I wish that I could hand this burden off to someone else. But I also believe that this is not a mistake. That I was meant to walk this path. I know that I will learn the lessons I was meant to learn. I am learning.

That's enough of Brooke's wise words today... I hope this helps shed some light on our world right now. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

One Week Later

It's been about a week and a half since the fire now, and life continues to go on. I have finally had a few days now that I haven't been out to the house- it's been a nice break. Later today we will head out there to begin house-sitting for our neighbors on vacation. It was a win-win deal: they found someone to watch their house and feed their dogs, while we get the wonderful change of pace by not living in a hotel room AND get to by close to our dogs as well. The past week has been traumatic for them too. Hopefully we won't have to return to the hotel in the sense of it being 'home.'   Our insurance found a rental home that my parents will get to move into next Thursday, and that will be our semi-permanent home for the next many, many months. I haven't gotten to see the rent house yet, but the facts that it 1)isn't a hotel, and 2)has a fenced in yard for our dogs and duck, are enough to win my approval.

I've finally gotten to see several Denton friends over the past several days, which has been wonderful. The best night that I've had since leaving Florida came this past Wednesday night, when my best friend Kaitlyn became engaged to her amazing boyfriend, now fiance, Clayton! I was lucky enough to be a part of the proposal with another friend, hiding in the background to take pictures. I can't even explain how wonderful it was to get to witness this happy event.

The future Wilsons!
I got to see several more friends and Sigma sisters that night as well as the following night. Unfortunately Thursday evening I had some sort of severe allergy attack- still not sure from what exactly. I will refrain from posting pictures of my swollen face, because it was downright hideous, haha. Friday, after a few hours of my head reeling, swimming, feeling foggy and on the verge of consciousness, a friend took me to a Care Now clinic, where they diagnosed my symptoms as severe allergic reaction and vertigo. Overall, not the best day. I'm feeling much better today luckily; the medications are doing their job well.

Only a few more days remaining for me in Texas, and I have mixed feelings regarding Florida. I am overjoyed to get to see several of my roommates Wednesday night, but I know it will be difficult leaving here as well. This is all I have of updates for now!
Thanks to everybody for all the support and love :)

Until next time,

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Fire

On February 28th our lives changed and lost all recognition. Rather than try and recount everything myself, I am just including the email my mom sent to my Grandma. It has all the details of the nightmare we have been living these past few days.

Dear Mother,
Thanks for your kind words of love and support. It truly is overwhelming to start this process of trying to put our life back together.

Yesterday JD buried Amy's beloved cat Lucy and Squirt, one of our cats. The only one still missing is our precious Munchkin. We adored that rascal. He brought us so much laughter, comfort, and joy.

My cellphone was lost in the fire, as well as my car, which was in the garage. I only got a rental car and a new phone yesterday since I had to get into FW to do that. Wayne from JD's office drove me in, after working at least 8 hrs at our house dragging items outside and shoveling debris inside.

Val and Jennifer were so helpful on Wednesday, the day after the fire. They drove me around to Kohls, Walmart, and Walgreens to start replacing some basic necessities. Jennifer even picked Amy up at Love Field around 9 pm and drove her back to meet us in Hurst.

We have all been at the house every day because there is a ton of work to do before the burned hulk is boarded up. The fire marshal says the fire started in the attic over the garage and spread through the house through the attic. Of course, I know this is true because I watched it happen as I stood across the street.

I got home from work at 6:45 Tuesday, parked in the garage, changed into a nightgown, fed all 7 pets, then sat down on the sofa in the living room to read the paper and watch TV, just to relax. JD was working til 9:00 that night. I had only been sitting a few minutes when I was terrified by a furious pounding on the front door.

Our neighbor Chris was screaming, "Sherry, your house is on fire!!!"
She was out walking her dog when she saw flames shooting out of the roof over the garage.  We have several smoke alarms and none had yet gone off. I did not smell smoke at all. I'm looking at Chris as truly being an angel in my life.

I was barefoot and wearing a nightgown and just ran out and did not go back in. She frantically called 911 as I ran across the street to call JD from another neighbor's house.

Poor JD! Imagine getting a call from your hysterical wife sobbing, "our house is burning down!!!" He just said, "I'm on my way" and got there in about 20 minutes.

Due to the fact that we live in an unincorporated area of Parker County and everyone has wells as their water source, there are no fire hydrants here. We depend on mostly rural volunteer fire departments. I believe there were units from 9 different municipalities that responded. There had not been a house fire in the area in the 3 years we've lived there, so we had no idea what to expect.

It was agonizing to wait the approximately 15 or 20 minutes for the first unit to arrive. I really don't know how long it was. When you're watching your house burn, even 5 minutes probably would have seemed like an eternity. And even after they arrived, it seemed to take forever before we actually saw any water spraying onto the roof. I know they were doing the very best they could under such difficult circumstances.

The firefighters only had the water they could truck in on tankers. For hours they drove back and forth to refill tankers. The first responders were there sometime after 8:00; the last firefighters left the scene at 1:30 a.m.

They worked heroically, and we will be forever grateful to them. They may have gotten tired of me thanking them passionately so many times that night. I tried to thank each individual I could. I hope to see them again in person someday and be able to do something for them. I know it's not expected, but we are just so extremely thankful for their efforts.

The Red Cross truck came with water, juice, and snacks for the firefighters and for us, too. They even said they could put us up in a hotel for 3 days and provide a voucher for some clothes and food. We were appreciative but prefer they save those resources for families that don't have insurance. The couple were so nice and insisted we call them later if they could help with anything. Thank God for the good work the Red Cross does at such difficult times.

With some help, I did manage to get our 3 dogs out of the backyard and safely into a neighbor's fenced yard. Later another neighbor went into the backyard and retrieved a very nervous Pig the Duck for us! I was thrilled to hold that scamp and put him in the yard with his buddies, the dogs.

I feel guilty that I didn't go back in the house to try and find our much-loved cats and take them to safety with me. I knew better, of course, and that it would be very dangerous since the burning roof could have collapsed on me, but I also knew how traumatized Amy would be to lose Lucy in a fire. And she is. Lucy was the love of her life. Everyone who knows Amy knows how much a part of her life Lucy was. It was hard for her to have to leave Lucy with us when she moved to Orlando in January. It helped then that she knew she'd be moving back to Texas in August and would be re-united with her beloved kitty. This is a nightmare no one would  have imagined. Unfortunately, Amy was the one to spot Lucy's body in the house yesterday.

When I ran out of the house, I purposely left the front door wide open, hoping the cats would run outside at some point. Sadly, we now know that at least two of them did not. We still hold a tiny bit of hope that Munchie ran out and is hiding scared in some brush in the area, but since this is now  Day 3 and he hasn't come back, we know it's unlikely. Maybe we'll get a miracle.  (please, God?)

We have the most fantastic friends, neighbors, church members, and co-workers in the world! The outpouring of support and offers of help and places to stay has been amazing. Our pastor has called to check on us several times and even offered to return from a conference in Austin if we needed him to! We can replace a house and possessions but could never replace the loving people in our lives.

It has been so hard for Jeff to be stuck in Honolulu while his parents and sister can grieve and cry together and hug each other, and he can't physically be with us. He desperately wants to be here so our whole family can be together. He even offered to move back. He is calling and texting us several times a day. But since he just moved there in January and is pretty much penniless, we have encouraged him to stay there. After a frustrating job search over the last 2 months, he had finally landed a job and was scheduled to start TODAY! How he'll be able to concentrate, I don't know, but bless his heart, he's gamely going in.

I hoped maybe we could afford to fly him home for a quick visit, but checked airfares yesterday, and it would be over $1,000 round trip! We just can't do it. It's good for him to be away from Ft. Worth, and now that he's found a job, we think he can be successful there. He's even talking about starting the University of Hawaii next year when he would no longer have to pay out-of-state tuition.

This is without a doubt the longest email I've ever written in my life, and the most distressing. But I know that it's hard for you to be in Arlington and not be able to see us (and we feel the same) since you can't drive anymore. I promise that  JD, Amy, and I will come and take you out to lunch on Sunday. There's just a overwhelming number of details that we are having to attend to right now. It'll be nice to take a breather and get away from this for a while.

State Farm has put us up at an extended-stay hotel in the area so at least we do have a comfortable bed and a little kitchenette. Amy is sleeping on the sofa bed, and we bought a few groceries yesterday. Tuesday night we slept at a neighbor's house (actually, we didn't sleep since we couldn't, but at least we rested in a bed from about 4:30 a.m. until it got light). Then we went back to the house to search for our cats.

Our wonderful next-door neighbors on both sides have been so generous. They've given use of their bathrooms during the day for all our volunteer helpers, brought lunch over, and provided storage space in their garage for some salvaged items.

Others have brought boxes, storage bins, bubble wrap, bottled water, toiletries ... you name it, they've tried to supply it. Now I know what I can do in the future to help others in this situation because I've seen how helpful it is to have these things provided. A little while ago I was going crazy looking for a pen or pencil; I needed to write some phone numbers down and couldn't even find a simple thing like that. (I finally found the pen the hotel puts by the phone in the room.)

Oh my gosh - Amy just called from the house and said that she and JD just recovered a bunch of my clothes from a closet in the guest room! My slovenly habits just paid off! (It feels good to laugh about something!) These were clothes I had washed but not folded or ironed or hung up. I probably "hid" the laundry basket in that closet the last time we had company. If I were an organized person, the clothes would have been neatly hanging in the closet in our room; everything in there was burned. Let's hear it for the organizationally-challenged folks of the world ... I am their leader and always have been. Maybe I can try to be neater in my new life. We shall see.

It was miraculous to me on Tuesday night to see the firefighters coming out of our house carefully carrying charred photo albums like the treasures that they most definitely are. We should be able to scan and reprint many of the pictures, I think. We also recovered many of my treasured knick-knacks and  some other things that had been hanging on walls. I know we didn't have expensive things, but our things naturally have a great deal of sentimental value to us. It will be nice when we eventually have another place to live to see a few familiar things among the new items that we'll have to get.

Sorry to be so long-winded, but I really wanted to give you as much information as I could about the situation. Like I said, we will plan to see you on Sunday. We'll come over after church. Thank you for always being there for us. We love you very much. Please don't worry about us. We have been very fortunate, all things considered. By the grace of God and with all the love we're surrounded by, we will make it through this.

Love, Sherry