The aftermath – 30 Days
More than a month passed since the tragic event that destroyed our home and possessions. I learned a lot during this time. I learned that although I am strong there are limits to what I can bear by myself. I truly needed my family and friends to get me through the heartache brought by this event. I always thought of myself as independent and self sufficient, a person who can get through anything alone. Now I learned now to let go a little and allow my family and friends to see me vulnerable. To see me cry. To hold my hand.
There is so much that was lost to the fire. Treasured possessions and memorabilia are the first that come to mind. What was also lost was a way of life. No longer do I get up and spend a happy day cooking, writing, photographing in the kitchen. No longer do I sit in the sunroom making morning calls to my children and girlfriends.
Now my day is filled with work related to the fire. I sit at the computer in a strange apartment creating spreadsheets listing the content of our home for insurance purposes. I enter each room in my mind and begin thinking of content. I start on the right and walk around the room. Every closet, every drawer, every corner. It’s easy to recall furnishing. It’s more difficult to remember personal items. Did I have 20 shawl? 30? Shawls were my signature clothing item. I had dozens of them. It’s almost embarrassing to put it down on the spreadsheet. Who has 30 shawls?
I look at pictures on my computer (the computer was pulled out by the recovery team before the fire reignited and consumed the remainder of the house). I attach pictures to the spreadsheet categories. These pictures show the living room, these show the kitchen. See? I really had the things I am listing. It is a slow, heartbreaking process that keeps me immersed in the loss, makes me even more aware of the magnitude of what had happened. At first I want to list everything. I had 10 Herend porcelain tea cups and saucers, I want them listed, remembered. I had 6 framed family pictures on the desk. I must write them down. But as the days go by and the lists compiled I no longer have the energy or will power to list every item. Now it’s 20 white plates, or 10 black dresses. I have to move forward.
The first few days after the fire were filled with things that had to be done. Tooth brush, tooth paste, hair brush, lipstick. Ordering new keys for the vehicle. Buying an iPhone, a computer, file folders. Get a few things to allow me to function and respond to the insurance, recovery crew, fire investigators and police. Then came canceling services to the house. Phone service, internet, TV, waste disposal, utilities, alarm service. Did I think of every service? I cancelled upcoming vacations, hotels, vacation rentals, plane tickets. I am glad my children were with me to make those calls, look up the numbers, explain the situation. I was disoriented, not my normal functioning self.
Then came trying to re-issue identification, re-establishing identity. Credit cards and bank cards needed to be ordered. Driver’s license re-issued. Passport was a problem because I wasn’t born in Canada and had to prove citizenship. It takes 5 months to get a new citizenship certificate if you have your IDs intact. I had nothing. Eventually things got done. I even have a temporary passport, valid or 2 years until I can prove citizenship.
We were staying in a hotel and needed to find a place to live. This had a finality element. To agree to move into an apartment I had to accept on some level that I no longer had a home. We viewed different places but I couldn’t commit to any of them. I didn’t want an apartment. I so wanted to go home, to my beautiful, comfortable home nestled at the end of the trail. That is where I belong, where I can be myself, where the world makes sense.
After 2 weeks in a hotel we moved into a 2 bedroom apartment in a high rise downtown. The apartment is sparsely furnished and this suits me fine. I couldn’t bear moving into someone else’s home that is full of their personal belongings. We bought our own mattress and box spring to fit into the queen bed frame in the bedroom. We bought our own linen and towels. The kitchen was also empty but I didn’t mind. I started to buy a few basic things so that I can make simple meals for my husband and I. A couple of Japanese hand forged knives, sharp as a razor blade, a few pots and pans, cutlery, a few white plates. I haven’t been able to really cook yet, in the abundant style I loved in my home. Instead I made a simple pasta, a lentil soup from Mercato that I embellished a bit, a baked potato, green salad, these sort of things. However simple, it was a welcome relief from eating out. As good as restaurant food can be, there is nothing like simple homemade food.
Clothing is another issue. I cannot bring myself to buy clothes. Nothing appeals to me and my mind refuses to accept that I lost what I had. Why would I buy this dress when I have 10 dresses like that in my closet? I don’t want these boots. I love the ones I have at home. It’s funny how the mind works. I know I don’t have the clothes but my mind refuses to accept the reality. From a wardrobe that was built over years and reflected my taste for quality and style I am down to nothing yet buying new clothes has no appeal at the moment. Not at all. The few things I purchased out of necessity would do for the time being.
I am determined though to move forward. The psychologist who is helping me through this says, you can either allow this event to destroy you or you make a decision to move forward. He asked me bluntly while I was sitting in his office completely consumed by the loss “would it have been better if you died in the fire?”. Of course not, it would not have been better. I have too much to live for.
I try to keep things in perspective. I watch the news and see entire communities destroyed by floods. So many people losing their home, possessions and worse yet, loved ones. I am deeply moved by their ordeal. Many do not have insurance or the means to move forward.
I know what I need to do but it will take time. A month is not enough to recover from such a loss. I am not even through with the insurance preliminary work, let alone the insurance loss recovery work. I have to gather my strength, get the work done, try to live in the present, not in the past. Yet I feel that I need to grieve, to remember, to mourn the loss. It’s not quite clear to me how to do all that, all at the same time.
As disoriented as I feel now, I know that in time I will move forward. Hopefully moving forward will be the subject of my next post on this blog.
Thanks for listening.
I felt your pain and loss when I read this part of your blog. Thankfully time does help us to heal and I wish this process for you. Looking at the gigantic mess the Bow and Elbow Rivers delivered to Calgary and environs, I multiply your anguish by thousands. It is hard to conceive of this much pain.