If I had known that our sunny afternoon outing to the Toronto islands was going to finish with my bedroom reduced to a heap of ashes I might have planned things differently…
Now that it’s long past, I’ve decided to start a blog about what it’s like to experience a house fire. What I lost, what I gained and what I learnt.
Our family: My kids and their reaction to the loss were my biggest concern in the days and months after the fire. They seemed to be doing fine. Lots of remarks about resilience were thrown our way. As the National Child Traumatic Stress Network explains, each child’s response to trauma is different depending on their age and circumstances. What I learnt is that kids don’t necessarily reveal stress in the way that we expect. Whilst my sunny 6 year old was only too happy to try out the hotel hot tub and go shopping for replacement toys, my 11 yr. old son took to playing video games for hours in the middle of the night.
Our stuff: as a gruff fire fighter said to me “it’s not the end of the world”.
But it is a WordPress daily blog prompt: “Your home is on fire. Grab five items (assume all people and animals are safe). What did you grab?” No armchair speculation here. I had 2 minutes. I have my answer: my daughter’s 3 foot gorilla stuffy. (Turns out it’s hard to pick).
I always wanted to apply the destufffocation method to my eclectic wardrobe. Somehow never got round to it. Losing every stitch of clothing I owned was both freeing (no more shoulder pads and crop tops) and saddening (it takes time for those favourite jeans to acquire the perfect slouchiness).
But thankfully, we had decent insurance: stuff is mostly possible to replace.
The right kind of sharing: do not, (I repeat DO NOT) share pictures of your charred underwear lying in the street on your Facebook page. Not unless you want to answer many many phone calls from “helpful” businesses wanting to offer you their post-fire services. But DO tell your friends and neighbours. They are dying to help.
Our community: It was miraculous after our fire, how many unexpected offers of help we received. This flow of great generosity was by far the most positive aspect of the whole experience. Be warned though, not everyone knows how to help. When your well-meaning friend says: “must be nice to get a whole new house reno” or “it must be nice to go shopping for brand new everything” they are trying to give you a half full cup. Drink it and try to smile.
There are lots of community services out there to give you the extra help you might need immediately after a fire. The Red cross offers emergency lodging, food and clothing.
So, you’ve survived the immediate aftermath of a fire. Friends have rallied round. You think you’re coping well. Prepare for the long haul. It took our family two years and four moves to return to our home after the fire. Our day to day lives carried on after a bit, but I did underestimate the subtle disruptive effects of losing a home. We stopped going to art museums, going on family hikes, having dinner parties. In retrospect, this was unintended, but it turned out to be a bigger loss than our possessions.
and finally, the Insurance Guys: If you think you’re going to outfox your insurance company with clever spreadsheets, think again. They have their quotas and their business goals. It turns out that they are going to bore you into submission with insane depreciation formulae and parametric estimates for rebuilding your house (stay tuned for more about insurance issues in later posts).