Something awful happened to my family nearly two years ago and it has taken me a long time to put my experience into words. Maybe that’s because my feelings on it have evolved and I really needed to take that time to reflect on the whole thing.
But here it is.
On July 4th of 2018, our house caught on fire. An electrical fire in the wall behind the oven, they said. No one was home… we were out celebrating the holiday. Ironic that while we were watching beautiful fireworks, our house was experiencing fire in the most devastating way.
Okay, maybe devastating doesn’t even begin to cover it.
It may not have burned to the ground, but I cannot describe the damage and heartache that resulted. It was a hot day, so the windows were all closed and the air conditioning was running. That meant that there was not enough oxygen to feed the fire, so it extinguished itself. But not before the smoke tore through the entire house, ruining just about everything and killing our pets.
Our beagle (Oliver), our two cats (Poppy and Ophelia), and our rabbit (Bear) were in the house at the time of the fire and they all died from smoke inhalation. Thinking about what they experienced before they took their last breaths still gives me nightmares. Lost belongings can be replaced and a smoke damaged home can be repaired. But our pets? We will never have them back. The fire took them away from us on an evening that was meant for celebration.
Everyone says “Just be grateful that you weren’t home”, as if I hadn’t already considered that. Of course I’m grateful that my husband, my children, and myself weren’t home and that we came out of it safely. But that doesn’t change what WAS lost. Pets are family and I can’t even explain how much it hurts my heart to relive that day.
But you see, our lives weren’t following their usual path at the time of the fire.
Daniel and I were separated and the kids and I were living with my mom. The details of the separation don’t matter and are a topic for another time, but this explains why most of our everyday necessities were not in the home and were obviously safe from the flames, while Daniel lost practically everything he owned.
In the months leading up to the fire, Daniel was working very hard to overcome his own struggles and to put the pieces of his life back together. I was proud of him for taking the necessary steps to fix what had been broken.
And while I wanted my family back, the thought of going back to our house was difficult for me. So many painful memories that I would have to shove aside just to step foot through the door.
And then the fire happened.
Never in a million years would I have wished for something like this, but sometimes, the worst things in life can also be the best things. They come with a sliver of hope that things can and will get better. And that was the case with the fire.
It gave us something that we never knew we needed… a clean slate. We needed to have things taken away from us to realize what we had. What we were willing to work hard enough to preserve. What we were capable of living without. And when you lose so many things, you realize pretty quickly that there are very few things that you actually need.
The excess was stripped away. Things that we loved were gone. There were holes in my heart that I would never be able to fill, and I still live with the pain and emptiness that comes with that.
And what was left? The five of us. Four in one house, one searching for somewhere to stay while we ever so slowly rebuilt our life together.
Sometimes I wonder if Daniel and I’s marriage would have been able to survive had the fire not happened. It’s not a pleasant thing to consider, but I do it anyway. And at the end of the day, I guess it doesn’t really matter. We are where we are and we’ve worked our asses off as a couple to get here. It’s just heartbreaking that we had to lose so much in the process.
Life doesn’t always give you what you want, but sometimes it gives you exactly what you need. And I think the fire did that for us.
I feel like an awful person saying that. And it’s something that I’ve ruminated on for a long time. Maybe that’s why it took me so long to write about it. I needed to process how I felt about it all, and those feelings are incredibly complicated. You can hate something that happened to you and be grateful of what resulted, all at the same time.
Sure, nothing can truly erase trauma. But you can learn to move on. You can be given the opportunity and the tools to do so. Even if it’s hard. Even if it’s painful.
So when life hands you something so crippling that you don’t think you can get through it, remember that there might just be a light at the end. That the worst things can sometimes also be the best things.
Not always. But sometimes. And maybe this is one of those times.