I’ve suffered loss by fire, in very different ways, twice in my life. The first fire was years ago. 1968 was a tumultuous year politically. There was the war in Vietnam (the Tet Offensive, the My Lai Massacre in March). In the U.S., the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. of Robert F. Kennedy in June.
It was also a tumultuous year for me. One day in September my husband came home early to tell me that my mother had died. She’d been alone and fallen asleep in the Boston brownstone where she was living with my stepfather and was asphyxiated when her cigarette fell between sofa folds. Shortly thereafter, I had a miscarriage. And I felt guilty about the strange attenuation of my emotions: that I had a more visceral sense of grief about the loss of the baby I never knew than about the loss of my mother by fire. I wondered whether had she lived if we would have had the chance to resolve some of our conflicts. Shock fell on me like a heavy blanket, although to say that I was immediately overwhelmed by grief would be disingenuous; it was more that I felt blocked.
2002 and the world was reeling in the aftermath of 9/11. My children were mostly grown. In 1991 my husband and I found and bought some property in Upstate New York. We began to fix the place up and started a sheep farm. One day in early September I was in our city apartment when I had a call from an unnamed official who said, “What’s your insurance company?". Unnerved, I asked what this was about. “There’s been a fire at your place", he answered." Where?!" I said, immediately wondering whether the fire was in one of the barns and whether our sheep were all right. But he wouldn’t tell me any more, so I rushed to our city garage and drove right to the farm.
The barns were untouched, but the main farmhouse where we lived was unrecognizable: charred and gutted, with many its contents destroyed.
It was eventually determined that the cause of the fire was arson. We suspected that the person was known to us, although this was never proven. We were able to have the house rebuilt, but some of my favorite things were lost forever. Among my favorite of these was an original drawing by a noted artist, of a little girl asleep with her dog.
I sometimes read about electrical fires in wood-frame houses in New Jersey cities, erupting and engulfing all the lives and the only shelter of their inhabitants, and I realize and appreciate that I am relatively fortunate. Still, smoke claimed my mother. Fire destroyed many things that had great sentimental value. The things we miss the most are generally not things that can be covered by insurance. Fire can bring great personal and property losses to anyone.
If you or someone you love has lost their home, Give InKind has the tools you need to start organizing that support system so that those affected can begin rebuilding their lives once again. See our guide on how to create a Give InKind Page for home loss from a house fire here.
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