part 7 in my blog series, Surviving a devastating fire.
Traumatic experiences have a far reaching impact, not just on the person that suffers the trauma.
In the case of my house fire, I live alone (with my cats). My parents live in Spain, my brother lives in England, my son lives in Australia.
Of course I have the most amazing friends living in Brooklyn, but this blog is more about family.
My nan was 97 at the time of the fire, and I pleaded with the family to not tell her what happened. She doesn’t need to have to worry about any of this.
Much of what happened “that night” comes back to me in snippets. But I will never forget calling my dad, as I stood watching my house burn down, knowing Ophelia was still inside.
It was about 6am in Spain, so I know my dad knew something was up. I just blurted it out – Ophelia is still inside, the house is on fire, I couldn’t get Ophelia. I heard dads voice break, I could feel him as if he was stood next to me – the fear and anguish came through the phone as clear as anything. I felt guilty that I was calling him to tell him, but it just seemed the right thing to do. I am a daddy’s girl, I always go to my dad in times of trouble. We weren’t on the phone for very long, I couldn’t concentrate.
I didn’t phone my brother, but I knew mum and dad would be in touch with him. We have a special sibling bond, and although we might not speak every day, we always have each others backs. My brother is a very caring and sensitive person, and I just know he was feeling everything I was feeling at that point. But of course my focus was on finding Ophelia, and my family totally understood that.
We are a family of animal lovers. My parents owned a dog and cat boarding, training and breeding kennels back in the 70’s / 80’s. This is where I learned the responsibility of animals, but also the unconditional love of an animal. We managed to rescue so many animals, and not just cats and dogs – I remember us taking care of a donkey too some time in the late seventies / early eighties. We also boarded a horse in our field, and when the owner passed away, we kept her. I knew nothing about horses, but learned fast! Our family knew a lot of folks in the “animal world” – I remember going to a chimps tea party, and snuggling with the chimps.
Back to the present day – As soon as Anthony found Ophelia, and I got her safely into the stroller, I called mum and dad immediately. It was a very emotional call – mostly of relief! “I got her! Dad, I got her! She is ok!” I was crying, mum and dad were crying, we may not have been physically together, but we celebrated virtually.
Once we got back to my friends flat, we let the cats out of the stroller, Ophelia, quite understandably was very stressed, and hid behind the sofa for quite a while. But knowing her brothers were there, she eventually came out and sat close to me on the sofa.
I FaceTimed with mum and dad when we got settled, they were so relieved to see all three cats together, and safe. Those hours between calls were very stressful on mum and dad – they felt so helpless. Mum and Dad had visited a few years back, and had met my close friends. They knew I was being taken care of, but it isn’t the same. They were so worried about all of this. Of course our first concerns were about Ophelia, but once we had her safe and sound, the conversation turned to “what happens next?”.
I asked my family to make me one promise – never tell my nan what happened! Nan was 97 years old at the time, and life was stressful and confusing enough for her with the damn pandemic, lockdowns, not being able to have physical contact with loved ones. That promise was never broken. Sadly Nan died in July 2021, she passed peacefully in her sleep at home with my aunt and cousins.
Anyway I digress …..
As the days and weeks went by, as I have mentioned in my other blog posts, I went into “Project Manager mode”, planning my next move, putting aside my emotions so I could find us a new home, and start rebuilding our life again. My daily FaceTime calls with mum and dad truly made a difference. Their love, support and encouragement spurred me on. I would share with them my thoughts and my plans as well as my fears.
I have always been a daddy’s girl, and my dad came through for me yet again, guiding me through the rough ride ahead.
I remember our first night – I posted a pic our our “sleeping arrangements” and the next day mum and dad were so upset – I didn’t have an ounce of furniture, just cat beds and cat toys! That is parents for you. Always worried about their kids – no matter how old!
Mum sometimes finds it difficult to talk about tough situations, and this was no different. All she wanted to do was be here to help me rebuild my home. Together we got through those first few weeks. Each day I would FaceTime and show them what had just arrived from Wayfair, Modani, or Bed, Bath and Beyond. We would reminisce about the item I had lost, but had bought again (Remember the blog “It’s just a colander”?).
Mum would (and continues) to mention items I no longer have – it was a trigger at the time, and she didn’t do it deliberately of course, and still to this day, I do reflect and lament some of those items that will never be replaced – like my “baby-book” that mum had when she was pregnant with me, and the “it’s a girl” notification card that my nan gave me – those are things that are now just memories. Mum gets upset that I went through all of this, but I remind her of the things we did save – her vase that I “stole” when I moved to America, my dad’s portrait that I had restored, my grandads brass bottle and brandy glasses – just a few things I was able to salvage, but they are very special items to me.
Back in 1998,, I had received a beautiful bouquet of flowers from a company I had been working with, I didn’t have any vases big enough, so I borrowed mums. Then the packers arrived and packed up the house ready for shipping to the USA. The vase was packed up too. To this day we laugh about me “stealing” mums vase. So when I saw it in the burned out ruin of my house, all dirty, wet and covered in part of the ceiling, but unscathed, I naturally grabbed it. When I showed it to mum, she cried with joy. Although material things may not matter to many, the journey that this vase has made holds a special place in our hearts.
It has been over a year since the fire now, and I am settled in my apartment, and pretty much have all I need. Sometimes I open the drawer to grab something, say a pastry brush or pizza slice, and it isn’t there. But I don’t get triggered now, instead I head to one of my online websites and place the order!
These days when I FaceTime with mum and dad, we do talk about this past year, and when I hear the words from my parents “You are a phoenix, you rose up from the ashes” or how proud they tell me they are of me for being so strong, I don’t hush them up, I too am full of pride – because mum and dad are the reason I was able to rise up, to rebuild. My parents raised me to be independent, to be able to overcome obstacles in life.
I can’t express enough how much I love my parents for always being there for me, whether it be in person, or via technology.
At the end of October (2021), I will be heading to Spain to visit my parents for the first time in almost 4 years – it will be an emotional reunion for sure, but we are all excited!
Thank you for reading my blogs, I find it soothing to share my thoughts