In an instant

Last night, my head was preoccupied with last-minute work on a special project and putting the finishing touches on a post. My husband Tom and I had also been discussing the logistics of possibly attending BlogHer Food 2010 in San Francisco. These were the things that weighed on my mind.

A mere hour or so later—an instant, really—we were outside, in our shirts and shorts, watching our house crumble as it was engulfed in flames. I’ll never forget that hissing and crackling noise as my husband’s home of almost 30 years practically disintegrated before our eyes.

But we were safe. All of us. Our son Tim, without hesitation, ran back inside when he realized his grandmother was sleeping upstairs. By the time he got to her, it was too late to try and exit the house the same way he came in. Fortunately, Tom had devised a fire escape plan years ago, and Tim was able to bodily carry his feeble 82-year-old grandmother out the window, onto the roof, and eventually down on the deck. The sight of this brave son of mine carrying his grandmother as he ran down the lawn and away from the house is one I will never forget.

Obviously, none of us slept last night. We are fortunate to belong to a congregation that is as close to us as family, and one of our dear friends drove to our house last night to pick us up and take us to her home, which is where I sit right now, typing this.

The magnitude of the loss is almost too much to comprehend in its entirety. So last night, I mentally walked through all the rooms in the house, taking stock of what was valuable in that room, and then systematically making peace with the loss. I said goodbye to my new MacBook Pro, my 500GB drive of photographs, another 500GB drive of music files. My purse, with all my identification cards, and all the car keys—car keys that are useless anyway, since the flames have likely taken our cars too. Our passports and birth certificates. My husband’s prosthetic leg, without which he is unable to freely move around. Our shoes, all our clothes, and our musical equipment. My engagement ring and my wedding ring, and a gold bracelet passed on to me by my mother on my wedding day.

My baby pictures, which are the only remaining proof that once upon a time, I was actually cute. My iPod Touch, the value of which is immeasurable because it held all my half-finished songs, poems, and writings.

But when I weigh it all against the value of being able to hold my husband’s hand and my son’s hand last night as we said a family prayer of thanks for our survival, as well as a petition for strength to deal with the days to come, and the fact that this morning, I woke up to a day with both of them still with me, then I still think I got the better end of the deal.

Oh, and I’m sorry that’s an old photo I used in this post. You see, my beloved Canon 5D and all those lenses I had? They’re gone too.

Which stings, I’ll admit. But all I have to do is throw a glance my family’s way and yes, I’m still blessed.


229 thoughts on “In an instant”

    1. Oh my goodness. I don’t even know what to tell you other than thank God you and your family are alive and well. I got teary-eyed thinking of your son carrying his grandmother out of the house. My heart aches for you and all I can think to tell you the God is with you and, even in this most horrible test, He will show you why it had to happen. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

  1. Ivory I am speechless. I am sitting here with tears streaming down my face. I am so happy to hear that your family is safe. Your realization that you are very blessed despite the circumstances is so very true. Your son is truly a hero for risking his life to save his grandmother. And we could all take a lesson from your husband who actually came up with a fire escape plan that allowed your son to get out of the house.

    Other than the photos and the writing… the rest of it is all just stuff when compared with the preciousness of your lives. It’s all replaceable.

    I know this will be a very difficult time for you and your family as you piece your lives back together. Please keep us posted and let us know if there is anything we can do to help. God bless you.

  2. This is just unbelievable. I am so very sorry. I am so relieved that you are all okay. Your son is a hero. I am typing through tears – please, anything we can do, please, please let us know.

  3. I can only imagine the shock that you and your family are in. So thankful that everyone was able to get out safely, especially after your son returning to save his grandmother. My heart aches for what you are dealing with right now and for what lies ahead as you come to terms with having to rebuild. It seems that you are blessed with the support of a very caring community and I know that love and caring and desire to help you all in the days to come will only expand as word of this spreads.
    Know that people you have never met are thinking of you, praying for you and are at the ready to help in any way they can.
    God bless you and your loved ones.

  4. Erika, you remind me time and time again that you’re made of good stuff. Your words during a time of such horror are a lesson for me to step back and look at how we’re so blessed with friends, and family, and life. I’m so glad you’re all safe and sound. Please know that we’re praying for you all and whatever we can do to help please let us know.

  5. Erika, it wasn’t until I read your words that I could really wrap my head around what has happened to you. There aren’t really words to explain how upset, sad, angry, and sorry I am on your behalf, and we hardly know each other. It’s just stuff, but it’s stuff you built your life around. I am so glad that you and Tom and Tim and Tim’s grandmother are safe, if not sound.

    In the days to come, I hope you know that you have this second congregation – the readers and bloggers who love you and will support you in any way that we can. I’m not so far away, in Scotch Plains. And if there’s anything I can do to help you begin to rebuild, I’ll be there. Biggest hugs.

  6. Erika, as Amy said, you are made of good stuff. And while I’ve come to this site for a good long while, I’m so thankful to have finally met you this summer. Yes,the gift of family and friends are so much richer than any of the ‘stuff’ we think is important. I will never forget the picture you’ve painted of your son carrying his grandmother across the roof and down to safety – thank you God, for this child and for his father, who years ago, mapped out a way for escape. We are here for whatever you need, when you need it.

  7. Erika I am so very glad that all of you made it out safely. I can’t imagine the loss and overwhelming shock that you must feel right now. Reading your post this morning only brings to heart even more clearly what a truly amazing, genuine, positive woman you are. From my family to yours we are sending you all of our love and support. Please (seriously) if you need anything at all don’t hesitate to ask.


  8. So very sorry for your loss! I am sure you can feel this outpouring of love & support from around the world.
    I think we are all appreciating our loved ones a bit more after reading this. Thank you for sharing in your time of loss.
    Thoughts & prayers are with you and your family.
    God Bless & Keep You…

  9. Oh my! I’m so sorry to hear about your loss! What a vivid reminder to all of us about what’s really important. The picture of your son running back in the house for his grandma is so inspiring.

  10. Your words brought tears to my eyes…My prayers are with you- to heal and be able to look ahead to a new chapter in your life of rebuilding and growth, and blessings of knowing all that matters is safe. And with time, all things will be replaced. Love, hugs and best wishes.

  11. Oh my goodness I don’t even know where to begin with what to say that could even remotely make you feel better. I’m so glad you and your family are ok, and sorry for you unfathomable loss. Please let all of us know what we can do to help you through this!

  12. Oh Erika, I am so, so sorry. I am so relieved to know that you and your family are okay, but my heart is also heavy for the loss of your home and possessions. Your son is a hero for turning to go back inside the house without hesitation to save your grandmother…what a blessing that you all have each other.

    I’ll be praying for you and for your family…and I know I am a ways away but please, let me know if there is anything at all I can do, seriously. Sending lots of love, hugs, and prayers your way.

  13. I’m so very sorry for your loss! So thankful that you all made it out safe–that’s the most important thing. But sorry for the loss of your home, your mementos, your things. I can’t imagine. Sending prayers to all of you.

  14. How does one respond to this except by saying you are right, you have everything you need right beside you. The love of family and friends is far greater than things. I am glad to know you are all safe and sound! Keeping you in our prayers today and for the weeks to come.

  15. As I started to read this, my eyes started to well up. I was reminded of when I lived in Florida and our apartment complex caught on fire. We were fortunate enough not to lose anything, but I can sympathize with the thoughts that go through your mind while you watch something like this.

    I am terribly sorry for the pain and suffering this causes, my thoughts and prayers will be with you and your family.

  16. You are still so eloquent and insightful in spite of the trauma you and your family have just endured. Truly inspirational you are. I am so very grateful to have had the pleasure to meet you in person. Your gifts are abundant, your talents a gift and the giver of all of those things will hold all of you gently in his hands now more than ever-and always. And so will all of us…you are not alone. I just know that while this is unfathomable, you & your family will find blessings even in this. Anything you need, anything at all…just say the word. John & I will be keeping you in our thoughts and prayers.

  17. Oh sweetie…….Im speechless. And so very very sorry for all that you have lost. But yes, you have an amazing attitude and I thank God that you are all safe. When we are finally called home to eternity we will all have to walk away from everything here on earth and we will realize its actual worthlessness. But it does so help to have it all here and now. My heart breaks at the thought of the photos, the half finished songs, poems, writings…big hug and love to you from me in Cape Town xx

  18. OMG! So sorry about your loss!! But so glad you are all safe. Memories are never lost. even if they reside only in your mind! HUGS to you and wishing you all the very best to rebuilding your life!

  19. You are truly inspirational. I was speechless when reading your post and was instantly brought to tears. You have amazing amounts of strength.
    I’m so sorry for the loss of your home and all the memories that were left inside. You have a strong family and I have every bit of confidence you will all lean on each other through this time.
    You are in my prayers and thoughts.

  20. OMGosh… I am just… floored. Truly. I cannot imagine losing everything material in this world. I’m sure you are in a fog trying to figure it all out, and I’m sure that it still feels a bit surreal. WOW. I am soooo glad you all made it out alive and well.

    Any clue what started the fire? I’m sooooo sorry for your material loss, but grateful for that you have what is, essentially, the most important things: your family.

    I don’t know you, but am sending you virtual love and will most definitely hold my 5D a little closer tonight. (I’m so attached to that thing, so I can only imagine…) Ugh. SO sorry, hon.

  21. When struggling through the aftermath of a tornado, I came to understand what you have already shared–that being able to hold the hands of those you love will always matter more than anything material that was lost. You are in my thoughts!

  22. Oh no, oh no!! Erika– I don’t know what to say. I am in tears for the loss of your family’s home and treasures, but so relieved that you all are safe in each other’s arms. I know you won’t like this question, but is there an address where we can send you anything?

  23. Erika, I sit here dumbfounded as to what it is you and your family must be going through. I am sure all you want to do is sit and hug your family…your son is a hero, thank goodness he reacted quickly, stayed calm and made it out with his grandmother in tow.
    I want to hop in my car and come to help…in the end as everyone is and will say thank God you are all safe. But those memories and possessions some of which are irreplaceable will of course haunt forever.
    What is that saying…Out of the ashes a phoenix shall rise…that is my wish for you and yours. If I can help in any way please, please don’t hesitate to tell me.

  24. Oh my gosh, I am so sorry. I am praying for your family. Is there anything fellow bloggers can do to help you? We’re up for anything-just let us know.

    Take care and again, I am so sorry to hear this.

  25. Oh, Erika…my heart is absolutely breaking for you. I am so thankful that you and your family are safe. What a brave and dedicated son you have to go back in to save his grandmother – you had me in tears. You lost so many possessions that you can’t replace but, as you said it best, you have your family surrounding you. I will do anything I can to help. The blogging community will pull together to help you b/c you are one special lady.

  26. Oh my! I am so sorry! I am thankful that everyone made it out okay. Your son is truly a hero! I am also thankful that you have such a great congregation to turn to. I will be keeping you and your family in my prayers!

  27. Hello Erika, I was really surprised with the news. But still thankful that you and your family are safe. I’m trying to put myself in your shoes and yes, it’s really devastating to lost almost everything. You are in my prayers dear. Hugs.

  28. I am so sorry that this happened to you and your family but also so very thankful that you and your family are safe. Will keep you all in my thoughts and prayers and if there is anything I can do to help – I’m there!

  29. So sorry to hear the news. I am thinking of you and your family. You are in our prayers. Please let us know how we can help! You are a strength and inspiration to us all. Hugs!!!

  30. I am new to your blog, having just discovered it over the weekend but wanted to say how sorry I am this happened. It recently happened to a friend of mine who stood with her 10 and 6 year old watching her house burn to the ground. At the end of it all, they have come out of this with a lot of love and their lives, but it still is hard to come to terms with. I hope you will be ok, but by the sounds of it you will. You are safe, so is your family. Possessions can be replaced, lives cannot. Please let people know if there’s any way we can help out. Many hugs.

  31. Oh Erika, My heart absolutely goes out to you and your family. I can’t imagine what you’ve been through in the past 12hrs but am so, so happy to hear that you are all safe and sound. Know that you have thoughts and prayers coming to you from all different directions. As you’ve said, the material things mean nothing when your family is still by your side. Sending big hugs through the tears from CT…Tara (from Big Summer Potluck)

  32. Omg!! I’m so so sorry… I’m glad to hear that you are all ok… and that you made it out safely. That is one of my biggest fears losing everything I love so much in a fire.. especially photo’s, cause they aren’t replaceable. Hang in there!

  33. Hello Erika!!

    We’ve never met but I just want you to know how sorry I am that you lost your home – and how happy I am that you and your family are SAFE! After reading your post, I can tell that and your family are strong and will be more than up for the challenges that lay ahead. You all are in my thoughts and prayers. It has been said that when God closes a door, he opens another one and I think the one you are now stepping through will hold even greater blessings for you and your family.

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