Finally (an update)

It’s been a while since I last posted an update about the fire and I thought today would be a good day for that. First, I want to let you know that the generous contributions from everyone helped us buy a used car that Tom and I now share. We lost three cars in the fire and only received compensation for two of them (the third was a historic car that had no fire coverage). Since our other two cars were just about 10 years old, we didn’t receive much from our auto insurance company. Thanks to everyone’s donations, we were able to buy a used Honda sedan. It doesn’t have the bells and whistles of my old Honda, but I cherish it so much more because every time I look at it, I know I’m looking at a precious gift from all of you.

We still live in the same town, less than 2 miles from our old house. We still swing by almost everyday to pick up our mail. We kept our old mailing address because we decided it’d be easy enough to pick up our mail everyday and not have to deal with lost or delayed mail after we move back to our old address. Often, I’d fix my eyes on the mailbox by the street and force myself not to look up the driveway, up the crumbling front steps leading to nothing. But now and then, we’d cross the yellow police line still tied to the trees in front to make sure everything still looked the same. Every time I walk up that driveway, I carefully scan the ground for my wedding ring. (I don’t know why I keep doing it, but I do.)

Yesterday’s trip to the old property was different. Because yesterday, we finally started digging and preparing the ground for the foundation. After a long wait fraught with agonizing uncertainty, we’ve finally taken a shovel to the ground. A pretty big shovel.

The Ivory Hut: Finally (An Update)

We almost thought this day would never come. Three weeks after the fire, we began working with a modular company to rebuild our house. We figured a modular company would be faster, more economical, and they assured us they had experience building custom homes modularly. We found a floor plan online to use as a starting point and began the process. That was late September. In early March, two days before they were supposed to hand us completed and sealed plans to submit to our town for approval, we received an email saying they were having difficulties with roof calculations and they didn’t think they would be able to build the house to our specifications after all. With that brief message, they unceremoniously dropped the project, keeping our deposit and leaving us with no architectural plans.

Having lost almost 6 months, we had to scramble to find an architect who could quickly draw plans for us. While the architect worked, we had to find a builder. Not wanting to risk losing any more time and still stinging from the burn, Tom and I agreed to forego the modular route. After more delays getting the property surveyed, making the modifications to the plan that the town requested, getting the gas line cut, putting up a temporary power box, and all those other little things that needed to get addressed, we finally started digging.

The Ivory Hut: Finally (An Update)

I was there to take photos and once again, I walked up the driveway intent on documenting the process, still hoping to spot my ring on the ground, reflecting the sun’s rays. Then, as I walked to the side of the property to take more photos, I spied the remains of Tim’s clarinet lying on the ground.

The Ivory Hut: Finally (An Update)

I didn’t expect it, but a lump rose in my throat and before I knew it, I was crying.

Maybe it was the thought that I’d never be able to replace my own clarinet, given to me when I was in high school—a priceless French vintage clarinet. Maybe it was the sight of pieces of CDs strewn about, reminding me of all the music I had lost, some rare songs that I spent months hunting used vinyl shops for.

The Ivory Hut: Finally (An Update)

Or maybe it was just the realization all over again of what we lost. The entirety of it. The photos I’ll never see again. The poems and letters I’ll never read again. That favorite tunic I’d never find again, even if I went back to Singapore and somehow found the same little store in the same out-of-the-way market selling the same clothes.

It was all too much to remember and I ended up walking around that giant pit in the center, head bowed, sniffling, pretending for the sake of the men around me that it was just allergies from all the dust.

The Ivory Hut: Finally (An Update)

I tried not to stare at the pit, recalling the layout of the basement. There, in that corner, is where my keyboard sat. The drum set was right across it, and next to it, the digital recorder that we used to record our music. Off to the side is where Tim’s guitars were, his amps and pedals. And right above, on the first floor, sat the table I used for most of my food photos. Underneath that table was the trunk with all my photography equipment, with padded dividers, each item lovingly wrapped in protective fabric.

The Ivory Hut: Finally (An Update)

I know these were just possessions. They’re just things. We escaped with what was most valuable to us: our lives, our family. People tell me sometimes that they admire my strength. To be honest, I don’t know if all of it is strength. The only part that is, comes from my faith. The other part is probably just shock. It’s like someone came in the middle of the night and snatched away everything I had. And my hands aren’t used to the loss yet, so I still instinctively reach for things I no longer have. So maybe I haven’t fully understood the loss yet because I keep forgetting what I lost. It’s like muscle memory. Until you stand where your house used to be and realize that’s all it is now: a memory.

The Ivory Hut: Finally (An Update)

I had to get this off my chest one last time, and this will be my final gesture of farewell to the sadness of the fire. I think part of my lingering sadness is akin to the feeling you have when you’re forced to say goodbye to someone you never wanted to leave. And there is this irrational yet nagging fear that everything will be so strange and different, it’ll feel like my entire past was erased. Like it never happened.

As real as it feels, I know it’s irrational. So I’m going to wrestle with it and put it to rest. Yesterday was a new beginning, and in the days to come, I hope to witness the speedy transition from rubble to the framework of what will be our new home. I intend to fill my head with thoughts of hope and anticipation, of reliance on God and thanksgiving. That was my promise to myself this morning: that I would look ahead and grieve no more.



47 thoughts on “Finally (an update)”

  1. Wow, this is big, Erika. I think you have every right to grieve. You lost a lot in that fire, regardless of whether or not it was “stuff.” Our stuff is filled with so many memories. I think you are very brave to be facing this so squarely. I’m proud of you for all you’ve gone through and dealt with, but I grieve with you, too. And, it’s so very exciting to know that you will have a new house soon!

  2. Emotion doesn’t preclude strength. I do thing you are extremely strong. Your post reminded me of something I read today: “We all can endure disaster and tragedy and triumph over them–if we have to. We may not think we can, but we have surprisingly strong inner resources that will see us through if only we will make use of them. We are stronger than we think.”–Dale Carnegie

    Excited that you are making progress on a new house!!

  3. This post is so raw it made my eyes hurt. (mostly cause I kept squinting trying to hold back the tears)

    Thank you for writing it and thank you for the heartfelt update.


  4. No matter what you say, you are brave. I read the posts and everybody’s reactions when the fire occurred, and I felt lost and broken, imagining that fire that took all the possessions you had.
    We lost our possessions due to recession, but we had time to go through the boxes and save what we cherished. You were not given that choice.
    I hope your new home makes some wonderful new memories for you:) I am looking forward to following the process of building up.

  5. Oh sweetie…
    I sorta stumbled on here from a tweet and I just had to say how sorry I am. Having been through this with more than one friend I have witnessed the pain. There is light at yhe end of the tunnel. You sound like a stong cookie. Hang in there and know that this stranger is pulling for you.

  6. The fire took everything but it could not destroy your spirit, your faith and your family. As difficult as the past several months have been and how emotional this last farewell to the home that once was and all that you held dear within it, you have what you will need to close that door as you ready to open a new one. God bless you and your fanily and thank you so much for taking us with you on your last visit.

  7. So bittersweet. I am so sad for your losses still, but I am hopeful that you will build a new, lovely bunch of memories in your new home. Keep us all posted and remember you are never alone.

  8. What an amazing post. “I think part of my lingering sadness is akin to the feeling you have when you’re forced to say goodbye to someone you never wanted to leave,” leapt off my screen and snatched the breath out of my chest.

    All rational thoughts aside — yes, you and your loved ones were safe and that’s what’s most important — I’m sorry for your losses. Things are just things, but they make up our world.

    Here’s to a new adventure.

  9. for what it’s worth, I think you can grieve and still look forward. I’m glad things are moving forward and you have big shovels working for you all now.
    And i’m keeping my fingers crossed that you’ll look down on the ground one day and find your ring.

  10. This is the first of you that I have read, seen (followed a link from Julie at The Little Kitchen on Twitter) of you, and though I don’t know you, gosh, do I feel for you. Your photos, your story, are heartbreaking and your strength and resolve are inspiring.

  11. So good to hear how you and your family are doing. It is something we hope never happens to us. You inspired me to back up my pictures and place them outside my house. I am still working on copies of our videos – but making progress.

    This rings true to me too —
    “I think part of my lingering sadness is akin to the feeling you have when you’re forced to say goodbye to someone you never wanted to leave.”
    This is exactly how I felt when my dad died. It had taken 4 years to get over the sting. I never knew it would take so long but gradually time has lessened the sadness (now at 7 years) and now I can talk about it with joy in remembering his life.

    I am hoping that with each day as your new home is built, will come more healing for you and your family.

  12. I’m so sorry for what you went through with the rebuilding of your house. No matter what you say, you are an inspiration. Your wisdom & grace, I have npbeen so impressed throughout this time. So glad you were able to get a car with the donated money. You’re not irrational, as others have said, you have the right to grieve. Lots of hugs and love to you & your family.

  13. Erika, this is such a powerful post. You have every right to grieve, to mourn, to stomp and shout. And, take pictures and write about it. Don’t let it fester and eat you up inside. Talk about it. Share it.

    Your bravery and your dignity are beyond inspiring to me.

  14. Erika – I have thought about you many, many times these past several months; and the one moment I keep coming back to is the day I met you at Big Summer Potluck. And how that day, that entire experience changed my life . . . yes really. I became part of something bigger than myself that day – you are part of that – I took a picture of you taking a picture. And I believe that the experience we all shared that day was part of a plan . . . Because within weeks of us meeting, your home and all it’s possessions were lost. And the grieving process began . . . We grieve with you – for the loss of ‘things’ because those ‘things’ are tied to markers to help remind us of who we are and where we’ve come from. The tears, the loss, the feeling of being overwhelmed, of letting go . . . Those are part of the plan too. You’re doing fine – just keep walking . . .

  15. I think that you are going through what must be a natural progression in response to the fire. And, I think you’re doing it bravely, courageously, and lovingly. Yes, lovingly.

    I hope you find your ring one day, soon. I hope one of the workers comes up to you and says “Hey, Lady, found this on the ground, thought you might want it?” Or, even better, they just place it in your mailbox.

  16. While it may be true that it was just “stuff” that was lost in the fire, the “stuff” had a lot of sentiment and emotional attachment to it – and that’s probably the part you’re struggling most with.

    I’m so sorry for everything you’ve been through, and especially what you’re going through with rebuilding your new house. I think it was very classy of you not to mention that modular home builder’s name, and I can’t guarantee that I would have been that kind.

    Take good, good care.

  17. Beautifully written Erika. I know I’ll never be able to fully understand the depths of your sadness. I hope that time and the love of your family and friends is starting to help you heal.

  18. I’m so humbled by this post, Erika. When it comes down to it, everything in life exists on a delicate tightrope – the tiniest push could send anything toppling at any moment. As humans, we all struggle with the fear a push, of a fall, of losing it all. Any of us could experience it – life is a game of Russian roulette in that way. But to experience, confront, and survive the reality of that fear is what the most extraordinary stories and lives are made of. You and your family are well on your way to rising from these ashes and creating something beautiful. And the best thing about living in this world, for better or for worse, is that you’re never alone in your tears and your laughter.

  19. I don’t even know you, but my eyes welled up in tears. How touching that friends helped replace at least one car. The value of our “thing” is not the monetary, but the sentimental. I cannot even imagine how you feel to have lost the physical reminders of the sentiment.

  20. It is normal that we somehow grieve for those things that we love but not for long. As you said you and your family are safe and unharmed and you can move forward. Am sure the future will be as bright as promised because after you’ve been down this bad what is to come next could only be better. Keep your strength and faith – He will be with you always!

  21. I think that you are going through what must be a natural progression in response to the fire. And, I think you’re doing it bravely, courageously, and lovingly. Yes, lovingly.

  22. First of all I would like to say is sorry. I do know exactly what you are feeling as we lost our home in 2005. I still remember that day like it was yesterday. Yes, devastating! But you are handling this like you should. Yes, you lost everything. I was the same, yet we learn that those items lost are just things. What is most important is that you have your family! Our fire was the same, no lives were lost and so grateful that no one, including the firemen were hurt. Sometimes we find ourselves looking for items that was lost in the fire, yet we think we have it with us today. Then we remind ourselves that was before the fire. With that, we are thankful. Every new memory shared in our new home makes me miss my old home as well. But, one day you will look back and almost see that the Lord never gives you anything you cannot handle! Continue on my friend! If you want to email me, please do! Take care and blessings to all!

  23. I am constantly amazed at how you’ve handled such a devastating event. I wish you all the best with your new home, and it’s so good to hear it’s finally happening. Looking forward to seeing you again at BSP2 in a couple of weeks :)

  24. I have never commented on your blog before but have been reading to see how you are doing since losing your home. I know first hand what this feels like as I lost my home to a fire 15 years ago. We lost everything as well. It happenend during the day when My husband and I were at work and our three children were at school. Thank god for that because the fire marshal said we would have all died if it had been at night. I still miss losing my childrens baby books and pictures that will never go away. But it does get better. Good luck with building the new house and creating new memories.

  25. I once read a quote that really helped me after a divorce where some of my favorite things disappeared. Sophia Loren published it in a magazine article after having her precious antique jewels stolen. It said, “Don’t ever cry for something that can’t cry for you.” I hope you get the same help from it that I did. Bless you and your family.

  26. Dr. Petit in CT said of those who murdered his family and burned his home “they erased my present and my past”. The photos and prizes, the clothes and souvenirs, the toys, the creations…all gone. I have never pitied a person more than I pitied him that day.
    You, at least, can create more memories with those you love.

  27. Oh Erika, this breaks my heart. I came across your website today and realized it was the same you I’ve been e-mailing you about BPL2. Then I saw this.

    We all have losses in our lives, but to have everything ripped away so cruelly in one blow, well, I cannot begin to imagine it. You are indeed brave, because though you had no choice about what happened, you could be dealing with it very differently. I admire that enormously.

    Switching gears, I look forward to meeting you next week! I hope there will be a lot of fun, laughter and connection to soothe some of the unavoidable and ongoing aches that persist in the healing process.

  28. How exciting that you are finally beginning to build your home! First off, I want to tell you how much my heart goes out to you and your family – thank goodness it is “only” things you have lost, and that your family is still alive and well. Nonetheless,the loss of all those precious items which serve as “anchors” for our memories is no doubt devastating. Regarding your deposit, as a realtor, I suspect you may have some recourse, and may be able to recover your deposit from the modular company (it would be much like earnest money in a real estate transaction – the fault is not yours that they decided they can’t build the structure you want – usually you lose earnest money if you do something whimsical and outside of the agreement to remove yourself from a contract, but it sounds as if the fault is entirely theirs) – if you are uncertain, check into the state licensing agency for their dealership and ask some questions, and if you still aren’t satisfied, call your state attorney general – you may find someone who can at least advise you on where to look for help. If the dealer is in your state, you may be able to recover your deposit more easily, but regardless, there should be a way to recover it – whatever licensing agency or attorney general in whatever state, should be able to at least point you in the right direction. Best wishes, and please, keep us posted!

  29. Hi,
    I was reading your blog and I felt compelled to share this verse with you. Left to me, I would be writing to express how much I feel for your loss and for the way your world has been rocked, but that isn’t what God wants me to share. It’s this:

    18 “Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
    19 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
    I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland

    Isaiah 43:18-19

  30. Humungous hugs…(more than 8 second hugs) to you my love. You are one phenomenal lady that I am so honored to know. Can’t wait to watch the future unfold for you.

  31. oh my word… my heart goes out to you as I read your posts about what you lost. I know we can be incredibly grateful that no lives were lost, but I still feel for your loss of so much of your past, home, and lives. God bless you all.
    Oh! and it caught my eye that you talked about a tunic you got in Singapore. I live here….. if you have a photo of it I will open my eyes for one similar and would love to send it to you. Really.

  32. I think I mentioned once that both my parents had lost their homes due to fire…and while at first we were busy with the busyness of it all, there just wasn’t time to grieve for the loss itself for a while.

    Ok, now that the set backs are over, and you have grieved that one last time…it’s ONWARD!

    I can’t wait to “see” the re-build and the joys you find in each little step and big steps forward!

  33. I’m just reading your story tonight for the first time.

    As someone who was “forced to say goodbye to someone you never wanted to leave” (my eleven year old daughter), some of your words rang loudly in my ears.

    It was once said to me that I’d have to tell my (my daughter Olivia’s) story 1000 times before I had a chance at peeking out the other side. Maybe those words will ring loudly in your ears if you ever need them.

  34. Oh, Erika – I can’t even imagine how difficult this must be. Your grief is justified in every way. I hope that everything starts moving along quickly with the new house so you can work on building new memories together in a new space.

  35. Oh, Erika. I’m so glad to have “met” you today. Reading about this part of your story was especially moving, as I’m sure you understand. Your photos are amazingly beautiful and painful all at once.

    Here’s to new beginnings. We don’t ever forget, of course, but God’s grace is going to carry you to the next place – and you can rejoice in that!

  36. I am so sorry for your loss. My family and I lost all our material possessions during a San Diego firestorm in 2007. So, I can completely relate to how you are feeling and it will take some time to heal. But, you will become stronger and look at life differently. Better things will come. Good luck, Erika.

  37. New beginnings are hard because they remind us that the past can never be again. I smiled though, when I saw the last photo – that the digger got past the ashen topsoil, and revealed clean bright — almost orange — soil. It’s a metaphor for you to cling to.

    On another note, I’d check and make sure that company doesn’t have a history of “working” on people’s plans and then canceling and keeping deposits. Sounds fishy to me.

  38. I remember hearing about your tragic loss when it happened. It seems that tragic things that occur in life almost always helps us to remember what’s really important in life: family & relationships. I wish you the best of luck as you rebuild your home and make new memories!

  39. Wow, I am so sorry, I had no idea this happenned. I skip from blogs here and there and somehow I missed seeing your struggle…I can’t imagine how hard it must be. Sending prayers your way, your post brought me to tears.



  40. Without reading anyone else’s comments I shall leave my own…I believe recovering from a trauma such as you have gone through will take a long, long time to be able to say it doesn’t affect you anymore. Expecting yourself to recover and move on…never to mention it again? Not realistic. It’s a loss and all losses (be it a person, a possession, a dream, etc.) take time. Allow yourself the time. Don’t push the feelings down…they only rise up later on and in much more force. Feel it, express it, and then move on. It’s the best advice I ever received and I’m just passing it on to you. :-)

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