Friday, September 4, 2009

When Fire Takes It All

While watching the Southern CA wildfires on TV and the loss of many homes, I thought about Marcia and Brad, whom I interviewed after they lost their house to fire. It burned to the ground, taking everything with it, but family members all got out alive, even the dog. At first, she was so grateful for their lives that Marcia could only say to herself, "We’re alive. That’s what counts. Thank you, God."

Then day to day reality set in.
For weeks afterward, she would start to say, “Oh, I’ll get the—“ and then stop, realizing. "It’s gone. Everything is gone."
Insurance replaced some of it. But none of the really important things could be retrieved. The family heirlooms. The kids’ baby photos. The letter Brad had written her on their tenth anniversary. And yet—

They were alive. That's what mattered. But at the same time, Marcia felt so sad. And guilty about feeing sad. "They are only things," she reminded herself.

Is it shameful to grieve over lost possessions?

Of course you grieve! While some objects can be replaced, others –the ones that hold family memories--are irreplaceable. Many circumstances can prompt the loss of meaningful personal possessions. A hurricane or tornado. A move into a nursing home. A mortgage foreclosure. A divorce.

If you should lose the important memorabilia of your life, give yourself permission to cry. You need to acknowledge your losses in the same way you do when a person dies.

The stages of grief must still be borne. Feelings of sadness are very real. Evenven when what we grieve are "only" possessions, we cannot really go forward until our griefs are honestly acknowledged and experienced--without guilt or shame.