Things I've Learned Since The Fire

Recovering From A House Fire insolence + wine

Apologies for the lack of content lately, understandably my focus has been elsewhere. It’s hard to believe it’s almost been three months since the fire and every day I continue to be so overwhelmed by the entire process of negotiating the steps to move forward with getting their estate settled. So in lieu of the picture heavy post I was going to share with you all today, I wanted to share the five things I’ve learned since losing my grandparents.

  1. You learn more about someone after they’ve passed. In the weeks that followed my grandfather’s death, I learned more about him than I had in the thirty years of knowing him. Not all of it was good but I’m thankful. To say the ugliness comes out after someone dies is putting it mildly, especially if they have multiple closets full of skeletons. I believed my grandmother to be a strong woman—and she was—but through years of letters she had kept, I came to understand that she was fearful and easily manipulated by less than honest people. Be prepared to learn things that cannot be forgotten.
  2. Insurance companies are in no rush to help you. A former insurance adjustor told me a few weeks after the fire that had they lived, the insurance company would have been quick to demolish the house and get them back on their feet. It’s nearly been three months since they died, the house is still standing (and being stolen from) and a handful of family members are having to maintain the property. Now, I don’t know about you, but I am certainly not comfortable with literally sifting through the ashes looking for valuables in the exact room where my grandmother died or watering plants right next to where her bedroom window used to be. I am no insurance expert, but if you’re looking for homeowners insurance, do your homework before settling on a company to “protect” you. For the record, they had State Farm. At the advice of others who have been through a house fire, we’ve also hired Greenspan to be our go between. They’ve done much of the leg work and negotiating with the insurance company.
  3. Even if you have “nothing,” an up-to-date will is essential. This is something everyone should have, even if your sole possessions are limited. If you have children, it is vital to put your intentions in writing should something happen to you or your spouse. When you’re older and perhaps have a blended family from two different marriages, you have to have a will. Telling your granddaughter Jo who you want to have your jewelry or your house will not stand up in court. When you die, everyone believes they’re entitled to a piece of the pie and it’s up to you to put them in their place. If you cannot afford to sit down with an estate attorney, you can easily find templates online—just make sure you have two people to witness and sign when you sign your name. Have multiple copies, don’t leave them all in one place and choose your executors and trustees wisely.
  4. Buy memories, not things. True, most of my grandmother’s belongings were lost or damaged in the fire but the reality is the memories I have of her are worth more than any crystal vase or diamond ring. Luckily, photographs and old home movies weren’t damaged in the fire. Instead of buying that $3,000 Céline handbag, go on a vacation because when your house burns down, all that will be left is the metal details. Knowing that there were vintage Chanel and Hermés items in the closet won’t make a bit of difference in your grieving process.  
  5. Talking about it doesn’t make you weak. I’ve spent much of my life believing I could handle anything by myself—I think it is an only child thing. After weeks of nightmares and unsettling thoughts, I opened up to a family friend. Through that conversation, and the subsequent conversations that have followed, I have laughed, cried and even come to terms with the loss. Had it not been for that initial conversation, I wouldn’t have been able to bring myself to physically see the remains of what was once my grandparents home. I would have gone through life with an inaccurate image of what took place the morning of April 4, 2016. I never would have been given the opportunity to stand just outside of where my beloved grandmother passed and told her that I loved her, that I was sorry for our last conversation and for being angry with her. I am still sad that she’s gone, angry that a foolish choice took them both away, but manage to laugh and say “hello, I love you!” when I hear the side door slamming in the wind while I’m sweeping up the darn leaves to the pepper tree. Talking about it has made me stronger.

  6. A leopard cannot change it’s spots. Over a lifetime, we all show our true moral fiber. In the weeks immediately after the fire, people stepped up and helped my family clean soot from items removed from the house and volunteered to help maintain the 10-acre property. Few of those people have been family members. You cannot expect people to change with tragedy, no matter how hard you want to believe their intentions are good. Those of you with family members who have had trouble with the law or drugs and alcohol, will unfortunately understand where I’m coming from with this one. Unless people completely change their social circle and path in life, do not be surprised when things go missing or people fail to follow their word. Actions will always speak louder than words.

Have you had the unfortunate misfortune of suffering a recent tragedy? What have you learned throughout the healing process?