It's been two years since the Dixie Fire. . .I'm still knitting, and recovering, but it's still going to take a while!
This morning, while reading the news, four articles caused me to pause and think about the past 2 years. Maui Fire, North State DAs alarmed at PG&E ending hazard tree program, McKinney Fire survivor on recovery, and Plumas County turns to telehealth for Dixie Fire survivors.
As you can imagine, these news stories were a shock to my system! But two topics remain heavy on my mind: grief and trauma caused by the Dixie fire.
I was “numb” as my husband put it. I couldn’t make decisions, I didn’t want to communicate, I felt alone. I was able to browse second hand stores and antique shops looking for furniture (and chandeliers!) which would eventually fit into a new home, wherever, whatever, and whenever that would happen. Wandering up and down the aisles I was able to go unnoticed. People could see me, say a few words to be polite, but essentially, I could be invisible if I wanted to. If I smiled, they’d think everything was ok, never knowing the devastation I’ve gone through.
Just after the fire, I went straight back to work thinking if I did something normal it would make things better, which it didn’t. It was just another way to ignore my grief. What I did, so eloquently at first, was ignore the fact that I was grieving. I had pushed everything I was feeling aside and compartmentalized this traumatic event. “I’m ok, it’s just stuff,” I would say.
My co-workers were supportive, sending emails, and chats saying, “I’m sorry,” “let me know if there’s anything I can do,” “I’m here for you,” and “you look like the type of person who would use work to help you through.” So, I listened to them, and continued to work.
Now I wish I hadn’t. What I really needed to do was acknowledge my feelings and let the grief process happen. But I didn’t.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized I was shutting down, my mind was having a hard time remembering names of people, places, and things. I felt lethargic, wanting only to sit, and knit or wander the aisles of thrift stores and antique shops and dodge eye contact with those around me. I simply didn’t want to engage.
“What’s happening to me?” I asked my husband. “Am I ok?” He assured me that everything was ok, and it was a natural part of recovering. “Actually, you’ve always been like this; you’re just realizing it now.” (I guess that’s a helpful statement?) I often wonder how he’s handling everything, he’s so in charge, taking on projects without hesitation. He’s, my hero!!!
I’m not sure what happened, or what clicked, but I feel like I’ve taken a step in a new direction. Things feel different, I don’t feel like I’m in a fog any longer or at least the fog is lifting. Maybe it’s because I’m garden again. I don’t know, but I’ll gladly walk this new path!
If you’re experiencing trauma and grief caused by a fire, which is the only type of trauma I’ve been through, or if you have friends, coworkers, or know of anyone who is experiencing this trauma, remember to be gentle and kind, it’s a difficult time.
Be mindful of your words - “You look like the type of person who would use work to help you through” was the wrong statement for me to hear. This statement gave me permission to start my life again as if the fire didn’t happen. This statement said, it’s ok to be “normal” again. But I can’t. When you’ve lost everything in a fire, really everything, your toothbrush, your pillow, your plates, your socks, there’s no going back to normal.
There used to be a big yellow house here which had a bookstore and yarn store! When the bookstore owner closed the store and moved to Colorado yellow house sat empty for a long time. Then Damian bought the house and started remodeling the building so his mother could live here. It was so beautiful, and now sits an empty lot with burned trees in the background. But there's progress in our town! We have many houses currently being built!
“I’m here for you” was the most comforting offering. It let me know someone is available if I needed them. It allowed me time to grieve (if I remembered to) but also told me that I could reach out. I didn’t, but at least they were there.
Mind.com has a great article on how you might help others experiencing trauma. The main topic on their list is listen. “Give them time,” “Focus on listening,” “Accept their feelings,” “Don't blame them or criticize their reactions,” “Use the same words they are using,” “Don’t dismiss their experiences,” “Only give advice if they ask.”
Please remember, if you want to help someone through a traumatic experience, please accept that it’s hard. It’s hard for the person who is experiencing this, it’s hard to show feelings, and hard to be open and feel exposed.
Acknowledging my grief was the hardest thing for me to do! Unfortunately, I didn’t acknowledge my grief in the beginning. I stuffed it down and didn’t allow myself to process…to heal.
Remember to be patient, be mindful of how you offer your help, be thoughtful of how you express thoughts and feelings, and understand that, although it is ultimately “just stuff,” it’s stuff that represents my life.