When You Lose Everything…

Updated 1/1/2022

As someone who is part of a club that no one wants to join, I am often asked what to do after fire has roar through lives leaving destruction in its wake. Initially, I planned to make a simple list of ideas and suggestions but instead these words poured out. If you are at the beginning (or even in the middle) of your loss, you may not read all of them now. It’s beyond overwhelming in the beginning (and let’s face it, it can be overwhelming for some time after). Each time I recall those early days, I feel an ache in my heart. This blog is an attempt to help while knowing we all process traumatic events in our own ways – and we all have our own stories. This was mine.

On March 26th, 2012, I lost my sanctuary-dream-forever-home and all my wordy possessions to a sudden and raging wildfire. A controlled burn that got out of control, swept up a hill, scorching 21 homes, and claiming 3 lives. (I began writing about the experience of “walking through fire,” starting on 4/5/12 , if you want to follow the journey from the beginning. I linked in blue to specific blogs below as well).

There’s not a lot out there about processing this type of grief. So, to start with: It’s not just stuff. And, it’s not just a house. Many of us spiritual/personal growth/healer-helper/Buddhist/ or simply pragmatic-types tend to focus on the benefit of non-attachment – and therefore any upset about the loss, we might think we are not as well/transformed/educated/free/spiritual/grateful as we could be, or definitely as we should be. Yes, molecularly speaking, it is just stuff – but in a natural (or man made) disaster the loss happens in the blink of an eye and you don’t just lose things that clutter up your life and “shouldn’t matter”, you lose things such as: 

  • the last long handwritten letter your late mother ever wrote to you that you had folded carefully in your bottom desk drawer which every time you opened, your heart remembered before your head did and your eyes filled with tears
  • your wedding dress you were saving for your god daughter, carefully packed away from that day so many years ago
  • that perfect pair of slippers that you’d had forever that just reminded to slow down and breath the minute you put them on
  • that stuffed animal with the ear missing that you had since you were a baby, that was always there for you when it seemed many people weren’t, that you know you were too old for but you slept with sometimes anyway
  • that perfect black dress that reminded you that you’ve still got it and fit you just right, but isn’t too tight around the belly as you bought it when you were being friendly to yourself instead of trying to suck in your gut and go
  • Your handwritten manuscript of your first novel that you never got published and always knew that you should type in, or at least scan as it reminded you of something pure, something that was there even before you developed your craft
  • your photo album that your grandmother painstakingly took over 5 years to make that you’ve carried through all your moves, across the country and back, to Europe and back, with her handwritten love notes that she wanted you to read over time, as you moved through stages of life, so you would remember who you are – and who she was.
  • your first book of sketches, that you often returned to to remember the child that you were, the mystery that the world was
  • the small statue of the Buddha that you got when you were in Thailand as a 20-something when you felt so lost in the world, but found Buddhism in a surprising way, and even though your statues have gotten finer over the years, that scratched and dented statue which trekked with you through jungles and to the tops of mountains always reminded you to ground, in you, always in you
  • that perfect coffee mug that your aunt made you when you got married that was absolutely the right fit for your hands, kept your coffee the perfect temperature, was the absolute right size for just enough coffee with a dash of your cream – not too much, not too little
  • your great grandmothers cocktail ring that she wore daily, but you only wore for special occasions and sometimes just around the house as you always wanted to keep it safe
  • the first love note your beloved ever wrote you, that was on your bulletin board with other photos of you two when you were younger, other quotes and poems you have collected over the years to remind you of times you don’t want to forget, or things you don’t want to forget – knowing that even the best of us often forget what we need to tell ourselves of, and remind ourselves of”
    Note: these examples are collection of those I heard from others and those I experienced myself.

     

As time goes on, you will remember things that you lost at some inopportune time when you are in the grocery store, on a business call, at a movie, about to fall off to sleep (finally!), and suddenly, it will pop in your mind – ahhh, that, I forgot about that…  It may be something minor or it may be something of great value, but whatever it is, it will strike a pang in your heart – and maybe even take you to your knees.

One day, some months after the fire, I suddenly remembered Mrs. Vogler’s stool. Mrs. Vogler, my babysitter when I was 8-10, was a crystal clear loving, calm, happy memory during a muddy time of divorce, death and other personal life chaos a young mind can’t quite grasp.  Mrs. Vogler made me and my brother matching foot stools formed from a sturdy circle of large Alpo dog cans, bound together, and then covered in a soft velour (and some kind of stuffing inside so we could sit our little bums on them). They were royal blue, with yellow tassels around the top and bottom and both had our initials embroidered on the soft top where we sat.  I loved my stool and carried it with me everywhere I moved, until I was 46.  The day I remembered her stool, I was somewhere and collapsed to the ground in sobs.  I still sometimes go looking for that stool – and then I remember again.

And, the problem is, anything that has monetary value, you HAVE to remember NOW as you will be submitting your detailed inventory list to your insurance company for not even a pittance of reimbursement for what it actually cost (and meant!) and anything you forget, you know you will be leaving money on the table (and for many types of policies – you will be leaving money on the table if you don’t replace it right away.  But who wants to replace all the things you lost right away as at that point you are devastated, exhausted AND HAVE NO WHERE TO PUT IT ALL!!!!! PS, check your policies, now!).

Not to mention, you have to spend precious time – and energy you don’t have – wracking your brain to make these endless lists.

Then there is what people say. Some well meaning people will say well meaning things as we tend to do when tragedy strikes. Their heart is in the right place, but they won’t really understand, or they are uncomfortable and don’t know what to say, and they want to cheer you up, or have you remember “what matters” or they just feel awkward – and all of this will land as platitudes..

They will say things such as:

  • Well, you had insurance didn’t you? (Would you say that to someone who just lost their spouse?  I KNOW it’s not the same, but it’s also not what you say to someone who has just lost EVERYTHING suddenly, not by choice. We aren’t not thinking, oh yay, I get to go to the store now!  In the long run, I was happy to have some new clothes but some of those things I listed above are examples of things I still miss. Not as in actively, daily, but s I grow older, I think, it sure would have been nice to thumb through that album my grandmother made).
  • You can rebuild. (Yes, we know we can rebuild, but for some of us, our houses are our sanctuaries.  For some of us, we put our own blood, sweat and tears into building.  We spent years collecting those rocks that made the mantle piece, or we spent years renovating something that had been unloved for a while to turn it into the gem we knew it was.  Some of us even feel that our homes have souls.  SOME of us even feel guilt that we couldn’t save our home because we know it was alive in a way that we can’t always explain.  After debating for 2 years, we finally decided to rebuild – and it’s lovely – and it was never the same.  And, we don’t live there any more.
  • Trees and grass will grow back.  (Most trees won’t, not in our lifetime, not in many areas – like the towering pines of the Rocky Mountain west.  I don’t know about California trees as much.  There will be new growth, and it will be beautiful and fill you with hope and the trust in the cycle of nature – however – it will never be the same and it will retain its scars.)

    Then there are the “at least” statements such as:

  • Well, at least you didn’t lose your _______ (fill in the blank)
  • Well, at least you are ok.  (We thank you for loving us that much that you are glad we are alive.  But, come on, we know to be grateful for that but it still diminishes how big a loss this actually is. Three of my neighbors died in my fire.  This is beyond horrendous to even contemplate!!!!!  I am eternally grateful to be alive – and I also have a right to the grief I felt around my loss.)
  • Well, at least you got your animals out (again, like the above, true – unless you didn’t and then that’s HORRIFYING and even more traumatic).
  • Time heals all wounds. (when are we going to learn that time only changes things, it doesn’t completely heal.  I have scars on my body from the most serious wounds I ever had, I have scars from things that didn’t even seem that big of a deal.  This scar will stay, but it will become a part of us (part of you), and you will always remember.  I don’t think about my fire all the time – but I always remember.


Then of course, the well-meaning friend, who as we stood in front of the pile of twisted metal, ash and other unrecognizable debris that once was my house, mused out loud, “It must be so freeing not to have any stuff.”.   

NO. Free was NOT what I felt at that moment.  Free, no no no not at all.  I felt DEVASTATED.  NUMB.  IN SHOCK.  OVERWHELMED.  EXHAUSTED.  Not, free.  No, not at all.

Another line, which I DO believe, but I would rather say it (or at least be told it by those closest to me), is: you will be like the Phoenix rising from the ashes.  I now proudly wear a Phoenix tattoo on my right shoulder to remind me of that, and the life I have today is very different than the life I had before the fire.  I am a Phoenix.  I am stronger now than I was before the fire.  I do know what matters on an even deeper level. I am aware of how quickly things can change.  And, unless you know me and really love me and really get me – don’t tell me I will be a Phoenix before I am ready to know it myself (my preference).  It’s still a trauma, a loss, a devastating circumstance to go through. It’s totally disorienting and turns your world upside down.   Now, I am happy to know myself as a Phoenix.  Then, I just wanted that cozy pair of slippers, the handwritten love notes my mother wrote me over the years, and Mrs Voglers’s stool to plop down upon.  I just wanted to go HOME

The biggest thing I know from all the fires that I have walked through is – when dealing with tragedy, most of us need to be heard, and to be met where we are.  Us wise folks who have been on a personal growth path for a while have all sorts of tools.  We are great at giving to others, often we are less good at asking and receiving.

Strangers came out of the woodwork after our fire – people made us food, gave us homes to sleep in, created a fundraiser for us to help take the pressure off.

I needed an outlet regularly.  I needed it to be ok to mourn something that there ins’t a lot written about.  I needed to write – and when people read my mostly raw, sometimes angry, sometimes wise, sometimes ranting, sometimes angsty words that came straight from my heart with no filter and when they responded to those words, I felt met.

This lead to co-authoring the book: Phoenix Rising: Stories of Remarkable Women Walking through Fire which tells the stories of twenty-one Colorado women impacted by wildfires.

I’m so sorry you have had to join the club. 

I hope you allow ALL OF IT (the snot, tears, scars, dust, ash, smiles, hugs, love, beauty, grace, gratitude, anger, screams, laughter, doubt, faith – and more – and sometimes all at one time) as we fire-walkers all learned to do.

And, yes, the Phoenix will rise, but let her do so in her own sweet time.

Some tips:

  1. Ask for and accept help.
  2. Don’t go out and buy a bunch of new stuff, not yet.
  3. Get the insurance inventory done fast so you can GET DONE – and ask someone to help you with it!
  4. It might not be good to work with an independent insurance adjustor instead of your insurance company directly but definitely educate yourself about it. And, on the other hand, don’t let yourself get screwed by your insurance company.
  5. Have someone set up a meal planner/delivery service – www.mealtrain.com is very good!
  6. Use meal train or a Facebook page or email list so people can have updates and know how to help. And, ask someone to do this for you!
  7. Put different people in charge of different things – i.e.: we did a site clean up and a friend organized all the ‘workers’ as we decided to sift the ashes to try to find my husband’s wedding ring (never did) but found other treasures that look like they were from an archeological dig.
  8. Write, if you can.  It helps.
  9. Have people who will just let you cry and not try to fix it.
  10. Have people (maybe the same ones) who will make you laugh when you need it – which will be often.
  11. Take breaks from it all – somehow! 
  12. Get a lot of love.  A lot a lot a lot.  No matter how strong, independent or savvy you are.
  13. Don’t tragedy compare!!!! Please.  We all know we have it better than most of (fill in the blank with whomever and wherever may be experiencing and even larger disaster) and we all know that everything could have been a lot worse.  But please don’t diminish your experience!
  14. Be kind to yourself.

With love, your sister fire-walker, Kristen Moeller

Here’s the link to the book again – Phoenix Rising: Stories of Remarkable Women Walking through Fire

About the book:

How do you go on after you’ve lost everything?

Over several terrifying summers, deadly wildfires raged across Colorado. Lives were lost, and the flames destroyed thousands of homes. When the smoke cleared and only rubble remained, survivors were left trying to find a way forward against devastating loss. The aftermath of that destruction would span many years, and its effects are still felt today.

In “Phoenix Rising”, twenty women share their stories of fire, the terror they felt as flames engulfed their communities, and the dark desperation that followed. And how—in the ensuing weeks and months—they worked to recreate a life from the ashes. Their tales of fear and bravery, of deep compassion and heart-rending grief, offer an uplifting chronicle of human courage and resilience.

In “Phoenix Rising” written by women united by wildfire, they have the privilege of stepping into those moments to stand in the hallways of their shock and fear, grief and disorientation, and then, armed with the wisdom of retrospection, walking out into whatever comes next.

86 Comments
  • Emily
    Posted at 16:11h, 11 October Reply

    Thank you so much for your willingness to sift through painful memories to help those who are experiencing similar losses now. I hope this will be read not only by the thousands upon thousands of people directly affected but also by the millions who love them and aren’t sure how to best be of support.

    • Kristen Moeller
      Posted at 16:39h, 11 October Reply

      Thank you Emily! Thank you for your lovely generous heart!

    • Veronica R
      Posted at 17:06h, 11 April Reply

      Ty Emily. I just found this today as I just lost my house to a fire 🙁

  • April
    Posted at 11:04h, 13 October Reply

    Kristen,
    I actually remember when this happened to you. I don’t remember how I stumbled upon your page on Facebook many years ago. Many times in the face of these forest fires that happen in Colorado sometimes, I am reminded of your story. Thank you for putting together such a thoughtfully constructed article to help so many in need of a ‘voice of reason’ right now. Bless your beautiful heart ❤️

    • Kristen Moeller
      Posted at 14:10h, 13 October Reply

      Thank you for reaching out, April. Thank you for your loving and kind words.

  • Dawn OHara- Campbell
    Posted at 01:12h, 15 October Reply

    Thank you,the fire that occurred for me was 33 years ago,My friend and roommate perished in the event.I have a part of me that is perpetually sad. A part of me seems emotionally frozen.Time has been a friend,blurring the memories, a whiff of smoke,the memories return.

    • Kristen Moeller
      Posted at 20:26h, 17 October Reply

      Oh my that is so very traumatic!!! Of course those memories would return. I went to counseling (for a while!) after my fire. Have you sought any help? It’s never too late. That is a lot to carry.

  • Bonni
    Posted at 11:55h, 15 October Reply

    Thank you. We’ve heard many of these things after dealing with Hurricane Harvey. Too many friends are dealing with devastating loss because of that storm and all the mess that goes with it. My heart goes out to all those who have dealt with and are dealing with the fires. I’m not dealing with exactly the same thing, but I understand.

    • Kristen Moeller
      Posted at 14:55h, 17 October Reply

      Thank you for reading. So much loss going on in the world right now. Sending you love as you walk through your fires in life.

  • Jennifer Cobb
    Posted at 22:39h, 15 October Reply

    April,

    I have over a dozen friends who lost their home in the Sonoma County Fire. I would love to give them your book. Please advise how I can purchase them.

    Thank you,
    Jennifer Cobb

    • Kristen Moeller
      Posted at 14:53h, 17 October Reply

      I am emailing you right now. Thanks for reaching out!

  • Janelle Rinker
    Posted at 05:51h, 18 October Reply

    Thank you. As I read your writing, tears came streaming down my face. My husband and I lost our home in the Coffey Park neighborhood of Sonoma County. I am experiencing everything you wrote about. I’ve been on a rollercoaster of emotions and know that no one can completely understand what we are going through, unless they’ve experience the same kind of trauma. I would love a copy of your book and am looking into mental health counseling services to help me process the loss and grief I’m overrun with. Again, thank you.

    • Kristen Moeller
      Posted at 19:52h, 09 December Reply

      So sorry to hear about your loss – and I apologize for my delay in responding. Send me an address and I will send you a book. My email is kristenmoellerwriter (at) gmail (dot) com

  • Nikki Winovich
    Posted at 05:58h, 18 October Reply

    Thank you so much for these words of wisdom and advice. I really needed this today. I am interested in getting your book. Please let me know how I can purchase one.

  • Paula Alder
    Posted at 02:26h, 19 October Reply

    Beautiful writing. Made me cry! Loss and grief are so personal. There’s no comparing, no standard. We deal with or losses in our own ways… No right or wrong. Thank you for sharing so vulnerably about yours.

    • Kristen Moeller
      Posted at 17:15h, 19 October Reply

      Thank you for reading! Thank you for hearing and holding the vulnerability. Thank you for writing your words.

  • Anne Arthur
    Posted at 01:35h, 31 October Reply

    I re-read your piece again. It’s so profound. As a grief counselor, I can only confirm what you say. Grief is more than losing someone or “something”.
    Thanks for sharing your innermost thoughts.

    • Kristen Moeller
      Posted at 21:35h, 09 December Reply

      Thank you Anne! And, thank you for what you do. Sending hugs.

  • Bev
    Posted at 21:27h, 09 December Reply

    Thank you for this. I work as a school counselor and I find your writing so helpful, moving and authentic!
    God bless you!

  • Sarah Broughel
    Posted at 14:26h, 21 December Reply

    Kristen – This is amazing writing and I am so sorry for your losses. I don’t follow Facebook closely so I did not know this happened. A friend from college recently posted a link on her Facebook page and I found it was you! I remember Mrs. Vogler but not the stool. With love, Sarah (Hunt).

    • Kristen Moeller
      Posted at 00:11h, 30 December Reply

      Sarah! So nice to hear from you. Your friend wrote me on FB – and now I just saw this. I will send you an email so we can catch up. HUGS!

  • Livia Wyant
    Posted at 15:23h, 21 December Reply

    Kristen,
    Thank you for putting so eloquently in to words what I am not able to. My ‘fire’ was in 2003. We were the only one who lost their home as we lived in a converted ranger station and didn’t have neighbors. I remember and still grieve for the mementos that can never be replaced. Items handmade from relatives who have long passed away. What you wrote, including all the helpful tips, was perfect. Sadly, it seems that the only way to really understand is to go through it, as so many people are experiencing. No one really knows what to say but some things are better left unsaid. A hug, a shoulder to cry on, meals provided or a couch to sleep on speak volumes. Thank you for writing what you did and for sharing about your loss. Peace wished for you and others in their time of loss.

    • Kristen Moeller
      Posted at 00:12h, 30 December Reply

      Thank you for your beautiful words! Sending you love back.

  • Laurel Paulson-Pierce
    Posted at 02:21h, 25 December Reply

    Thank you for your soul-full, heart-felt and well-thought-out piece about fire loss. Our community suffered a mass tragedy in 2008 when over 200 structures were destroyed by fire. There was one fatality during the incident and many illnesses and deaths that can be directly attributed to the fire in the years following the event. Those without insurance had to stand by and watch the insured people move on….with housing and household belongings replaced in a very short time. While some were able to quickly re-build, others struggled for years living in tents, campers, couch surfing and needing to leave the area to find housing. Others could not cope with the blackened trees and all the destruction visible daily. Those of us who have stayed have been able to experience nature’s rehabilitation, blooming, sprouting and regrowth, as well as being able to see our former community ties building and growing as well. One organization originally formed to help citizens prevent fires has shifted their focus to include recovery issues and has offered assistance to several other communities who have experienced fire loss. We were blessed to have a group of neighbors pull together to form the Phoenix Committee which helped in removing hazard trees, building sheds for people who lost their homes, and networking with county offices to facilitate assistance for those who lived through the fire. Their message contained the seeds of healing and hope as the term they used for us was Fire Survivors, not Fire Victims.

    • Kristen Moeller
      Posted at 00:13h, 30 December Reply

      I would love to send you some books to pass along. Thank you for all you are doing. Sending hugs and love.

  • kohlene hendrickson
    Posted at 07:54h, 12 November Reply

    Did you send this to Barnet? I saw that you are also FB friends…

  • Sally Weber
    Posted at 05:01h, 27 November Reply

    My Son lost his house last year in the Tubbs fire. We would appreciate your book. I am happy to buy/donate for it.
    Thank you for your words & spirit.
    Sally

    • Kristen Moeller
      Posted at 17:18h, 04 December Reply

      Hello Sally. I am so sorry to hear that. I am emailing you to get your address so I can send you a book.

  • Carrie Rosander Brott
    Posted at 14:01h, 25 December Reply

    Thank you for writing this. I am a Paradise CA evacuee survivor. I lost everything near and dear to me; except for my family. I lost family heirlooms. I feel sad. These things can never be replaced. I’m trying to be strong, trying to be happy. It is hard.

    • Kristen Moeller
      Posted at 16:55h, 25 December Reply

      I am so very sorry to hear about your loss. I totally understand. It’s brutal! Be gentle with yourself! I would love to send you a book of 21 women telling their stories of being impacted by fires. I will email you too. Sending hugs.

  • Wendy koehler
    Posted at 15:33h, 26 January Reply

    It’s a sad club, but you get it.
    My house burned to the ground on October 5, 2017. There are still things that crop up out of nowhere and deliver a sucker punch. Yesterday, January 25, 2019, our insurance company said we have to produce receipts for rebuilding our home in order to get the replacement cost kicker. I have receipts but, really, when building costs are 30% higher than in 2017, do they have to make it more difficult? And we don’t get credit for our time building……

    • Kristen Moeller
      Posted at 19:27h, 26 January Reply

      So sorry to hear that you are part of the club! So awful, and then add insult to injury when insurance pulls stuff like that. I’m sending you an email too. xoxo

  • Monika L Drummond
    Posted at 05:14h, 28 January Reply

    I read this article tonight, and just cried. I then went & posted it (link to it) on my Facebook for others to read, because I was so moved by everything you said. I also had a house fire on 01/07/19…and I felt (& still very much feel) as you so beautifully wrote about the varied feelings and emotions one feels when going through this type of experience. Thank you for writing this piece.

    • Kristen Moeller
      Posted at 18:23h, 28 January Reply

      Thank you for reading it! So sorry about your loss. It’s a sad club to be part of. I’d love to send you the book Phoenix Rising, which tells 21 Stories about Women Walking through Fires. I’ll email you.

  • Megan Fuller
    Posted at 01:18h, 14 February Reply

    I came across your story via a Google seach on dealing with a fire loss. Our apartment complex suffered a fire loss a few days ago (no human fatalities). However, while 24 families have been displaced, ours is only one of the FEW that is now inaccessible. Meaning not even a chance of rummage through the ashes. Meaning we cannot even get back the body of our beloved cat of 10 years, Nora. A huge part of my soul has died there along with Nora and all the special things I’ve worked so hard to obtain and keep safe for 30 years. Everything is as you described it… I’ve lost so many special things from friends, family, school, etc. Some can be replaced; most cannot. Especially Nora. I wish there were support groups for things like this, but thank you for making me feel a little less alone.

    • Kristen Moeller
      Posted at 16:51h, 16 February Reply

      So very sorry to hear about your loss. Losing an animal… that’s just horrific. Just reading your post makes me want to start a facebook support group for fire loss people. There are so many big fires – like the ones in CA. But then there are smaller ones, like mine – and then, of course, there are stories like yours all over the place and those people can feel even more alone (like you!). We don’t have to be alone, though. I will send you an email too. Sending hugs and love.

  • Bonnie Covert
    Posted at 02:56h, 16 February Reply

    I lost everything on 11/07/18 Camp Fire . I would love to read any books you recommend. I have not allowed myself to share my grief. I’ve cried less than a hand full of times your writing here has helped me to realize I need to cry.

    • Kristen Moeller
      Posted at 16:47h, 16 February Reply

      Yes, we need to cry!!!! There will be many tears. I still can cry about it, close to 7 years later. It changes your life forever. So glad you found my blog. You are not alone. I’m emailing you about books.

  • Dorothy Carini
    Posted at 05:13h, 16 February Reply

    I am a surviver of the Paradise campfire. Still trying to organize my inventory list to make sense. I was fortunate enough to have family close by, but I feel like my presence is wearing thin. I want to go home. I feel lost. Since last January I lost my mother, a cat, my job, my significant other, my house,and my town. I don’t know how to move forward.

    • Kristen Moeller
      Posted at 16:46h, 16 February Reply

      Oh, I so understand! It’s beyond disorienting! Be gentle with yourself. I highly suggest finding a counselor, if you haven’t already – one that is well-versed in grief and loss. It is a huge process to go through. There will be many ups and downs. I am sending you hugs.

  • Rachelle McDougall
    Posted at 07:27h, 16 February Reply

    We lost our home in the Camp Fire. It is at the same time comforting and heartbreaking that your words so accurately express my experience. Thank you so much for sharing

    • Kristen Moeller
      Posted at 16:43h, 16 February Reply

      I’m so sorry to hear about your loss! I am glad you found my post and that it brings you (some) comfort. I wish you didn’t have to be part of this “club”. Sending you hugs.

  • A Grieving Mom in SC
    Posted at 00:21h, 17 May Reply

    Tears are falling as I write this. Just lost practically everything due to a fire. I feel overwhelmed and so deeply down in spirit. I’m at my sister’s lovely home but there’s no place like your own home. I’m not sure how I’ll get through the next days, months, and possibly year.

    • Kristen Moeller
      Posted at 18:01h, 17 May Reply

      So very sorry to hear about your loss. The only way through, is one day at a time. Sending you hugs.

  • Misty J. Long
    Posted at 13:54h, 11 July Reply

    Thank you for this post. This is the first time I’ve actually Googled on this subject. I guess I just wasn’t ready to make this step. October of 2018 I lost my childhood home that my parents left me to a mystery fire & as the fireman said “Ms.Long, It’s a complete loss.” I had a 6 month old at the time & I also lost a lot of my animals to the fire. I unfortunately didn’t have home owners insurance at the time of the fire either. It’s almost more then I can bare. My daughter single handily has kept me moving forward to another day. I still cry huge crocodile tears 😭 every single day!! It almost feels as though I’ve lost a member of the family. I really love this blog. Thank you for giving me hope.

    • Kristen Moeller
      Posted at 14:26h, 06 December Reply

      No words. Just sending love. I am so very sorry for your loss.

  • Misty J. Long
    Posted at 14:03h, 11 July Reply

    It’s been almost a year & I am still almost in the exact same spot as I was the night it happened. I’ve had a lot of drama along the way based around the fire. I’ve had money raised for me & my family by a very very very old & trusting friend that ended up in that old friend keeping over half the money that was donated to the fundraiser to help us. And, for some really strange & confusing reason my family has basically acted as though nothing happened & have done very very little to help me when I needed them the most. I’m just in a limbo & very confused.

    • Kristen Moeller
      Posted at 14:28h, 06 December Reply

      Being in limbo is totally understandable given what you are dealing with. That’s terrible about your “friend”. I hope you can find support somewhere else. A wonderful therapist made all the difference in the world for me. Sending you hugs.

  • Anita Raye
    Posted at 18:15h, 09 September Reply

    I, like several others who have already written to you, lost my home in the Paradise Camp Fire, 11/8/18. I had lived in Paradise for 38 years raising a family and making a living. My adult children and their families also lost their homes. It’s been 10 months since the fire and I am feeling what I would best describe as “battle fatigue”. I’m retired and had a wonderful full life in Paradise. I know intellectually that I have it good now…I travel, have family support…but I still feel raw. Remembering those personal lost items little by little feels like drip torture. New stuff just feels empty. I am trying to only bring possessions into my life that have a definite use or meaning but already, I want to get rid of the stuff I got in the beginning. That shirt I got at Walmart the day after the fire, because simply didn’t have a second shirt, has got to go. It must be how I’m coping right now but I’ve become fascinated with our culture’s relationship to “stuff”. Having lived in a home I created over many years, I used to feel that it was an outward expression of who I was. I use to think, “Come to my home if you want to know who I am.” Now, with very little to my name, I am looking inside myself more to know who i am and strangely, I’m caring less about others “knowing” me. This was a shared tragedy, my whole town and everyone in it, has a individual and shared story. Of my closest friends, not one feelings exactly as I do about the loss. They have their own stories and are dealing with it in their own ways. I’m trying not to be hard on myself when I am not ready to move on as fast as someone else or seem to still have those lump-in-the-throat moments of grief.
    I would also appreciate info about your book.

    • Kristen Moeller
      Posted at 14:31h, 06 December Reply

      So sorry for my delay in responding – and for your losses. The impact of that horrendous fire was felt all over. So many of us who have walked through our own fires have been holding you in our hearts. All that you describe is totally normal. I hope you are being gentle with yourself. The book is available on Amazon – just search for “Phoenix Rising: Stories of Remarkable Women Walking through Fire”. My name should bring it up too. Sending you love.

  • Jon Braddock
    Posted at 20:02h, 18 November Reply

    Very impactful and helpful! I can’t even imagine. May I ask how long it took to recover vital documents and records? Such as birth certificate, marriage license, social security card and other critical records you may have lost. I know that can be a time consuming process in rebuilding.

    • Kristen Moeller
      Posted at 14:33h, 06 December Reply

      It took a while. My first focus was on the inventory list for insurance. I actually just got my birth certificate recently – and until you wrote about a marriage license, I realize I never got that.. Be gentle with yourself. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

  • Leda Ketelhohn Traub
    Posted at 16:46h, 02 December Reply

    Thank you for writing this! I needed to find something to let me know I’m not alone. It’s almost Christmas and while it had always been my favorite time of year, I want nothing to do with it this year! Our home and outbuildings burned to the ground on the morning our family had gathered for Christmas last year. The tragedy was compounded by several other issues that seemed to have the effect of a snowball rolling down a mountainside. I don’t think we’re anywhere close to healing as a result. (It almost feels as though the house is still burning.. as the effects of events began that morning are still occurring-like dominos still falling.) There aren’t a lot of resources to point my adult children to in order to help me explain that what I & my husband are feeling right now isn’t crazy or overly dramatic. This article helps in so many ways!

    • Kristen Moeller
      Posted at 14:35h, 06 December Reply

      That’s totally understandable! Holiday’s can trigger trauma for sure. Be gentle with yourself. I am so glad it helps. Keep in touch with those who understand what it’s like for sure. As time goes on, it still sticks with us while others will forget. Every time I travel, I get anxious to leave my home and pets – and I always have to gently remind myself it’s the trauma of having lost so much. Sending you hugs.

  • Richard Walden
    Posted at 02:02h, 06 December Reply

    I lost my home last night. The fire marshall thinks it was electrical. I’m afraid to call my insurance company because I’ve been taken advantage of before. I’m looking for any advice for dealing with handling this correctly. As far as emotions I”m still numb but the fear of doing something wrong scares me. What if I’m not insured somehow?

    • Kristen Moeller
      Posted at 14:25h, 06 December Reply

      So very sorry to hear this! The numbness may be there for a while. Definitely call your insurance agent.

  • Kara L Zajac
    Posted at 14:02h, 08 December Reply

    Thank you for writing this. I am a chiropractor who lost my office of 18 years to a devastating fire two months ago. The loss has been so huge I can hardly put words to it and the loneliness I feel is almost unbearable even though I have people around “ to help.” Your words made me feel connected, supported, and validated. I appreciate you and your open heart. I am also a writer but feel like I have been unable to express anything but rage and anger since this tragedy happened….

    • Kristen Moeller
      Posted at 20:15h, 17 December Reply

      Soooo very sorry to hear this! Rage and anger is totally normal! And, I get it about not being able to put it into words. Sending you big hugs.

  • Ralph Emmerson
    Posted at 15:12h, 19 December Reply

    1:53am can’t sleep due to thinking about my fire losses earlier & not able to return as evacuated. Started searching internet for helpful advice to deal with situation after hours of listening to people dismiss my losses & came across your site. Wow, now I have some answers instead of staying silent & letting them over rule what I feel. Thank You, thank you, thank you.

    • Kristen Moeller
      Posted at 19:16h, 19 December Reply

      So sorry for your loss – and so glad you found this blog! You are NOT alone. We who have been through it, get it — and we always will. Please check out “Phoenix Rising” a book I curated with 21 women’s stories who lost homes or were impacted by fires. Look on Amazon under my name and it will come up. Sending you hugs!

      • Kaitlyn Wright
        Posted at 06:47h, 15 April Reply

        I lost my hometown of Paradise to the Camp Fire. I still find myself closing my eyes and walking through my parents home. I am afraid I will forget what it looks like as time passes. My Dad was born and raised in Paradise and my heart breaks for him having to change his life in his 50s. My family gathered aunt’s, uncle’s, cousins, etc. to play games every Sunday. Now we are all in different areas.

  • Gerry Wilson
    Posted at 12:11h, 09 January Reply

    My lifelong friend lost his house to fire 2 days ago. He lives alone with his cat who survived the fire. Mike has diabetes and multiple organ transplants so is not in good health. His family and myself live 3 hours drive away from him. I have said all the wrong things in my attempt to comfort him. I really love your article and have sent it to him. I am struggling to know how to help him and words of comfort. Can you elaborate on what we can do? Thanks again for your wonderful article..

  • Celeste Hagen
    Posted at 07:54h, 18 January Reply

    I rescued a dog 3 months before the Campfire in Paradise CA which took my home, my community, my friends, my church,
    My new dog saved my life- he woke me up in time for us to escape. I am surprised by how long it is taking to recover. Are you still emailing books?
    Thank you for expressing eloquently what it is like. It is amazing the insensitivity I have been exposed to.

  • Donna Kerester
    Posted at 14:07h, 11 February Reply

    I am the mother of an almost 25 year old who just lost all in a 4 alarm fire . She did get out, thank God! The article was so helpful even for me to read. I’ve been grieving at the the thought of the trauma she went through and of course the material losses that occurred. This helps make you realize all of these feelings are normal and nothing to be ashamed of. It is devastating, yes, it is!!!

  • Sparrow Harrington
    Posted at 09:11h, 30 April Reply

    Wow, thank you for this. My story is a bit different, but emotionally very similar. I had health issues that accelerated so quickly and dramatically, that I lost my home of 20 years. It was a little cottage with a garden that I tended with all the love in my heart. All of my things went into a friend’s garage while I moved to another country to live with my sister. I eventually received word that my friend’s wife took all of my things – my first stuffed animal from childhood, a doll my grandmother made, my photo albums, 30 years of journals, gifts from old boyfriends, Christmas ornaments picked up on my travels to various countries over many years, letters from my best friend who died of AIDS, and so many, many precious momentos, etc. – and tossed them in the garbage. They’d had a row and she took her anger out on my belongings. He didn’t tell me until months later. I vomited when I heard the news. Then, in his guilt, he stopped talking to me. The betrayal was horrendous. The loss, astounding.

    Thank you for acknowledging the depth of one’s very real and honorable attachment to “things”

  • Joy Slabbert
    Posted at 12:32h, 24 July Reply

    Hello Kristen. My daughter Lauren sent me your blog last year. I read it, but it was shortly after our home of 37 years burnt down. Yesterday, it was the 18 month anniversary, and somehow, it really smacked me. I have read the comments and I could identify with most of them. People rallied around in the first week, collected food, clothes etc. It was amazing. Funds were set up, and sadly, one was also withheld from us. I sometimes feel, I would like to tell my story. You have a wonderful way with words, and I was wondering if you ever considered writing chronicles of different people’s experiences. Each story has similarities, yet also many differences, and not everyone has your amazing talent, yet would like their story told. I especially found platitudes hard to deal with.
    God bless you for the comfort you have brought to so many people.❤

  • Angela Mathews
    Posted at 12:55h, 25 July Reply

    So incredibly sorry for your loss. My family is going threw it right now I have 2 small children as well. This feeling is indescribable.

  • Michelle
    Posted at 17:09h, 02 August Reply

    I just googled ‘How to deal with loss of ‘stuff’, and felt stupid about it. I’m so glad I did as I feel like my feelings are valid now. No, I didn’t lose my house. My belongings were in storage, and the storage warehouse burnt down. Already in a difficult time due to job loss, living with friends, our whole house was in that unit. I feel superficial for feeling so sad that all my furniture has gone…but its memories, and things collected over the years, gifts, travel purchases…all my kids toys…my late parents things. Its heartbreaking and really feels like a death. I have lost both my parents and divorced 2 years ago…and this feels as raw. Reading your blog has helped. Thank you!

  • Kirsten A Flynn
    Posted at 22:49h, 27 August Reply

    I just joined the club.

  • Sonja Griffith
    Posted at 00:29h, 29 August Reply

    I stumbled across your blog and found it so fitting for what my brother and his wife are going through. They lost their home to fire on 8/10/2020 and have received very little help or insight from the insurance company. I would appreciate any spreadsheets or information I can utilize that will help me in putting together their inventory.

  • JOIE BURCH
    Posted at 15:14h, 31 August Reply

    Thank you for your words and the hope – We lost our home on 8/10/20…we thankfully made it out with our two fur babies, but the home was a total and complete loss – This vortex of feelings and emotions is just beyond me some days – My SIL shared this page with me and has sent me one of your books to read – I am looking forward to that – God bless you all and love and prayers to each of you!

  • Joanee Van Winkle
    Posted at 04:13h, 09 October Reply

    I stumbled across your article on Facebook.
    I lost my childhood home , a log home that my parents built, in a wildfire in Oregon a month ago.
    My elderly mother and I had no warning and escaped as the flames were coming down the hill on our property.
    Our homestead was a total loss as the fire destroyed everything in its path.
    After talking to the firefighters who we had passed on our way out we now know are lucky to be here as the fire had already consumed our home by the time they arrived.
    Thank you for sharing your story and helping me understand some of the emotions that I haven’t quite been able to put into words.
    When we share our life experiences we help heal our pain but also help others know they are not alone.
    I am very interested in reading your book.
    God bless you

  • Keri Stroum
    Posted at 21:42h, 12 October Reply

    Thank you for this post. Everything you wrote sounds so familiar with what others kept telling me. Driving me crazy that they couldn’t understand what i was feeling.
    I lost my apartment 12wks ago (the whole bldg was destroyed- 24 units). I am having so much difficulty coping with life (i am in counseling). Everytime I go to the store I say oh I have this at home, then realize I don’t. I do my best to keep the tears behind my eyes until at new place.
    I tell my story to whomever will listen as it helps me cope. I plan on doing a blog on my experiences.
    Thank you. I was steared your way to see this post.

  • Jane Hammond
    Posted at 14:30h, 15 October Reply

    Thank you for these words of wisdom. I lost my home 1 month ago and unfortunately the entire town is gone. I am walking in a fog. It is extremely other worldly. Can’t focus, cry at the drop of a hat. I only lived there in for a year and a half, But it was my forever home. My home that was only 152 steps from my daughter’s home where my two grand babies lived. I saw them daily. I spent the last year and a half painting and fixing and being proud of my endeavors. My social security will be very low, so I had been creating a way to make money from home. I was having a small unit being built in the back yard to supplement my income and getting my fence secured to do dog sitting. Those sources of income are now non existent. So I will not be able to go onto social security and need to remain working until I can figure out how to supplement in other ways. I know I will get through this as I am strong. But to know mourning is ok is nice to hear. My daughter’s home is also ash and rubble….. I am terribly sad…..

  • Kelly JH Scott
    Posted at 22:49h, 01 January Reply

    We just lost our home and everything in it in a house fire on 12/2/2020. All that you say rings true. I am interested in the book you and others wrote.

  • Erika HImmelberger
    Posted at 10:55h, 05 January Reply

    Thank you for this. Like many others, I too Googled ‘How to deal with loss after a fire’ and I meant all of the things I had built up so carefully over the years. I tried not to have collections but on some things I relented. My Harry Potter collection, my custom made book shelf with all the books I built up with love, my childhood rocking chair, my great grandmothers turtle dinner bell, my renaissance costume collection, toys from my childhood, barbies I collected when I was young but most of all photographs. The last ones I had of me as a child and growing up.

  • Patricia Taylor
    Posted at 06:34h, 12 January Reply

    Kristen – thank you for your words. It’s been a year and a half since I lost my home – not to a wildfire – but to a fire someone else started who lived above me. I found myself out on the street, staring back at my home in horror, while in my pajamas with my 19.5 yr old kitty, my wallet, and my cell phone in the early morning hours, woken by the sounds of screaming. This was that defining 5 minutes. What would you grab if you only had 5 minutes? I haven’t recovered and I’m not exactly sure how I’m supposed to be feeling anymore. And I’ve heard all those well meaning’d comments from others. Not at all helpful. And to make life even more interesting, 6 months after the fire, I lost my kitty, then my job a week later due to Covid. I’m still technically homeless as I haven’t found a place out there in the world for me, or a place I may safely call my home (especially during the pandemic). But it’s interesting how it changes you – everywhere I stay, I look for escape routes…just in case. It’s amazing to realize that I no longer feel safe anymore.

    Your words make me feel not so alone. Thank you.

  • Penelope Kaye Smith
    Posted at 15:53h, 27 January Reply

    Thank you for the opportunity to express how much anger, animosity, hate, loneliness ,,devastation …..I could on but you get the point I feel on a daily basis I’m asking for help emotional support.
    PENELOPE

  • Amelia Taylor
    Posted at 01:59h, 05 February Reply

    I have survived a house fire and nearly died trying to extinguish it. I unfortunately was playing phone tag with the insurer and was merely a day away from signing the papers and making a payment. My house was my sanctuary and now I feel lost. Thank you for your kind words. I would love to read a copy of your book. I am in the depths of grief.

  • Jamie Lynn
    Posted at 21:06h, 26 February Reply

    Wow, This was a lot for me. I lost my childhood/family/present ranch home in the 2017 California fires and our new home is finally almost finished. After over 3 years of waiting, going from home to home, being displaced and loosing everything besides my family, we are finally going to have a home. But I still am so scared and in what should be a happy time for me, I still have so much loss in my heart. I read through the things you wrote…the stuff that is just stuff but really NOT just STUFF at all and I bawled my eyes out. I couldn’t bring myself to read anymore but I will, and I believe this blog Is going to be a good step for me in the course of healing. I won’t go into all my details because i believe it is very similar for all of us that have lost everything. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing this and I look forward to the time where I can come back and continue my healing process.

  • Summer Larson
    Posted at 05:26h, 01 March Reply

    I just lost everything I owned in a fire. It was during the ice storm and a power outage. When the power was restored, there was a power surge that sent my home up in flames. I thank God that my three boys weren’t home. Everything I’ve worked hard (single mom) to build and give my boys, was lost. Precious mementos from my grandparents and my older sister, who’ve left this earth, that I can never replace. Baby pictures of my oldest son, before Facebook memories, that I can never get back. And there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t remember something else precious that I lost. And more than just mourning for what u lost, is the mourning that I share with my babies in what they lost. It’s truly heartbreaking. We have searched the rubble twice now, and only came away with a few of my grandma’s porcelain miniatures and a porcelain girl my sister made in job corps. Everything else is gone. The school yearbooks I bought every year, their first trophies, the baby pictures, the camera I had for special pictures, the small autographed moments from them meeting famous people, my grandma’s antique sewing machine and her quilt she made me with my name, their game systems and TVs. It was a complete loss. I can’t find my oldest son’s class ring, the owl pendant that was my sister’s, nothing. It’s all ash. For the most part, we’re good. And then we have those moments where we remember something else.

  • Carolyn skerlong
    Posted at 05:01h, 02 June Reply

    Lost everything in a house fire the day after Christmas 2020. In the process of redrawing plans for rebuild. Everything you said is so true! I’ll be somewhere and be like…”Oh no…” remembering a lost treasure. I’ve felt the guilt of “mourning” stuff. This made me feel human and made me feel understood! Thank you

  • Diamon Dalton
    Posted at 07:19h, 16 June Reply

    Phoenix…..

    Thank you for your bravery.. and I’m also apart of the women who have been through such disaster.. as of today we lost everything, but we are alive……

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