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In the Blink of an Eye

That's how fast everything can change. That's how fast your spreadsheets all go to hell. That's how fast all your planning, preparing, and assumptions can just be removed from your life.

Hi, my name is Kristin, and my family just survived a house fire.

It's been 2 weeks since it happened, and I've been through the whole range of grief and loss phases that they talk about in books. And yes, it's not a straight line, it jumbles a lot.

The first of those phases is denial. Learning a loved one has passed, or being diagnosed with an illness, the first phase is denial. I realize now that I was here. While I sat by the barn with my dogs, comforting them as the explosions scared them, I intentionally could not look at the actual house, so I watched the smoke from the other side of the barn. I told myself it would be fine, the firefighters would put it out and it would just be the garage and it would all be over. Denial.

Bargaining, yeah, not in the clinical sense. Bargaining is usually "If I do this, can I change it? I promise to never do this again if it just gets better". Not much I can bargain for here, except the next year of my life will likely be bargaining with the insurance company. Ugh.

Anger. Yeah, this is relatively moderate in the scale of things I have been angry about. It's more frustration, or little realizations that start to bug me. In the grand scheme of things, my family is OK, my dogs and my livestock and barn cats are OK. There is not much to be angry about. But the little realizations are like bandaids being torn off on a daily basis - from that really hairy part on your forearm. Like realizing that really beautiful (and expensive) wool coat that was hand sewn by this wonderful Russian lady you met in Detroit - is gone and irreplaceable. Like if you had just left the mail in the mailbox, with that package of new bras you just ordered, that you had been lazy and just left it in the mailbox, you would have had new bras to wear. Instead they burned in a fire with their tags still on. Like finding some of your Ireland sweaters, but not all of them. Like that painting Shannon just made with her Grandma and now it's covered in soot. Her tub of Halloween costumes, which cracked open and ruined all of the costumes I made for her since she was 6 months old. Not really Anger, just frustration.

Exhaustion - this is where I live now. I'll be here for another year. But that's OK, I think I lived there for the entirety of my college existence and most of my pregnancy and Shannon's baby and toddler years. I can handle exhaustion.

Acceptance - this is where it all ends. This is where you accept where you are and are able to move on. Sometimes I feel like I am here, sometimes I don't. I am a woman of routine. I don't have one right now and it's infuriating (and adding to my exhaustion). It's why my coworkers seem surprised that I have a smile on my face at work - it's familiar territory where my routine is back and I generally feel more in control of what's going on.

So we are learning the hard way all about insurance. This flags the anger side of the whole situation. Every conversation brings new information, new interpretations. Every conversation makes me want to remind them that they work for insurance for a living, and I don't, and maybe they could give me a little more information. Or you know, maybe they could give me the entire story, instead of just bits and pieces.

So a little bit of advice from us to you:

  1. Move your grill and all propane tanks from next to your house. Keep your grill OFF when not in use, and close the valve on the tank.

  2. Call your insurance company and review your policy. Ask them about EVERYTHING. Make sure to update everything about your home. Make sure the insurance company knows every single time you make an upgrade, and that they document it. They won't cover you to replace it if they didn't know you did it.

  3. Learn what is and is not covered by your policy. Do you have special items that you want extra coverage on? Get them reappraised every few years to ensure they are covered for their true value (My piano was covered for just over $12K, which is what I paid for it 20 years ago. To replace it today, it costs $36K! I did not update my policy!)

  4. Talk to your family about an emergency plan. Where will everyone go? If you get separated, where will you meet? How will you find each other and get help if you need it?

  5. Get a fireproof safe for your important documents and other things. Because of this, I was able to save our birth certificates, passports, marriage certificate and other important documents. Our wallets were burned in the fire - I was able to retrieve my drivers licence, but Larry was not. Can you imagine how difficult it would be for him to get a driver's license if all of those other documents were also gone?

  6. Know what your home is made of. We have asbestos ceilings - ask the insurance company if they will cover the expenses to clean that up if your house gets damaged, Many houses built in the 70s do have asbestos in them, which is safe until it gets disturbed. Our house is now and environmental disaster that can't just be demolished, it has to be properly abated. It won't be fun.

  7. Back up your computers on a good, sealed back up drive and keep it current. Better yet, either back up to the cloud, or have 2 back up drives, that you swap regularly, so one is outside the home to be recovered.

We're just at the beginning of this process and I can tell this is going to be a terrible year for us.

All I have going now is that my farm is so well planned out and scrutinized it practically runs itself. We are pushing through with turkey processing. Come January, when I usually place orders for birds, we'll see where we are with the rebuild and if we have the energy to start chickens again in the spring. It might be late summer before we get off the ground again. One silver lining? My next house does not have to be yellow with brown trim!

Winter is coming. It's going to be a rough one for us, that's for sure! Who knows, we might find ourselves camping out in the barn, with the dogs and the sheep, where we can all be warm together!

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