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In the fall of 2006, my closest aunt remodeled her main-floor laundry room and the adjacent office. They put in new flooring, painted, installed a new washer and dryer, as well as cabinets and added more desks and computers. One evening, they put a load of laundry in and went out to dinner. When they came home, that newly remodeled space was covered in three inches of water, which also damaged some parts of the finished basement directly below that area. There was water damage everywhere, and they needed restoration immediately. Everything was restored in less than a couple of weeks, and their lives returned to normal.

That is until, a few months later, in March 2007, I received a phone call in the wee hours of the morning around 3 am; it was my aunt. I must have been in REM (Rapid eye movement sleep is the stage of sleep where most dreams happen) and was talking in my sleep because what she told me should have garnered an immediate response to waking up and moving into action. Instead, I told her that I loved her and would talk to her in the morning.

What my aunt told me was that she and her family were standing in their pajamas in their front yard, watching their house burn to the ground, waiting for the fire trucks to show up. It was a horrific event. They all suffered from PTSD, and their beloved family dog, who made it out alive with the rest of the family, passed away from a broken heart only weeks later. It was heartbreaking for their closest family members, my mom and I, to watch them go through this from 800 miles away in Michigan, feeling powerless. Our hearts were broken for them.

On the other hand, when my mother received that same early morning phone call, she sprung into action. She called the local Red Cross and FEMA. She also called local authorities in North Carolina, as this was a complete and total loss fire claim that was going to have to happen quickly. They lost everything. Their whole lives were demolished in a matter of minutes.

It was a freak of nature, really. After the fire investigation, the Chief told them first; that it was a miracle that they made it out in time as the house collapsed within three minutes of the full blaze.

Second, they found that a squirrel crawled into the main transformer, was electrocuted, and caught fire, sending flames down the wires directly into their basement ceiling light socket and igniting the basement utility room on fire. The water heater exploded, sending flames out of the basement window where a gas-powered golf cart was parked. You can probably guess that the golf cart exploded. It did and, in doing so, lit the house on fire from the outside. So, when the Chief said that it was a miracle, they made it out; he was not exaggerating.

What is the trauma after a house fire?

Recovering emotionally after such a devasting loss, like my aunt and her family, is a challenge and a journey no one wants to take.

It is common for people to experience several stages of adjustment, including shock, anger, depression, and hopelessness after losing a home. Residential fires can lead to significant emotional distress in addition to possible physical injuries. Thankfully, they did not sustain any physical injuries.

With such a loss, the insurance company (reluctantly) paid them out and covered their total loss plus living expenses for three months of hotel stay before they were able to find another home to buy. Immediately afterward, the insurer dropped them after thirty years of making regular, on-time payments.

How long does traumatic shock last?

According to Stanford University, “The signs and symptoms of a stress reaction may last a few days, a few weeks, or a few months, and occasionally longer, depending on the severity of the traumatic event. With the understanding and the support of loved ones, stress reactions usually pass more quickly,”.

And that is precisely what my mom and I did. Two weeks after the fire, we flew down to NC with my then two-year-old son. We came to support them emotionally and to help them recover anything we had the power to do so. Sadly, my younger cousin was a senior in high school during the fire, so to say the least, his graduation was not necessarily celebratory in fashion.

For the following weeks and months that passed, my mom and I searched vehemently through family photos to see what we could share with her to sort of rebuild her precious memories that were lost to the fire. On a regular basis, she would think of something in conversation, and she would remember that that, too, was lost in the fire. It happens more than you would think when someone suffers such a total loss that claimed their whole life’s memories, memorabilia, keepsakes, collectibles, precious baby items, my cousin’s tattered and torn blanket, and so much more.

There is quite a miraculous story in all of this, though. There were two items that not only didn’t burn or have smoke damage but were sitting there amongst the rubble, seemingly unaffected and untouched. It was the mother’s ring my late grandmother gave to her daughter (my aunt) and my younger cousin’s Bible, with a few personal keepsakes and his life’s savings stashed in the middle of the pages.

These two items served as symbols of hope and resilience for my aunt and her family. Amidst the devastation, they were reminded that even in the face of tragedy, there are still precious mementos and cherished belongings that can survive. It was a small glimmer of light in their darkest days.

Slowly but surely, they began to rebuild their lives, both physically and emotionally. They found a new home, created new memories, and moved forward. The trauma of the house fire left a lasting impact, but with time, support, and the strength of family bonds, they were able to heal.

What happens if your house is a total loss

In conclusion, the aftermath of a total loss fire claim is an incredibly challenging and emotional journey. It tests one’s resilience and forces them to rebuild their lives from scratch. Their story serves as a reminder that in the face of adversity, hope can still exist, and recovery is possible.

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