_ _ _ _ _
I remember standing in what used to be my childhood bedroom. It was covered in ash and ice. The once warm red walls were discolored with holes all around. I should not have been there. The firemen said it was not safe. There was caution tape wrapped around the entrance of the house, but at the time, I did not care.
The picture frames that were once on the wall were tarnished and the photos were gone. I had searched for things I could salvage, but I found nothing.
I looked up at what used to be the ceiling. Through the broken-down roof, I could see the blue sky. It made me feel safe. I could see some hope through all the destruction.
I was careful not to fall through the floor when I left. There were gaping holes below me from my old room to the front door.
I was only slightly phased by the walkway that had an unfinished concrete block towards the end. My parents had always said it would be a spot we put our handprints when we were kids. It never happened.
I would start over on my own. Not that I had much of a choice.
I got in my car and left with nothing but some hope and the sting in my nose from the smell of smoke and the bitter cold.
_ _ _ _ _
Losing that house was not the worst thing.
Sure, it held memories of my mother dancing in the kitchen to country music while she prepped for dinner over the green countertops. It carried every Christmas I ever had. It was the home of a full, happy family, but that family had really been broken for a long time. When the house burnt down, we were all disconnected. My mother had moved out. It was like the home in that house was already gone.
I was not glad that I no longer had the flamenco dancer painting that I got in Spain. I was not glad that my sister’s western terrier did not make it out, or that our German shepherd died in the yard from too much smoke inhalation.
I wish I still had the little jewelry box that looked like a house and had two little birds on the top. It was from a dear family friend who passed away.
On the other hand, I was kind of glad that the picture of the beach with my name and the name of the guy I loved in the sand had burned, along with our relationship, which was toxic for both of us.
I was kind of okay with starting over. I guess the fire gave me that chance. It was like I got to have one of those stories where a terrible thing happens, but somehow that terrible thing makes everything that is left better. I was able to find meaning. I was able to move forward with a backpack full of clothes and a different bed every few days, feeling like there was at least some sort of purpose on the other side of my pain.
The problem with those stories is that story ends on the good note, but life continues. And life is a multitude of stories.
I stood in a church service once, after the fire, and I thought, I am safe now. I thought my new-found faith was the only thing I needed. I thought it was enough to keep away the other bad things.
It was not. That is not how faith works. There is no special formula for God. There is no reason for anyone to think that because they have faith, all their problems will go away.
_ _ _ _ _
My mother died on December 20th, 2012, about three years after the house fire. I was shaken, devastated, and found little purpose in my pain.
Just over a year after she died, I was painting the walls in my room of my new house that I just bought with my husband, and I listened to a message by a pastor, Levi Lusko.
I rolled the light, clean, soft green on the walls as Levi shared a very tragic story about how he lost his 5-year-old little girl on December 20th, 2012: the same exact day that I lost my mother.
As I listened to him speak about this awful loss, maybe the worst kind possible, I was amazed at how much purpose he found in his pain. His daughter’s eyes were donated to help two blind people see. Her story inspired countless people. His book about it reached countless people. It was only a bit over a year since it happened.
I felt a heaviness. There was no good that came from my mother’s death. There was no great light through the brokenness, like the light I saw when I stood in the remains of my old bedroom, or like the light Levi found in the midst of his grief.
I was putting paint on the freshly cleaned walls of an empty room and I felt as empty as that room when it came to the loss of my mother.
_ _ _ _ _ _
That was almost eight years ago. Since then, I have birthed two babies. I had severe postpartum depression with the first. I lost two other people close to me, my grandmother, and my mother-in-law. I have also repainted that room twice.
I was never exempt from pain. But I was also never exempt from finding meaning. It just took a lot longer than I had hoped.
My home is surrounded by lots of framed pictures of my children. It is full of hope and joy, just like the home I grew up in once was. I always dance at the green kitchen island while I make dinner.
I sit at a desk with a picture of my mother at my wedding, a few months before she died. I study all I can about psychology, trauma, grief, and loss. I write about my experience and the experiences of others. I sit at the desk and learn techniques to help me become a therapist. I learn that when people come to therapy, one effective technique is finding meaning in pain, and I realize I finally found mine.
The meaning I found did not come in a self-help book, a church, or a person. I found it within myself, in a God-given purpose that I cannot fully comprehend, but I know is there.
I can look out the window near my desk and see the bright light that I was meant to see, and I can find hope that I found once before within the rubble of my old home. A hope that only miraculously, yet naturally comes after loss.