Rising From the Ashes

Today is the two year anniversary of our house fire. One of the hardest days of my life happened on May 10, 2011. Yes, I was completely blessed that my family was safe and that a passerby woke my Husband who was the only one at home at the time. He didn’t have bronchitis like Sweet Brown, his diagnosis was Pneumonia! Looking back, I know now that that day was the beginning of an exploration in who and what I am.

Through the challenges, the changes and literally starting over from the ground up I’ve come to realize many, many things! I spent six months with almost no sleep and nightmares owned what little sleep I had. I could smell smoke in a million places it wasn’t and the sound of a fire truck? It still turns my stomach upside down and inside out, but, I don’t cry every time I hear one anymore. 

Many people don’t know that I was officially diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the weeks following the events. I don’t know if it was just this fire or the feeling that it had finally caught up to me that did it. That’s right, this wasn’t my first up close and personal encounter with fire.

At the age of 8, I’d earned the reputation of being a bedtime procrastinator so when I got out of bed to tell my parents I smelled something “funny” in my room they whisked me back to bed. Just to be sure, once I was back in bed my parents started checking the basement where the wood stove was and all looked okay. Until a passerby by banged on the door to let us know that a chimney fire had caught onto the back of the house.

There I was tucked into my bed with a friend’s borrowed Cabbage Patch kid on the floor next to me. That one foot of floor being the only separation between me and the wall that was burning from the outside in. I still remember running across the street, barefoot in my little nightgown terrified because I’d left behind Melinda’s Cabbage Patch doll. 

By the time the fire was out it had burned through my bedroom wall and charred the majority of our attic. I remember well the intense conversation I had with my parents while staying at an Aunt’s house about how it was time to go back home and sleep in my room again once the repairs had finished. I was terrified and I’m sure that the nightmares plagued me back then as they sometimes do even now. It took me a long time to feel safe again and suddenly I’d lost that safety, that sense of security I’d gained, all over again. 

About a year before the most recent fire, I remember telling my Son that as long as we stayed one step ahead of the fire we’d be ok. I told him this when I realized that two out of the last three apartments we’d lived in had burned to the ground some time after we’d moved out. Yet, somehow it caught up to us. I remember moments of irrational thinking, that fire was looking for me ever since it missed its chance with me 23 years before. In my darker months following the fire, I told my husband that if our new home ever starts to burn that I’d give in. 

As you can see from the photo above, the local newspaper was less than kind, posting a photo of me sitting on the ground in deep and desperate heartbreak, so confused by the cruel fate that was unfolding before my very eyes. I don’t even know how I managed to drive the Jeep from my office to my house. I do remember calling my Dad, a Firefighter for all of my life and thinking he could fix it somehow. I think I called my Mom as well, screaming and completely incomprehensible. I remember jumping out of my Jeep and running towards my home, engulfed in flames and falling to the ground. I couldn’t deal. I couldn’t feel. I couldn’t believe it was real. Some days, I still can’t. But, most days I can and on those days, I refuse to let it define me.

I had to learn how to put things into perspective. I had to come to terms not with losing my material possessions because those didn’t matter. But, with losing my security. That home represented so much to me, to my family. It was our dream and though it didn’t have a white picket fence, it was our own little slice of the good old American Pie. It was the destination for family gatherings, the location of my Mom’s 50th birthday party and of my parents 30 year wedding vow renewal ceremony. It. Was. Home. And, it was gone. 

Someone once told me, “You will never know what it is like to have nothing until nothing is all you have.” And for a moment, I thought I was there. Then I looked around. I didn’t have NOTHING!! I had everything because I still had my three children, my husband and the many friends and family outside of that house. And, that’s where I put my focus. On them. 

I went into overdrive. I set out to find us a place to live and within a week we moved off my parents’ couches and into a rented house. Within months we moved from that rented house into our new home. Donations of clothing, household items, money, furniture and more were pouring in so fast that for a time I became overwhelmed. Embarrassed to need anything, shy to accept everything but more than anything else, extremely grateful. I learned to ask for help. I learned to accept things, embrace people like I never had before. I sucked it up. And, I moved on. Never, for a second forgetting the love that surrounded my family. 

I stopped crying. I wiped myself off and I climbed out of the hole I’d wanted to keep myself in forever. I got kicked, hard, while I was down. “We don’t think you can manage your clients effectively  especially if they have a crisis and you are off dealing with an insurance adjuster.”  Those words,  seven days after my house burnt down, still haunt me to this day after five years of overachieving, overworking and being consumed almost entirely by my job. And, in that moment I realized that what I do today matters and who I dedicate and devote my time to, matters.

I vowed to make sure that it was my children who had the biggest piece of me, not my work. I took an entire summer off. In the fall I went back to teaching a couple of evenings per week. And, I started this blog and created a Facebook Page, Moms at Home to connect with other Moms who were putting their kids first. Eventually I went from a stay at home Mom (SAHM) to a work at home Mom (WAHM) and have been building up my blogging and freelancing business to its greatest potential. 

I spent a lot of time cringing whenever I heard the word fire. And only just recently watched the whole Sweet Brown autotune deal and was able to giggle along.  Every once in a while I find myself holding my breath, afraid that its going to happen again. But, I’m definitely on the upside of all of this. I know what is most important and I know that people think that I took all of this too hard.

There ARE worse things that can happen and I rationally understand that as I always have. But, to me, the fire two years ago really made me understand that I’m not untouchable and I can’t fix everything.  But, I do know more than ever that everything happens for a reason and that I just need to keep looking forward and staying positive.  That being said, I’m going to leave you with this Edit…



By Erica Buteau

Change Agent. Daydream Believer. Maker. Creative. Likes love, peace and Jeeping. Dislikes winter, paper cuts and war. She/Her/Hers.

13 thoughts on “Rising From the Ashes- Two Years and Counting”
      1. My family survived in such an amazing way _- dad was @ 7th street walmart, my mom sister & dog hid in the pantry (and were kept safe by God), I was north of town with my husband (My boyfriend @ the time) youngest brother just a little south…come on over and read the blog I think we have some similarities too

        1. SO very lucky! Sometimes it takes tragedy and struggle to really show us how blessed we really are. On my way over now!

  1. Wow! So well written. And what a hard thing to go through. You are amazing and articulate in sharing the fabulous lessons you walked away with and the choices you made to put your family first.

    What an example!

    Thanks so much for sharing!


    1. Jyl,

      You too are amazing and I so enjoy connecting with you. Thank you for your comment and encouraging words! xoxo

  2. Wow, Erica. You are a strong woman to have gone through what you have. I also believe that everything happens for a reason. There’s a lesson in everything that happens, and it’s great to see the changes that you made as a result. Very inspiring!

  3. Isn’t it funny how the most traumatic experiences end up teaching us lifelong lessons and changing us forever. You are an amazing woman and I admire the way you’ve taken the ashes of your life and used them for good!

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