Helping Someone With the Loss of their Home: Top Ten {Tuesday}

I promised this post LAST Wednesday. Too much stuff has happened. Let’s see if I can backtrack…

Remember last week when I was at Performing Arts Camp and VBS? The geocaching? Well, that Tuesday night I was going to bring my niece home from VBS and let her spend the night with us. Then I remembered Lydia had a dance class that night. So, I called my sister-in-law and said, “Can Nora come over on Wednesday instead?” And that’s what happened.

Wednesday after my Performing Arts Camp duties, I grabbed all 3 kids and brought them home. They played in the sprinkler, took a bath in our big jetted jacuzzi type tub and then my husband called and said, “Wanna go swimming?” So, I suited the kids up and we went to the pool. But only for about 5 minutes because it started lightning! After a quick stop at the KFC/Taco Bell (totally reminded me why I hate fast food. *gag*), we rushed the girls into the shower while Les gave Asa a bath. (I know this is a lot of detail, but I need to set the stage.) After the shower, Lydia and Nora asked if I would put curlers in their hair. So, we sat on the floor and talked as I curled their hair.

Just then my phone rang. And Nora picked up my phone, slid it down to answer and gave it to me. I heard screaming on the phone. Not just normal screaming. But wild screaming. I couldn’t understand what it was and it even took me a minute to recognize my mother’s voice. I said, “What? Where are you? What happened?” And then I heard it:

My brother’s house was on fire.

I couldn’t tell if my mom was there, if my brother, Jason was there or what was going on. All I knew was my mom was absolutely hysterical.

I dropped the curlers and ran down stairs while yelling, “Girls! Stay there!” I ran into the bathroom to tell Les I was leaving. He popped up and said, “What are you going to do at a fire?” (Always the thoughtful protector!) I said, “Mama is hysterical. I am not staying in this house.”

And I was gone within 10 seconds. I called Jason and shakily left a message that something was very wrong at their house. Then I called my sister-in-law. She seemed very unfazed by it all so I thought maybe I misunderstood what was going on. Then Daddy called and said, ” Your mom is hysterical. You don’t need to come over here.” But of course, I HAD to.

When I got to the neighborhood (my brother was randomly renting the house next door to my parents’), there were cars lining the streets. No one could get by the 3 fire trucks in front of Jason’s house.

Before I even got out of the car I saw Mama. She and Daddy were waiting for me and Jason to arrive. And here’s what apparently happened:

Mama and Daddy heard the lightning hit something outside. The walked outside and saw policemen in their front yard—which turned out to be Jason’s front yard. Then they realized the police were there because the house was on fire!

Daddy ran to the front door but the doorknob was too hot to touch! So, he grabbed his keys and flashlight (he’s SO Jack Bauer!) to go inside. Why? Because Jason’s truck was in the driveway and they thought he might be inside the house.

When Mama saw her husband knock on the door of her son’s blazing house, she lost it. She was picturing Daddy walking on broken glass (the fire had knocked out all the windows) to find a dead Jason on the floor. She thought she was witnessing her son’s death. And that’s when she called me.

I had nightmares about her phone call and her voice.

Soon, the firemen arrived and put out the fire. Neighbors swarmed to make sure everything was OK. And finally Jason and Brandy walked through the smoke, the fog and the blinking lights to survey the damage. It was not a happy walk.

The kitchen was hit by lightning and totally destroyed. The faucet was melted. The light bulbs melted. The water cooler melted. The refrigerator exploded. Then the fire raced through the attic and ceiling charring everything and sending smoke throughout the house.

The firemen said 5 more minutes and the house would have been ash. The ceiling was black. The walls were dripping with…I don’t know…it was like black water dripping and staining the walls. Every single thing they own was covered in soot. Their clothes, their memories, their belongings were infused with the smoky blackness.

And suddenly they had nothing. After sifting through the remains, they salvaged one POD of belongings–still too smokey to use, but after being treated by some ozone-anti-odor-machine, they are hoping to rescue it. Their clothes are going to be mostly restored. Everything else? Gone.

photo by the amazing mishelle lane

But can we get to the miracle?

Nora, Jason and Brandy were supposed to be home that night. It was the Wednesday night of Performing Arts Camp and VBS so they cancelled children’s services at church. They would have been home early, cooking dinner and getting ready for bed. Instead, Nora was safe and secure at my house. Jason and Brandy took the opportunity to go out to eat. And a mere 40 minutes after they left the house, their house was struck by lightning.

Immediately, people began to rally. Friends showed up that night to help. The next day people were sifting through belongings, bringing bags of clothes to the church and discreetly handing off rolls of money to our family. Today Jason and Brandy are moving into a new house (totally unrelated but still miraculous in my book-they had just signed a lease on a new rental the MONDAY before!) with new belongings, lots of help from friends and a confidence that God is their shield.

So, here’s what I’ve learned about helping someone through the loss of a home:

1. They don’t know what they have. They don’t know what they don’t have. They are staring at the ruins of their physical life! Offering furniture, clothes and food is awesome—but not needed right away.

2. When someone loses a home, the immediate need is just to sleep that night and get ready the next morning. That means they need a new outfit, some basic toiletries and a place to sleep. Cash and gift cards are the easiest and quickest way to help. Then they can buy the underwear, deodorant, contact solution and toothpaste they need.

3. I set up a Facebook Group for all the people that wanted to help my brother and sister-in-law. It gave everyone a place to ask questions like, “What can we do?” and a place for announcements regarding their situation to be made.

4. Designate a spokesperson for the family. I designated myself. (Shocker!) I set up the Facebook Group so I could shield Jason and Brandy from little decisions like, “Do you want our dining room set?” and focus on the important things like, “How do help our daughter through this?”

5. Set up a Paypal account. It’s instant money, instant help and instantly needed!

6. Protect your children. See my post on Impress Your Kids about how Jason & Brandy handled the situation with their daughter, Helping Kids Deal with Tragedies.

7. Have a Housewarming Party! Everyone wants to help and to donate. But in the middle of being homeless, there is just nothing to be done, nowhere to keep donations, no suitcases to keep clothing–just nothing! So, we planned a Housewarming Party for 2 weeks after they move into their house. They’ll be able to assess what they lost, buy some things that they REALLY want and then put an APB out for what they need. We set up a Target registry and a friend even set up a Pampered Chef registry for them (waiving her commission!) and at the housewarming party everyone can bring their bags of clothes, their furniture, their food and well-wishes to the new house. (And I’m totally going to do a creative guest-book for them! Won’t that be fun?)

8. Ask for donations. Of course, people are more than willing to donate old furniture and clothes, but ask companies, too. A local furniture store donated an entire bedroom set to my niece!

9. We also set up a meal registry on for people to bring meals the first week they are in their house. (I asked on twitter about meal registry and got so many great responses!)

10. Be thankful. Rejoice. God brings beauty for ashes. He restores. I am just in awe of the people who have rallied around our family. I feel like my brother and sister-in-law are Job—they have lost everything. But now they are seeing blessings double of what they had before!

Thank you to everyone that has offered to help, sent me facebook messages and sent money, giftcards and presents. Our entire family is blessed by your thoughtfulness and care. And special thanks to Staci and Mandi for helping me with the Facebook page and party!

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