Anyone who’s a regular here is probably well-versed by now in the details surrounding our house fire.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fully convey the sadness, fear, panic and isolation we felt at that time. We were so overwhelmed and felt very helpless. We’re lucky to be insured of course, but when you have a fire two days before xmas, what happens is that shops close. Banks close. If you think about the types of services that would be helpful in a situation like that, let me break it down for you: they were closed. We had a lot of waiting ahead of us. In terms of getting the house fixed and in a suitable living condition, we are still waiting six months on. I thought we’d mostly need painting and the like done, but as asbestos has been ripped out, ceilings have caved in and so on, more and more problems with this house have unfolded. Anyway, this post is not about that.
Despite the world’s closing down over xmas time, we still had needs. The four (at the time, it’s now three) kids in our care still needed things. A roof over our heads until the soot could be cleaned out. Food. Clothing. Sanity.
Our insurance company put us up in a motel. We scraped what food we could salvage (we only lost half of our food), and rationed it strictly which the two younger kids struggled to understand. We tried to choose food that wouldn’t overcrowd our bar fridge in the motel and had to choose things that didn’t need to be cooked. We bought some food with the money we had on us. We also had some other help which I’ll go into in another post.
I’ve been wanting to write my ‘fire thankyous’ for a long time now, but felt a need to make sure I do it justice. Today is just the beginning.
We didn’t manage to get any sanity then, and not for a long time. I’m sure regulars would’ve noticed how stroppy I get in my writing sometimes. Just know that if I seem bitter and pissy at times, I am working to get past all that. It’s just that it’s been a shocking and devastating experience for us. It’s taken a lot over the past six months to just get out of bed, and take care of business. The business of getting on with it, even when you think you can’t anymore.
Now. Clothes. We lost most of our clothes as well. In the shop where the fire started, was where we stored the clothes we were using. There’s so much more space in there to do that. Also, it’s where I would dump baskets of clean clothing, before I found the time to sort, fold and put them away. We were in the heat of Summer. In our house part of the home that was not burned, were all our Winter clothes. Were they burned? No. Covered in soot? Yes. We took these soot-covered Winter clothes and wore them in the hot Summer. There were one or two pieces that were more suitable for Summer, so we’d mix it up a little bit with our Winter pieces! All the clothes we had did end up getting washed at the motel, but were still soot-stained, and we knew we’d have to replace all our clothes when we were capable, because the reality is that they were destroyed.
Here is my son on one of the few days we managed to get them to the park to escape the cabin fever of being squished into a motel. Most days it was too hot for the park, so we’d wait until afternoon/evening, then it woud rain! You can see my beautiful son modelling his flanellette pajama pants with a singlet top and gumboots. The two little ones only had gumboots left as shoes.
We looked and felt like derros. We were stressed, and added to that, we felt like losers who couldn’t dress their kids properly. At the park that day, few of the kids would play with our two little ones. My eldest daughter was wearing something more ‘normal’ that day, and the difference in how she was treated was palpable. I worried what all the other parents thought of us as a family, and more importantly, as parents. It was shattering.
We did manage to get together a few other clothes, and I’ll talk about that in future.
Anyway, where does Red Cross come into all of this, you’re probably wondering? Well, we’d had some friends recommend to us to ask Centrelink about a Crisis payment. Of course, this had to wait until Centrelink and the banks re-opened after xmas. New Year’s was coming, so we had to act pretty quickly. Every single towel we owned was destroyed in the fire. We had showers and dried ourselves at the motel, but when we came home, we were on the nose until we could get some towels! A few of us dried ourselves on some sooty bedsheets when we got really desperate.
I can’t remember the reasoning behind it, but for some reason we didn’t qualify for the Crisis payment. Centrelink assigned us a social worker. I’m not sure exactly how Red Cross got involved, but the point is that they did. They asked one major chain store to donate a voucher from their store to help us with clothing. I won’t name this company. They led us to believe that they would help us out for a week or so, then decided they wouldn’t be going ahead with it. Well, that’s their perogative.
So next, Red Cross approached Target, who almost instantly agreed to donate a $500 gift card at our nearest store. I raced into town with the help of a good friend, and because there was a very good sale on at the time, managed to get many, many new clothes and some towels at good prices. Not bad for a family of six!
Red Cross and anyone else who supported us at this time have a place in my heart forever. I plan to make it my mission to spend a lot of time on this blog supporting Red Cross in the future as a way to say thank you, and to help them do what they do best.
What they did for us during that crisis was fantastic and a huge relief, but they have done so much more for us than that.
When my mother had a stroke a year or so ago, she spent three months in rehab, learning to walk, feed and basically, function. It was a stressful and depressing time. Finding motivation was something she did well, but she too had days of feeling overwhelmed and helpless. She lost so much when she had that stroke. Although she’s been incredibly strong-willed even up to today, she can’t do a lot of things she used to do.
At rehab, they would hold bingo sessions and a few times, my mum won! Because her confidence was on fairly shaky ground, this made her feel happy at the time and capable. She won the two Trauma Teddies you see in the photo above.
My mum shares a birthday with my youngest daughter. For the first time ever, she wouldn’t be seeing her for their birthdays. She’d bought all her birthday presents right before her stroke amazingly! But can you imagine how pleased she was, to be able to earn these cute gifts for her granddaughter, hot on the tail of a stroke? That’s empowerment! I remember when I used to work in a women’s and children’s refuge, we had a cupboard full of Trauma Teddies to cheer up the kids going through a rough time. If you’ve never seen a troubled child receive one of these bears, let me tell you now, it is magical. Priceless.
I will be knitting these bears myself very soon.
Even then, this isn’t the end to how Red Cross has helped us. Two and a half years ago, my partner was diagnosed with severe OCD, depression and a little later, mild agoraphobia. He was tortured. I couldn’t cope with him yet, as I hadn’t learned how to. I had/have a carer support worker, and she suggested that I get a PHaMS worker (Personal Helpers and Mentors Program). This service is also provided by Red Cross. It’s mostly for people with an actual mental illness, but it can also be for people affected in other ways, such as carers.
My worker at the time helped a great deal. Once a week, she’d come to our home to talk to me and help me to wade through the myriad of obstacles I was facing with my partner’s illness. In time, we found that my partner would benefit from a worker of his own, so he was assigned my worker (because he knew and trusted her) and I was assigned a new one. In time, I found I no longer needed the service. My partner, though still sick, has just stopped needing a PHaMS worker now.
If it weren’t for his worker, he would never had gotten onto the disability pension, which in turn means I wouldn’t have gotten onto carer’s pension. She also helped him to get to appointments when he was too anxious to attend, and would often go with him, not just to help make him more comfortable, but also to advocate for him. To help him remember what was said, or to remind him of what the specialists needed to be told.
She gradually managed to get him to start leaving the house for walks, which is a much bigger deal than it sounds! She was very positive with him, always giving words of encouragement and pointing out his good qualities. She helped us to find services which could be helpful to our situation. She helped him to come up with plans for each step of his recovery, like little goals. She helped to troubleshoot issues he was having, ‘stuck points’, if you will. If he appeared to not be progressing in certain areas, she helped us to find strategies to get him through that.
She was always kind and compassionate. She was such a fierce advocate for mental health.
In short, Red Cross has given us support when we couldn’t find any. Help when we needed it. Hope when we had none. So it’s with much love and gratitude, that I say thank you from all of us, for all you’ve done. I want to do everything I can to support this brilliant charity, starting with this blog. I can start by spreading the word. Telling you the great work they do. Asking you to support them so that others like me can get the much-needed help when they need it.
If you’ve ever been helped by Red Cross, I’d love to hear from you! Comment below and tell us what they’ve done to help you. If you’d like to say thank you to Red Cross, give a donation, volunteer for them, hell, even share this on Facebook, Twitter or StumbleUpon! Put the word out there so Red Cross can keep up the good work. Ditto if you haven’t been helped but respect what they do.
Update: I have set up a fundraising page as my way of saying thank you to the Red Cross. Click here if you’d like to donate. I’d also like to make it clear that because I’ve set it up via Every Day Hero, I won’t see nor touch your money at any stage of the donation proceedings. As far as I can tell, the money goes straight into Red Cross’s account at regular intervals.