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Kirstie & Jesse: One Year Since the Fire

Writing this blog post has been on my mind for quite some time. As much as it pains me to resurface the memories, it also helps me to recognize how much strength and growth I have gained this past year. 

July 6th marked one year since the discovery of my housefire, and in the interest of healing, informing and moving on, I wanted to share the experience that has been all-consuming for the past 11 months of my life (even still), and will always be remembered as a significant chapter in my life. 

After producing a beautiful friend’s wedding in Madison in early July last year, we headed Up North to our hometown to celebrate the 4th of July – a “loose” tradition of mine and Mallory’s. I say loose because it doesn’t happen every year, depending on surrounding events. There’s something so magical about being back in Waupaca for the Holiday. We’re extremely lucky there – we have the Chain O’ Lakes, a series of 22 spring-fed lakes that are pristine and healthy to swim, ski, and relax in. Between the many boat rides, visits for greasy pizza at Wheelhouse or my favorite seasonal Pop Rock ice cream at Scoopers, we have a lot of fun up there with the family! 

Our Waupaca stay last year, however, was pretty short. We went up on a Sunday and due to some obligations back home, my brother-in-law needed to go back to Madison on Tuesday and brought Jesse and our dog, Phoebe, with him, while I stayed back for one more night with Mallory and the kids.

We had a fun-filled final afternoon in the sunshine while Jesse, Danny, and Phoebe traveled back to Madison and shortly after 6:00pm, I got a call from Jesse. He asked me if I was sitting down. I could tell by the sound of his voice that something was wrong. I immediately thought it had something to do with our dog, Phoebe. When I heard him tell me that the entire inside of our house was full of smoke and soot, I lost all control of my body and felt completely numb. I remember Mallory and our mom next to me with wide open eyes waiting for me to alert them and after just barely peeping the words out of my mouth that our house suffered a fire, I recall hearing the words, “OH MY GOD!” and arms immediately wrapping around me to keep me from falling to my knees. 

I didn’t want to believe it. I asked the same questions to Jesse on the phone over and over and over again. “Is the house still standing?” “What happened?” “Is there smoke everywhere?” “What about all of our stuff?” “What are we going to do?” I was in disbelief, and the reality was that our entire home, that we had just bought and moved into six months prior, had significant smoke damage on all three levels of the home. 

The feelings of devastation and overwhelm were overpowering, and I was so incredibly distraught and heartbroken that I wasn’t there with Jesse when he got home and walked into the house. I felt so awful that he had to experience that alone (with Phoebe). When you face a reality that you don’t want to be in, the natural tendency is to close up, point blame, find every excuse to not believe it’s true, and I did all of that and more.

I was so angry that we had invested so many hours of time in removing old wallpaper, painting the trim and walls, one room after the next, and putting our own stamp on the already beautiful home. The previous owner had taken such great care of this home and I loved it for that very reason. I was angry that it was all gone, so quickly. I questioned us and what we did wrong in this situation. I wondered “what if” over and over again. I asked a lot of “why?” Why were we the unlucky ones?

When I did finally see the house the next day, it was every bit as traumatic as one could imagine. Our white kitchen countertops were completely black, soot webs covered the entire staircase to the downstairs, and a fire alarm kept chirping every 5 seconds, likely because it was running out of battery (I’ll never forget the sound of the stupid alarm. It might haunt me for years to come.) It was catastrophic to be sure, and challenging to keep our heads up and feel optimistic. 

The ultimate cause of the fire was from a dehumidifier. We bought it with the house and somehow, the internal switch that shuts it off failed, causing it to overheat and short. It burned down to a crisp, and ultimately, the entire interior of our home would need to be restored and nearly all of our items would need to be replaced.

The days and weeks to follow were quite a bit of a blur. For months, it felt like a strong dark cloud that loomed over us. We had lost 75% of our belongings and lived in a hotel room for two weeks before finding a rental property that we stayed in for the next ten months. The rental property was great, but it wasn’t home. The busywork that ensued created another full time job for each of us. Decision after decision, thousands of entries into the overwhelming “loss inventory” spreadsheet (maybe another one of those things that’ll haunt me for life) and meanwhile, life goes on, AND we had a destination wedding to plan on top of it all.

I vividly remember a point in time where I seriously contemplated postponing the wedding because of all of the extra work we now had on our plates. That, paired with the immense amount of restoration stress, took its toll. I lost a good amount of weight because I had little to no appetite, especially for the first month after the fire, forced myself to do therapy regularly and cried A LOT. The frustration, lack of motivation and overall pessimism was real and each day felt like a struggle, for a long time. 

In reminiscing on the last year, I am dumbfounded at how Jesse and I got through it all together. He saw me at some really dark moments and never once made me feel alone. He stayed so strong while I found myself feeling incredibly weak, and he carried us through the restoration and inventory process like a champion – always had a pulse on what was going on, advocated for us left and right when it came to all the nuances and work order items, and crossing all the Ts and dotting the Is to make sure we weren’t getting scammed. I am truly so impressed with how he stepped up, and showed up.

On top of that, the incredible support we received from not only the people in our lives, but also strangers with similar experiences that came recommended from others, was unlike anything I have witnessed in my entire life. There were so many meals, donations, dog support, shoulders to lean on and endless amounts of love. Not a day went by where someone didn’t check in and we will never be able to repay all of you back (you know who you are!) for getting us through this. 

It’s really hard to be vulnerable, but over the last year, I’ve definitely learned that it’s healthy. Therapy is a good thing, friends. Feeling your feelings is important. Showing up when you don’t feel like it can have significant, positive impacts and teach you so much about yourself and your character.

Check in on your people. Offer a helping hand. Donate your clothes and food. Be the bright spot in someone’s day. And always get really good homeowner’s insurance!

This last year, although incredibly painful, was also a magical one. It was the year we had a housefire, yes, and it was also the year we got married. What a beautiful mess. At the end of the day, all that we lost was just stuff. We found ourselves, we found a sense of direction, and we found our village. That will always be enough to get us through this life and the highs and lows that will continue to come our way. 

We are the luckiest.