The past two days have been some of the harder ones in a good long while. It is not the grief and loss of a few months back but it is the unrelenting disrepair of sorrowful problems that seem unsolvable.

We have spent time thinking about how all this fire stuff makes us feel. Like most people, during our lives we have struggled and surmounted the grief and loss of a job finding our ability to pursue important career paths were suddenly and inexplicably closed. We have struggled with being poor. We have experienced the loss of beloved pets. We have struggled with the loss of our own health to disease and injury. The only reference point we have for the total obliteration of our home by the fire is losing a loved one to an a disease or untimely death when it seems somehow unfair. The fire feels unfair.

Today it felt unfair. We have had wonderful support from everyone but the burden is here, on us. It permeates the very air we breath, the soap we wash with, the clothes we wear, and the food we cook. Without the support of friends, loved ones and our community, I think we would be crushed under the weight of the grief and paperwork of this loss.

Paperwork is what brought me to tears today. It is Thanksgiving week and we have dedicated our week to making a serious effort to finishing or nearly finish our personal property inventory.We have been chipping away at it for months now. It is tedious and actually difficult work. We must identify what we don’t have, remember how long we had it before we no longer have it, know what we paid for it and learn what we would have to pay for it now if we replaced it. The trick is that everything you have to report on is gone so it is really hard to know what you had.

We are lucky in that we had really good inventories or our antiques that included photos, provenance, appraisals, age, dates of collection, location of collection and even court approved documents for the items that have come from estates the past few years as we have lost the oldest generation of us.

The loss can be the simple things like like socks, shoes, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and those not very valuable but useful family things sitting in the basement waiting for a child, niece or nephew to be ready to take it to their home and on it goes. How many brooms do you have? How old are they–each one–are the the same quality or is one better that the other. Is the better one the more expensive one? What about light bulbs. Do you, like we, have a “in case we loose one” collection of all styles, shapes, lumens and sizes? How much do you pay for light bulbs? Not just the small incandescent ones, what about the halogen flood lights? Go look in your cabinet and do the math. It is a large number. Same goes for the batteries we keep around for our various toys and emergency lights.

I came up with $7,908 from our half-bath/laundry room. Of course the washer and dryer were the largest part but other big ticket items included our vacuum cleaner, a wall mirror that came from a home decorating store that was expensive even after it was discounted. And there was the shaker coat rack we put up a couple of years ago. It seemed crazy expensive when we got it but it made our lives so much better. Because we were not falling over piles of muddy boots and coats at the back door that we forgot how much it cost.Then, what about all those candles?

There is an additional problem. If the item was a gift you have to figure out how much it was. I had to ask someone close to us who gave us a very nice gift how much it cost. To make matters worse, our friend had to go and try to track down a price since it was an item that his friends had helped him find and he had traded some labor and some cash for it. The ripple from our inventory went embarrassingly to our friend who then had to go to his friends.. This same pattern unfolds with inherited items and even gifts we have given to each other. We have had several occasions when one of us shuffled and looked at the floor when ‘fessing up to how much we paid for a gift for the other. In our family this is measured in a couple of hundred not thousands of dollars but it is still at best awkward and sometimes retroactively distressing,”Now that I know how much that cost I keep thinking about it and that we could have used the money for XX.” What we had interpreted as a special gift is now tinged with remorse.

The people from the insurance company who are helping us told us to keep note pads in various locations so that when we remember something we can write it down. I have notes all over the place. Each note is a small spear in my heart. The only function in the world for these notes is to catalog what you were and are no loner. I use those words intentionally. We all step back and say, “Well, you got out, no one was hurt and you were even able to bring some of your computes with you.” This is true. But having or not having stuff is not the point. Lots of stuff or a little stuff, the meaning is that you have lost something. No matter how hard we look it will still be lost.

Lost is an interesting word. We use it in regard to something we have misplaced that can be found. Linguistically it fits equally well for losing someone or some thing that can never be found again. My mom is dead and my house is dead. I cannot find them. They are lost. I lost my cell phone yesterday but I could find that.

Linguistically we lump them all together: he lost his life, he lost his limb, he lost his cell phone. We use the word as if is perfect for each sentence and it is. But the meaning of loss can only be assayed by the context in which the word is used. The listener must make a judgement as to whether it is a loss with the hope of finding it or if it is a loss that leaves us with no hope of finding it.

How do we make the decision? We look for the interpretative cues from the speaker. Those cues are often confused and confusing where loss is concerned. Some of the most “lost” things are such a great loss that it overwhelms the speaker and the message that is conveyed is pure affect. As the listener you feel the power of the story of loss but sometimes it is impossible to know what was lost and how to respond to the person who experiences the loss.

The interpretation can leave us floundering. Getting it wrong is painful for both. If it can be found, getting it right can lead to a scavenger hunt with a triumphant end. Getting it wrong can lead to a melt down. If the interpretation is that by working together the lost thing can be found, then it is a collaborative action like looking for the lost item usually leads to the desired result of removing the loss. I lost my cell phone. I could not find my cell phone and I was missing planned calls. I was very upset. My spouse listened to the upset in my voice, not just to my words, and cut short his grocery shopping to come help me find my phone. We found it zipped into the clean dog bed cover with a nice clean doggie blanket on top–in a room with a closed door.  I merely dropped it when I was putting the laundry away. We looked for it together and found it. We were happy together.

I have written about losing my mom to cancer a few years back. We could look for my now dead mother for a very long time and not find her.

Some loss can be remediated by finding the lost item. Other losses are so profound that they cannot be remediated, only redeemed through the spirit of forbearance and love. We shall continue with our inventories and receiving the support of our community of friends and loved ones. The loss of our old life will never be lost from our hearts but it will be redeemed.

photo of the butt end of a wall of a log house with a cabinet built to match the ends

I finished this cabinet only days before the fire. It was not the cabinet or the wood that was the loss. The loss was the engagement of me with the wood and the house for days as I worked on the cabinet. For my spouse it was the repeated trips to Lowes for different screws, nails, hardware and such that he kindly made so I could keep working on the cabinet. I was actually difficult to build because it snugged into the 12 inch deep intersection of the logs and the wall so that it did not impede the views. It was 8 feet tall and had to be built partially under the eves. Because of the depth and the way the smooth wood abutted the undulating logs, t had three sides, not four so it had to be build plumb in place. The cabinet was built from wood that was emotionally important. When we first moved back west from New England t was so we could slow down the frantic pace of our work. The first spring break we purchased lumber to build book shelves. The shelves were never built because of the continued frantic pace of our work. Building this cabinet over 12 years later was a watershed event. We declared we were not working frantically anymore. It also required cabinet making skills that I had forgotten from 25 years of disuse. All of these things came together into the perfect cabinet that was satisfying aesthetically, functionally and interpersonally. It burned days thereafter taking our feelings of pleasure and leaving the bitter taste of loss.