“Their house is gone”: Lessons in Facing Tragedy

I’ll never forget hearing that phrase, “Their house is gone.”

I had been watching news coverage of the Silver Fire in Banning, CA all day long, vigilant because of dear friends living in that area.  With my calls going straight to voice mail  I decided to go to bed. The phone rang an hour later.  It was a brief call because I had no words, my boyfriend only knew that our friends were able to save their dogs & themselves.  I fell asleep in tears, unable to process the news just yet.

Post fire pics of the Anderson's home courtesy of www.examiner.com

Post fire pics of the Anderson’s home courtesy of www.examiner.com

Wes, Melissa & Sky Anderson have been my friends for a couple of years. They are a wonderful family and I felt lost for them, not knowing where they were, what to do or how I could “fix” this. I knew that they only had what they were wearing at that moment, their dogs, 2 of their cars, a couple of cameras & the laundry they grabbed. Can you imagine having to grab all that is precious to you with only minutes to make the decision & take action?

What happened next took me by surprise just as much as the fire itself.  I told my work family what happened & put word of the Anderson’s need out there on Facebook. They needed everything- a place to stay, clothes, food, toiletries & everything to furnish a home,  when they got one.

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/brentman

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/brentman

The blessings started pouring in.  Donations of every kind imaginable started showing up at my desk at work. Friends contacted me to find out how to get them housewares & furniture.  Huge bags of dog & cat food, cases of water, fancy skin care products, a significant watermelon & so much more.  Sky is 13 & a musician but no longer had her equipment so my band-boyfriend talked to his endorsers & got some of it replaced.  The thing that made it so amazing is that nobody who donated had ever met the Andersons, they just knew they needed help.

I packed my car & boyfriend’s truck more than a dozen times with this abundance & filled their hotel room to the ceiling.  What they didn’t need or couldn’t use went to the 25 other families in their area that had also lost everything.  I put the word out about these other families, also in need and once again, the floodgates opened.  An entire community was being blessed by complete strangers – I have never been so humbled & inspired in my life!

What I learned from the Andersons’ loss is so valuable & here are a few of my favorite examples.

 

•        Don’t underestimate your ability to change someone’s life – It can be simple. A smile & hello in passing, a shoulder to cry on or a couple dollars. But you could spark a chain reaction of random acts of kindness, give someone the strength to face their challenges or maybe even save a life.  You may never think about it again, but that person won’t forget it.  Wes, Melissa & Sky are always doing good deeds & paying it forward and when they were the ones in need, I got to step in, inspired by their example.  They have changed me for the better by just allowing me to help them.

•        Put yourself out there sincerely – If you offer to help, be realistic, genuine & be ready to act.  Don’t promise what you can’t deliver or suddenly be unavailable when they take you up on your offer.  Reinforce offers to help by extending them again & again- as Neil O’Connor says, “Be bold. If you get your hand slapped once, that’s OK. Try again anyways.”  The Andersons never asked for anything, even when they needed everything.  They showed me that it’s OK to accept help that you haven’t asked for but truly need.

•        Things are just things – We all like our things, but we can live without them if we had to. Things can be replaced but people can’t (we all know that too well). Sometimes though, it’s hard to remember that your worth is not in the things you have but in who you are.

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/IvelinRadkov

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/IvelinRadkov

Melissa gave me an amazing gift recently, saying “I will never be able to repay you for helping us get back on our feet but I can give you my love & friendship.”  Mel, that is the best repay possible, being worthy of your friendship.

Read Melissa’s article on what this awful experience was like by clicking here.  The photos are heart-breaking. But there’s hope, there’s people & there are so many that give.

Who have you watched live through devastation? 

How did you help them?  What did  you discover about yourself? 

Thank you for sharing!

 

To donate to an incredible relief organization already on ground in Haiyan, helping families to re-build, click here.

 

Carrie

About Carrie

Hi there! I'm Carrie and I am a licensed embalmer, crematory manager & funeral director at O'Connor Mortuary. I am so blessed to have found my calling in life & am grateful to practice it at an amazing place like O'Connor. I began as a part time service director in 2004 while I was finishing mortuary school then served my embalming apprenticeship & worked my way up from there. I'm experienced in all areas of the funeral profession & love every aspect of it. I live in Huntington Beach where I enjoy riding my bike or skateboard on the boardwalk, spending quality time with friends or relaxing at home with my pets. Thank you so much for reading my blogs, I'd love to have you comment as well!
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  • Lori

    Carrie,
    Thank you for sharing what your friends experienced as their home was destroyed.
    I could not even imagine, as you depicted, having mere minutes to decide what I would grab.
    When I was in my twenties, I lived in Chino Hills for awhile. There was a fire in the hills behind the homes we lived in. We did pack a few things, but luckily did not have to evacuate. I thought then and have though over the years that as part of an evacuation plan I should have in mind what I would grab on my way out of a burning house. I know I would not have the presence of mind to keep it all straight. Like you said, things can be replaced. People and pets are the most important treasures to get out of harms way.
    I love your heart and willingness to step in and help. You are a friend who gives your all and their is no request too big or too small. You say you are honored by Melissa’s friendship, but she is equally blessed to have you in her life.
    xoxo
    Lori

  • Carrie,

    I remember your emails to us about the Andersons, what they had lost and how we could help them. Watching you in action, driving that long way for any spare minute you could, giving what you had & more, and significantly for me, giving me a place to give and bless others – was just an incredible thing to witness. You may have been inspired by the Andersons but I was inspired by you.

    I’ve never felt like I had a lot to offer people, my energy wears quickly, I’m introverted but I use that as an excuse too often. The opportunity you gave me to give was incredible. I felt wonderful as I but the card together, and sending it off with you was just one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. Incidentally, it’s inspired my husband and I to use our tithing not just for church but for ordinary, hurting people in our community.

    I recently came read the phrase, “Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing.” – you helped shake me up, inspired me to act. I can’t thank you enough for the inner-blessing it’s been for me personally. I don’t think you’ll ever know how much or how many you’ve blessed.

    Love, love,
    Molly

  • Anne

    Carrie,
    Hearing your plea about this dear family moved me to give some of Lou’s things, which I didn’t think I would be able to part with for many more months. I sure didn’t need it and knew it could help someone else.
    You ARE a woman of purpose and also compassion. This is not the first time we have seen you in action. Thank you for your heart.
    You were also there for Lou and I big time during his terrible time of suffering. I will never forget that.
    I love you
    Anne

  • Tom

    I was pleased to see the gratitude of our entire team in helping the family

  • Jeff Turner

    Carrie,

    I remember watching you throughout this experience and how it impacted so deeply. It really rocked you to the core of your being because of the emotion that it evoked in you. You could have been paralyzed by it but the impact mobilized you. It was so interesting to see the passion that was unique to you be so contagious. Your sacrifices on their behalf were of no consequence to you, in that, you never gave a second thought to the action you were compelled to make. Truly, you were an example in that moment of the very best of “mankind”. Thank you for the tireless example you have been, not just in this loss, but in literally hundreds of families that you have shepherded through death and beyond into the lifelong journey of discovery of the “new normal”.

    I love you dearly,
    Jeff

  • Becky Finch Lomaka

    Carrie, what a great blog! I love how you can go through such a horrible and emotionally draining experience and come through it with lessons learned. I enjoy your blogs because I always take something away that I can incorporate into my life.

    As I looked through your friend’s photos of their property following the fire, I was struck at the beauty amongst the devastation. I see that in you too – with your friends and with the families you serve – you help them find peace during their moment of devastation.

  • Mark Adams

    Carrie….Thank you for reminding me of how much I take for granted……and thank you for being such a good friend to so many people who desperately needed you…..Mark

  • Shasta Cola

    Great blog, Carrie. It was so amazing what you did for this family! You are so caring and compassionate, and it was also really cool to see everyone come together and donate things to people they didn’t even know. I had never really seen anything like that first hand before, it seemed more like something you would see on tv or hear about. I think that is probably one of the scariest things someone could go through, having their house burn down and losing almost everything. But you are right, they are just things, and I am so happy your friends made it out with what really matters most!

  • Frannie Cantor

    Hello Carrie, Your blog had an inpack on me. with the same emotion you had gone thru. This summer my dear son who leaves in Colo, where his House burn down in that terrific Forest Fire. I could not be there to help but only in given him a spirit suport and that just took everything out of me.and my children being so far away,that it broke our hearts. He had only 20 min. to get out that is how raped it burn his Home!!!!!
    Then ater a few days he was able to see what was left, he just stood there in a stay of shock and just could not believe the diaster, of just ashes. Holding the tears I could see on Facebook. To see a son looose everything he worked for. As they say some unfortunate thing happen and a bleesing comes thru, He has 20 acreage of land on top of the Mountain and full coverag of insurance that save him to recover his loses and start a new and bigger home. Thank God he did the wise thing. nerver thought this would happen because it had not burn in 50 years. Bless his dear friends who help in the mean time and took him in and gave him clothing food and a place to sleep. There is hope in this world for the goodness in people Thank God.

    Carrie I can understand your calling and how Professtioaly you handel your self in time of crises and that is a Blessing with in yoursrlf. I feel we all can do the best we can durning a time of the unexpected. and we do!!!! With God B lessing. Just like you did. Keep it up in your journey of life..

  • Jenn

    Carrie, Great job on this blog, I am so very happy you felt comfortable enough to come to us and that we were able to help out how we can. That family is very lucky to have you as a friend. Even though most of us didn’t know the family, it still hurts when bad things happen to good people and I hope that paying it forward now may come back to me when I really need it. It just good karma and being a good person. 🙂

    • Carrie Bayer

      Jenn, thank you so much for all of your help. It truly amazes me that so many people stepped forward to help a family they didn’t know. The human spirit is compassionate by nature, I believe, and this was an unbelievable example of it. Thank you for paying it forward! Sincerely, Carrie

  • Amy

    Carrie,
    What am amazing thing you did for this family as well as the countless others that were affected. What a lesson learned that it is just “stuff” and we are what is important. All that can be replaced but we most certainly can’t. I am inspired to reach out and help others because it’s just the right thing to do. Thank you for putting that back into perspective.
    Amy

  • Mitch

    Most people are willing to lend a hand during hard times. i’m glad people stepped up.
    you never know what you hold dear till everything disappears. Thank you for your hard work & caring.

  • Michael Thomas

    Awesome Blog Carrie! And what a gift you were to that family. I love to see how your caring and loving attitude escapes these walls over here at O’connors.

  • Carrie Bayer

    Thank you so much, Chuck! Sometimes life throws these curveballs at us to wake us up. Either we catch the ball or it hits us right between the eyes- ouch! I’m grateful to you & all the wonderful people who jumped up to help out. I’m still amazed at the outpouring of help & love that came to the Andersons via O’Connor. Thank you for all you have done! Love, Carrie

  • Carrie Bayer

    Thank you, Neil! You also have seen first hand how devastating it is to lose everything. You know how feeling helpless for your friends is actually a great motivator to take action where you can. The way everything came together so organically was so fascinating to see. I am completely grateful to you in your donation to the Andersons. You helped them fill the holes with what they needed but hadn’t received by way of donations. Thank you so much! Love, Carrie

  • Lauren

    You have such a big heart! I remember when all this was just happening and you were so concerned and took charge on getting what needed to get done for these families.
    “Don’t underestimate your ability to change someone’s life.” We can all make this world a better place by realizing this simple truth.

  • Greg Forster

    Carrie,

    Thank you so much for allowing us to share in the profound joy that you experienced in helping your friends. Your efforts have brought the warmth of healing much sooner to others than they might have otherwise received. What a friend you are to a friend!

    You remind us once again that things are just that, things. They are symbols of us, they can bring memories for us, history for us, but they are just that. They are inanimate objects. The people who collect them are the source of their value. The people who collect them are the source of OUR values.
    In answer to your question about helping friends live through devastation, I remember a friend and his family living thru the nightmare of the Northridge earthquake. Talking to him on the phone and being interested and supportive, these were the things that they needed. It wasn’t necessary or practical for them to move in with us and his other family was much closer, but the phone calls and the messages that they delivered, these were what I could give that could be received. I was happy to do this. It was the right thing. It was the best thing.

    Keeping one’s life in perspective is always an ongoing challenge. Thanks for helping us to remember the need for that challenge.

    Greg

  • Erin Fodor

    Thank you for sharing this Carrie. You are such an amazing person, as well as the Anderson family. I am extremely grateful I had the chance to meet them at the concert that night. I just can’t believe they’ve been through this before. Life amazes me sometimes. But when others are able to step in and help, it shows just how wonderful people can be.

  • Shayna Mallik

    Carrie,
    Thank you for sharing this story again. When you told us at work my heart sank, but I also felt happy that they have you to help them thru this time of need. I am so happy that we all could help the family. Your friends are strong individuals and have been thru so much! You are an amazing and caring person!!

    Shayna Mallik

  • Fitz

    Carrie,
    Thanks for sharing your heartfelt thoughts on your experience with the Andersons. It didn’t matter that any of us at work didn’t personally know them but just the fact that you said “This family needs help” is all that I needed to hear. You are an inspiration and an amazing giver. Thanks for enriching my life and our work family’s lives.
    Fitz

  • Sharon Watkins

    Carrie
    Once again you have written a wonderful blog about a horrible experience. Thank you so very much for all you did and do for this family and so many others with your love and kindness. You are truly an inspiration to me and many others.
    I also appreciate that you took the time to explain the lessons you learned from this experience. Many times the most important things we take away from tragedy are the valuable lessons that guide and direct our lives. Thank you again for sharing your lessons with us. They all spoke to my heart and I am a better person reading your words and seeing your example.
    Love,
    Sharon

  • Kari Lyn Leslie

    CB
    What a great follow up. Thank you so much for sharing this experience with all of us. I just saw a sign on Saturday that said, “The BEST things in life aren’t things.” I believe that applies here. What a blessing you are to those around you, here at work and in your private world.

    oxoxo
    karilyn

  • Patricia Kolstad

    Carrie . . thank you so much for giving us the opportunity to help the Anderson’s and so many others. We all need that experience that something I have at home could benefit and bring comfort to another soul. I loved being part of that, and part of the bigger picture of giving and not expecting anything in return. You are a joy to be with and I love your heart! You have learned early on how important “paying it forward” is in our lives. Thank you, Thank you!
    Lovingly
    Pat