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Lost 3 of my Cats in a Housefire


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It's been two weeks since the fire and some days I feel like I'm handling things okay, other days I feel like I'm still in shock. Like none of this can actually be real. 

This whole year has been pretty terrible for me. I'm one of those millennials who still has to live with their parents because they can't find steady employment. I have a Master's degree and lots of experience in my field, amazing recommendations, all that jazz, but I've only been able to get temporary jobs and internships. This year I'd finally managed to get a fellowship that would've lasted an entire year and would've given me experience in digital media and communications, which would have been absolutely incredible. But then COVID happened and that fellowship fell through back in March. I also lost my job at the library at the same time, since I'd already quit in order to start this fellowship right before things got bad. So I was suddenly unemployed and had lost an incredible job opportunity and then started the whole terrible isolation of COVID. I have a long history of fighting with depression and anxiety, but don't really have any friends in the area and while I love my parents, they're not really very great at emotional support, so my cats have always really been the greatest support system I've had. 

My special girl was Mimi. She was a beautiful long-haired calico, who definitely had some anxiety issues just like me. She was very scared of strangers and was very easily startled by loud noises and it took a LONG time for her to get used to people, but once she did, she was the sweetest, most affectionate sweetheart in the entire world. We got her as a kitten and she was around 15 this year. Then there was Jesse. He was the total opposite of Mimi. Super gregarious, super confident. He was only 2. We got him during the last "summer from hell" in 2018, when I lost my grandma, and then we had to put down my 15-year-old cat Safari when she got unexpectedly sick, then my 21-year-old cat Mandie because of old age. I got him the shelter and they said he was a domestic long hair, but my mom and I were watching a cat show documentary on Netflix one day and there was a cat there that looked and moved EXACTLY like him that they said was a Turkish Angora, so that's what I think he really was. He was so beautiful and smart. We also had two "barn" cats, Ari and Arsene. We had a two-story garage where I stored my books and lots of my other possessions and we had mice problems, so we adopted them through a barn cat program to help with the mice. Ari was pretty aloof and we didn't really see her all that often, but Arsene was a homebody; anytime you were outside for any reason, he'd be right there with you. He'd immediately curl in your lap when you sat down and if you were working on something outside, he'd be right there to "help out". We got our roof redone the week before the fire and I heard the workmen talking about how "awesome this cat is". We also got a kitten, Callie, after I lost my job, partly because of my depression, and partly because Jesse was driving Mimi insane. Since I was home all the time, they both wanted to be with me, and Mimi didn't like that Jesse was constantly invading her space and trying to play with her. 

Anyway, my birthday was at the beginning of September, but I was sick with a really nasty sinus infection, and didn't actually feel okay to do any sort of celebration until near the end of the month. Even then, I really just wanted to use the free birthday burger coupon I got from Red Robin before it expired. I know it's totally ridiculous, but I feel like the fire is partly my fault because if I hadn't decided to go get burgers that day and if I hadn't said I'd rather eat inside than outside, then it probably wouldn't have happened. I have talked to my therapist about that all, though. I know it wasn't really my fault. My brain just wants to find someone to blame and I'd never blame my dad, because I know how much he blames himself already. He'd started a fire in the outside chimnea and thought it had burned itself out, so it'd be okay to go inside for a few minutes. But in those few minutes, the wind picked up and when we went outside the grass was on fire and then it spread so quickly to the garage. I think Arsene must have been somewhere inside the garage before the fire started and just couldn't get out. It completely burned down, so we didn't find his remains, but he wasn't the type who would've run away and no one could find him afterwards, even though everyone in the neighborhood was looking. The fire burned it down so quickly that I just hope he didn't suffer.

I didn't know about him at the time, though. We were panicking and trying to put the fire out or keep it from spreading to the house by spraying at it with the hose (literally as logical as trying to spit it out). I called 911 around this time. My mom was yelling at me to keep spraying the house with the hose and I can still clearly remember how hot it was even from that far away. A neighbor came over and said something about needing to move the cars and I think that managed to snap me out of trying to think we could contain the fire and I realized it would probably get to the house and I had to go and try to save the animals.

It's weird, because I remember the first part in total detail and I remember that while it was absolutely terrifying, my brain was totally calm at the time. I went inside the house and the dogs came up to me. I grabbed their leash, put it on them, and then chucked it outside where there were a bunch of people who could grab them. Then I ran into my brother's room, yelled at him to get out of the house right now, and made sure he was doing it. Then, I went upstairs to my room, went to my bed and grabbed my laptop--because whenever people asked the hypothetical question "what's the one thing you'd grab if your house was on fire?" that's what I always thought would be the best thing to grab. It had all my pictures on it and important documents and things. Then I grabbed my cat carrier and started looking for the cats. I looked in all their normal hiding spots and called for them, but I couldn't find them.

That was the worst part. I was so desperate to find them and was trying to think of where in the world they would hide. I knew all of their normal spots, but they weren't there. I knew I couldn't stay in there for too long. I knew lots of people died in fires because they tried to rescue their pets, but I had to rescue them because they were my babies. I was the one who took care of them and loved them and I couldn't just leave them. 

Then my mom came into the house and she was looking too, but she was really panicking and crying and I heard her yelling that she could see the fire at the window in the bathroom and I knew I had to get her out of there. I can't remember after that. We got outside and we ended up sitting in the grass by the church, the fire trucks came and everything, and our neighbors came and were wonderful. They gave us blankets and they gave my dad a pair of socks and sneakers. The entire time I was begging God or the universe or whatever to please let my babies be safe. Eventually the firefighter came over, though, and told me he found one of the cats in my room deceased and it was Mimi.

Nothing has ever hurt so much. I've loved all of my kitties with all of my heart, but Mimi was special in a way I can't even begin to express. The firefighter said she hadn't suffered, she just went to sleep. And other online forums have said the same thing, so I have to believe it. I couldn't stand to think she'd felt any pain.

We left before they found Callie or Jesse. My aunt lives in the area and we're staying with her until we rebuild or buy a new home or whatever happens. When we'd been at my aunt's house for a bit, my dad texted to let us know that Jesse hadn't made it either. But they found Callie and she was okay. My mom cried so much over Jesse. He was special to her, I think like Mimi was special to me. I couldn't cry anymore; I think I mostly felt angry. Mimi dying was terrible, but she'd been so much older and her death really only hurt me so badly. But Jesse was still so young and losing him hurt my mom so badly.

Callie's okay, though. I think she's what's mostly getting me through this. For the first few days, especially, it was like everytime I started to cry over Mimi or Jesse or Arsene, Callie would just appear out of nowhere and jump up on the bed and cuddle next to me and start purring until I calmed down. 

Anyway, this ended up really long... I don't really know if there's anything really to discuss, but I felt like it would help to write about what happened. It's just a lot... I feel like I've lost so many things in the past few years. Most of my close friendships, a lot of my dreams and plans for the future, my job, and now my home, most of my possessions, and my precious kitties. And I just feel completely dazed and lost and lonely now. People have been really nice, bringing food and sending gift cards, and being willing to listen. But it's just so hard.

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Oh my gosh, this is so horrific to read, I can't imagine what it is to experience!  You poor people!  And your animals!  I can't think of anything worse.  We've had a LOT of fires here in OR, my son is moving to Lyons and out of 40 homes, his is one of four that were spared, but even so it burned part of the acreage.

The hardest part is the animals, not the things, we can replace furniture, but the animals, they are special beings, my heart goes out to you in your many losses.  We don't measure someone's worth by how old they are, it's the bond we have created together, and your Mimi was that to you.  I lost my Arlie (dog) and 25 year old Kitty this last year and there's nothing that will replace them, even though my son brought me a puppy, and I have grown to love him completely...Arlie was my soulmate in a dog, he was perfect for me.  Kitty I felt a bond with as I could relate to her, I met her when she was 10 and she became mine when she was 12...I never dreamed she'd make it to 25 in great health...until the last month or so.

We carry them in our hearts, that bond is never broken, no matter how long they've been gone from us.  I hope the following video will bring you some peace and comfort, I know your sorrow is great.  

I also want to leave you an article I wrote following the loss of my husband 15 years ago, of things I've found helpful or learned along the way.  It does help to express yourself so I'm glad you made your way here, just knowing others hear and care and get it, means a lot to our processing our grief.

TIPS TO MAKE YOUR WAY THROUGH GRIEF

There's no way to sum up how to go on in a simple easy answer, but I encourage you to read the other threads here, little by little you will learn how to make your way through this.  I do want to give you some pointers though, of some things I've learned on my journey.

  • Take one day at a time.  The Bible says each day has enough trouble of it's own, I've found that to be true, so don't bite off more than you can chew.  It can be challenging enough just to tackle today.  I tell myself, I only have to get through today.  Then I get up tomorrow and do it all over again.  To think about the "rest of my life" invites anxiety.
  • Don't be afraid, grief may not end but it evolves.  The intensity lessens eventually.
  • Visit your doctor.  Tell them about your loss, any troubles sleeping, suicidal thoughts, anxiety attacks.  They need to know these things in order to help you through it...this is all part of grief.
  • Suicidal thoughts are common in early grief.  If they're reoccurring, call a suicide hotline.  I felt that way early on, but then realized it wasn't that I wanted to die so much as I didn't want to go through what I'd have to face if I lived.  Back to taking a day at a time.  Suicide Hotline - Call 1-800-273-8255 or www.crisis textline.org or US and Canada: text 741741 UK: text 85258 | Ireland: text 50808
  • Give yourself permission to smile.  It is not our grief that binds us to them, but our love, and that continues still.
  • Try not to isolate too much.  
  • There's a balance to reach between taking time to process our grief, and avoiding it...it's good to find that balance for yourself.  We can't keep so busy as to avoid our grief, it has a way of haunting us, finding us, and demanding we pay attention to it!  Some people set aside time every day to grieve.  I didn't have to, it searched and found me!
  • Self-care is extremely important, more so than ever.  That person that would have cared for you is gone, now you're it...learn to be your own best friend, your own advocate, practice self-care.  You'll need it more than ever.
  • Recognize that your doctor isn't trained in grief, find a professional grief counselor that is.  We need help finding ourselves through this maze of grief, knowing where to start, etc.  They have not only the knowledge, but the resources.
  • In time, consider a grief support group.  If your friends have not been through it themselves, they may not understand what you're going through, it helps to find someone somewhere who DOES "get it". 
  • Be patient, give yourself time.  There's no hurry or timetable about cleaning out belongings, etc.  They can wait, you can take a year, ten years, or never deal with it.  It's okay, it's what YOU are comfortable with that matters.  
  • Know that what we are comfortable with may change from time to time.  That first couple of years I put his pictures up, took them down, up, down, depending on whether it made me feel better or worse.  Finally, they were up to stay.
  • Consider a pet.  Not everyone is a pet fan, but I've found that my dog helps immensely.  It's someone to love, someone to come home to, someone happy to see me, someone that gives me a purpose...I have to come home and feed him.  Besides, they're known to relieve stress.  Well maybe not in the puppy stage when they're chewing up everything, but there's older ones to adopt if you don't relish that stage.
  • Make yourself get out now and then.  You may not feel interest in anything, things that interested you before seem to feel flat now.  That's normal.  Push yourself out of your comfort zone just a wee bit now and then.  Eating out alone, going to a movie alone or church alone, all of these things are hard to do at first.  You may feel you flunked at it, cried throughout, that's okay, you did it, you tried, and eventually you get a little better at it.  If I waited until I had someone to do things with I'd be stuck at home a lot.
  • Keep coming here.  We've been through it and we're all going through this together.
  • Look for joy in every day.  It will be hard to find at first, but in practicing this, it will change your focus so you can embrace what IS rather than merely focusing on what ISN'T.  It teaches you to live in the present and appreciate fully.  You have lost your big joy in life, and all other small joys may seem insignificant in comparison, but rather than compare what used to be to what is, learn the ability to appreciate each and every small thing that comes your way...a rainbow, a phone call from a friend, unexpected money, a stranger smiling at you, whatever the small joy, embrace it.  It's an art that takes practice and is life changing if you continue it.
  • Eventually consider volunteering.  It helps us when we're outward focused, it's a win/win.

(((hugs))) Praying for you today.

 

 

 

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I'm so sorry to read of your tragic losses, Hannah, and my heart reaches out to you in your pain. :(

Your story reminds me of a book you might appreciate, entitled Three Cats, Two Dogs: One Journey Through Multiple Pet Loss. Author David Congalton and his wife lost all five of their beloved animal companions in a sudden house fire, and he writes beautifully about his heartache, his grief and how he managed to find his way through this horrific experience. If you click on the title, you can read Amazon's description and reviews. Sometimes it helps to know that, regardless of the enormity of the losses we endure, there are others who've been where we are now, and reading their stories may give us some of the encouragement we need to survive. ♥️

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Thank you so much for your responses. It helps so much, knowing there are people out there who care and are willing to listen.

I bought the book, Three Cats, Two Dogs, and just got it today and started reading it and it is helping. I am so thankful we didn't lose all our pets. I was able to get the dogs out and Callie was okay. I can't even imagine losing all of them. 

I never actually saw any of their bodies, but the part where he talks about how he went into the fire to get their bodies and he and his wife refused to leave until the vets came and took them away, I can understand that. I felt kind of crazy at the time because I was so upset after the fire, because I didn't know what had happened to their bodies... I was absolutely terrified that the firefighters might have just thrown them away or something. But I didn't want to ask, because it seemed like it would be kind of a selfish or not make sense or be just a ridiculous question to ask when our house had partially burned down and there was so much else going on. But I couldn't feel any kind of relief until I saw the little grave in the backyard and found out my brother had buried them. It just felt like a massive weight had been removed from me and I started bawling all over him, because he'd understood. And it must have been hard for him. He didn't really know Jesse or Mimi super well, but he did know them, and he's a massive animal lover who has his own cats. 

Thank you again for your kindness. I appreciate you both very very much. ❤️ 

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What a sweet brother!  I'm glad they got a proper burial, maybe you can do something to memorialize them when you're able to.  (((hugs)))

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