The Family Tree – Parts 1 & 2

The call came while we were at dinner. “There’s a F*%&$ tree in the F$%&*! house. Get home.” And so began the story of The Family Tree.

January 28, 2008 –  Evening.  Part 1. 
The call came while we were at dinner.

Chris and I, our friend Claire, who was staying with us while receiving rehab for the effects of cancer treatment. We were taking her out to introduce her to a colleagues wife, who had been through her own difficult cancer diagnosis and treatment.

A thunderstorm raged while we dined. The kids, then 16 and 17, the dogs, the cats, at home.

About 40 minutes into dinner the first in a series of 3 calls came. Each making the reality of what was happening at our home more clear. The final call received as we carefully and quickly navigated the tree and power line covered streets of our neighborhood.

“There’s a f$&!@ tree in the f&@$! house!”

All I wanted to do was BE there with the kids. I could hardly tolerate the drive. Claire, doing her best to be supportive and calming. “Breathe Whitney.  We’re almost there.”  Chris, having to drive, strategize and imagine the scene while I freaked out in the back seat. And the kids. Who had endured this on their own. It was one of the longest drives home of my life.

Our daughter, 17, frozen, in shock, could barely tolerate the smothering hugs I delivered. Her room was where the tree landed. And she lost everything.

Our son, 16, quick to receive some love and support and retell the experience of being in the house when an unwanted oak crashes in. Surreal and terrifying.

The neighbor, my friend, who grabbed me, embraced me as I cried “They could have been killed!!!” and he said “But they weren’t.  They’re ok. You’re ok.  It’s ok.”

The dogs and cats, traumatized, either hiding or clinging close.

Neighbors and friends came to help us navigate the next few hours of police and firemen.

Our friends down the street suffered their own losses. A fence, artwork, tools, supplies, strewn about. They opened their home to us and together, we endured the dark, cold and stressful night, awaiting daybreak and a closer look at the damage that blew through our homes and our lives.
January 29, 2008- Daybreak, Part 2. 
The light of day brought a deeper sense of fear and loathing.

Chris was amazing. Kicking into crisis mode, he arranged and navigated the dozens and dozens of details and next steps while I found myself paralyzed, in shock and numb.

Phone calls. Visits. Family. Friends. Colleagues.

The people driving by.

The insurance agent who came to assess the validity and totality of our claim.

The reporter. Who got the wicked side eye from me when he asked that most annoying of questions wrapped up in his sound bite banter – “Your home has just been devastated by this massive tree – How are you feeling right now?”

The neighbors walking over to see the spectacle.

All while wearing the clothes we put on Tuesday morning as we went about our day, with no idea what was to come.

The friend who took us to target to get some clean clothes and toiletries and invited us to her house to shower, to set up command central.

Hours of standing in front of the house, because going in was too dangerous until they got the tree off the house.

The outpouring of love, support & assistance that day and in the days and weeks that followed continue to warm my heart and soul.  We are so loved, so blessed, so surrounded by a community of generous and loving people.
At one point the Red Cross van stopped by.  They offered shelter, blankets, coffee, resources.  It was an amazing thing to be able to say to him, we’re good.  We have everything we need.  We are covered.   I’m grateful they exist, because I know we are fortunate and that there are many for whom this would have been the only support they had.

Even writing this, I can feel my chest, my gut, my heart remembering those first few hours of daylight. I can feel the cold. I can smell the air.

It’s in me. Still. Always.

To be continued…. Parts 3 & 4 coming soon.