Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Lesson in Kindness and Resilience: Dealing With Loss After The Santa Barbara Tea Fire

While the rest of us are already being guided through our 2-minute circuit training routines at ToneUp, Mady scampers in several minutes late, surreptitiously hangs up her car keys, and heads straight for the treadmill.  As one of the few regulars, Mady is consistently greeted with the warmth and humor that she herself exudes.

One morning, then two, Mady wasn't at the gym.  Word was out that maybe she lost her home in the Tea Fire.

Mady moved to Southern California in 1992 with her two teenage daughters in order to earn an advanced degree in spiritual psychology at the University of Santa Monica.  While she studied "healing on physical, mental, and emotional levels," she became deeply rooted in the Santa Barbara community where she chaired events for "people in trouble" at the Heartfelt Foundation.  This time of year you'd usually find Mady and some volunteers collecting donations and gifts, cooking for the homeless, or brightening senior lives with meals and entertainment.  

Mady's rental home became her sanctuary where she could appreciate the light, quiet, and lush landscape.  This is where she preferred to write chapters for her book in longhand.  This is where she housed her favorite shawls and belt collection.  Her garage was filled with boxes of memories--pictures, artwork, and journals by her and daughters Saskia and Stephanie.

Yet Mady was distant from extended family still living in Australia.  Often she felt alone and unsure of where she fit in.  She wondered if she mattered to other people.

Now Mady shakes her head in disbelief as she reminisces how fast the Tea Fire approached and destroyed her home.  Luckily, she reflects, she saved her computer but her "mind blanked out"--just about everything she'd normally rescue was wiped out by the immediacy of the situation.

She urges others to create a prioritized list (including location) of cherished  keepsakes and vital records in the event of a disaster.

Mady and daughter Stephanie were left homeless with few possessions between them.  But typical of Mady, she looks back on this loss reflectively.  She views the fire as a "blessing in disguise."

People have reached out to her in so many ways--with cards, email, money, household goods, and clothes.  Above all, she's felt the love and support from people she didn't even know prior to the fire.

She's learned to accept the gifts without feeling obliged that she has to give back and regards this act not only as part of her own recovery but also as a value to others who want to help but feel helpless.

She feels more of a connection with the present than ever before.  She knows she can't go back in time so she doesn't focus on what she's lost but rather on what she has now.

She realizes that there are limitations on her energy.  She now knows when to turn her energy inward even if her natural inclination is to assist others.

She's grateful that she's one of those people who doesn't overvalue material goods.

She's learned that the human spirit is resilient and can be renewed.

But most of all, Mady has learned that she is not alone.

1 comment:

Shirley said...

Oh Susie, what a beautiful article. She sounds like such a love. She sounds like someone else I know named Susie.