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Episode 13: Nine tips for survivors

Podcast, Together inspired

Alex Bryan interviews Shelly Trumbo, community integration executive. In this episode Shelly shares tips for survivors based on her experience of her husband's death and losing her home in a wildfire.

Shelly's nine tips for survivors:

  1. People are amazing and will want to help you. Let them. This is one of the precious blessings of this kind of experience. You will be humbled and blown over by the kindness of people, many of whom you don’t even know. It will forever change you and brings a sense of connectedness to other human beings that wasn’t there before.
  2. Don’t rush out and buy stuff. Wait. Sure, get the necessities, but then pause. You are in overload crisis mode. You don’t know where you’re going to end up. You don’t know what you want to do. Let some time pass and you’ll be happier with your decisions.
  3. Be relentlessly optimistic. Fight for it. Believe you are going to have blessings that you never imagined. Believe this is an opportunity. Say affirmations. Read good stuff. Pray. Write. Do whatever it takes to not start the slippery slope of self-pity. This book helped me: The Obstacle is the Way. I love this quote: “A crisis provides the opportunity to do things we could not do before. You always planned to do something… launch a movement, travel, write a book… well now something has happened, some disruptive event, like a failure or tragedy or accident… USE IT.”
  4. While you’re being optimistic, simultaneously and deeply mourn your loss. Know that the wound is deep and may always be there. The loss of my pets still cuts me to the core – a year later, the ache is not that much better. I can’t let myself think about certain things. After a few months, we had a ceremony. We took a marker to our old property along with an item that represented each of them. We pounded it in the ground, thanked God for the joy they brought us. Took pictures. It helped.
  5. Go to counseling. You need a place to rant and rave and say inappropriate things and get clarity. The people around you are all suffering as well, so you need a professional. If you’re like me, all the tragedies of life seem to glom together when something like this happens, so in my heart and mind, the loss of the house and animals was inextricably tied to my husband’s illness and death earlier that year. It was overwhelming. Also, at some point you get the feeling that you are talking about your loss too much and people are sick of hearing it. Counselors are paid to hear it, so they never get tired of it. Seriously, go to counseling.
  6. Give and receive grace. People are going to say stupid things. Believe it or not, a few months down the road, someone will begrudge your blessings. They will say how lucky you are to get a new couch or dishes, or that you went on a trip, or some such ridiculousness. Just send them love and grace. Also, you are likely to say or do stupid things. You will have a get-out-of-jail-free card for at least a few months. Go ahead and take it! Be grateful for the grace you receive and generously give grace to others. It’s like the oil that keeps all the gears of life moving smoothly.
  7. This tragedy will open the door to connections and relationships you didn’t have before. Be open to them. They have the potential to have more richness and depth than anything you’ve experienced before.
  8. Do your best to find your rhythm and routines -- walk, exercise. I’m still working on this, to be honest. As Marcus Aurelius said “When jarred unavoidably by circumstance, revert at once to yourself and don’t lose the rhythm any more than you can help it. You have a better grasp of harmony if you keep going back to it.” Laugh. Find amusement. Try not to take yourself so seriously. There are a lot of really funny puns you can use about your house burning down, my daughter and I have found most of them.
  9. You will be okay. Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe not next month. Each season brings new realizations of beloved possessions lost, traditions that don’t work any longer, sweet memories that you can savor. You’re going to cry A LOT. Honestly, though, as you survive this, you are going to be stronger, more beautiful, more real, more empathetic, more resilient, more grateful… If anyone took the time to read this and wants to chat with someone who is a little farther down this road, please reach out to me at MascarSF@ah.org.

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