Profound loss, profound gratitude

On January 28 three friends and I had the privilege of touring the Pommery estate and champagne cellars, which double as a modern art museum. My favorite installation was this “house that rains on the inside.”

Rain house sculpture

Little did I know that the exact same thing was happening to my house in Minnesota, probably at the exact same moment.

My poor husband bore the brunt of the surprise, after spending a long weekend with his father. When he arrived from the airport on Tuesday evening, he walked into a surreal scene of water running down the walls, pouring through the ceiling fixtures, and saturating the wood floors. Almost everything we owned was soaked.

But I was blissfully unaware: He didn’t say a word about it for almost a week. “I didn’t want to ruin your time in Paris,” he later explained. I was deeply moved by his selflessness and generosity.

And I was equally grateful for his hard work. He’d managed to rescue my clothes, my photo negatives and my cameras. He’d saved our guitars. He’d sent our paintings to an art restorer. He’d filled our hotel room with so many cherished (if slightly damp) possessions that I didn’t fully feel the loss.

But our home was a total loss.

House before and after

“You must be DEVASTATED,” wrote more than one kind friend. And for a few days, I was. Gone was the place that had held so many cherished memories — the quiet moments and shared experiences that turn a house into a home.

“I can’t deal with this,” I thought last Saturday as I stopped by to pick up the mail. I stood on the front porch for a long time, willing myself to open the door.

I felt profound sadness as I walked through the gutted house. Some of our water-crinkled books still lay sprawled on the floor, amid heaps of broken lath and plaster. Electrical wires dangled lifelessly from the ceilings, and strands of twisted conduit jutted abruptly out of the walls. “It will never feel like home again,” I thought as I surveyed the rubble.

“But at least we have insurance,” continued my inner monologue. One by one, I counted our proverbial blessings: At least it wasn’t a fire; at least we had saved our valuables; at least we can rebuild; at least no one got hurt …

The more “at leasts” I amassed, the luckier I felt. Our insurance company had responded within an hour, putting Esteban (and our stuff) in a hotel. They’d brought in abatement experts. They’d hired a demolition crew, and they were helping us find a long-term rental for the three or four months it would take to rebuild. And they’re helping us rebuild! So many displaced families are denied the joy of writing that sentence.

Today I got our water bill. It’s for $223.02 — much less than the $1,000 or so I expected, and an utter bargain for the 34,408 gallons of water that gushed through our home, from the second story to the basement.

There will be more to this story, of course. Grief isn’t a linear process. It ebbs and flows; it comes at you in circles, and in ways you don’t expect. And rebuilding isn’t a linear process, either. There will be obstacles and unforeseen costs and frustrating delays.

Yet through it all, I hope I will remember this: I can’t always choose what happens, but I can choose how I respond. Tonight I’m responding with heartfelt gratitude to the many dear friends and kind professionals who have helped me and Esteban cope with a profound loss.

All will be well.


  1. I was so sorry to hear about your house! But glad you have chosen to see the way through to the end with a positive attitude. I suppose, in the end, that is just about all one CAN do. Blessings …

  2. I am very sorry you have to go through this. You’re wise to count your blessings, and to realize that some days will be better than others as you work through this.

  3. Well, I cannot “llike” the content of this post. I am so sorry you are having to experience such devastation. But thanks for the life-lesson of finding the “at leasts” in life that lead you back to gratitude, and eventual renewal. It will be a long grieving, rebuilding process, but you will survive. You and your husband have already shown how very strong and resilient you are.

    • Thank you so much for your kind and wise words, Patti. We will survive, indeed! And our next house will have a floor drain in every room. 🙂

  4. So sorry to hear about your house. What an extraordinary thing to have happened and especially while you were in Paris. You are right, grief is a curly beastie, but also a wonderful opportunity for processing. The first thing that popped into my head when I read your post was the biblical/epic/mythological implications of having your home destroyed by water. It seems somehow wonderful that your old structure has been annihilated and you are being assisted by an insurance company (!!!) to create a new structure – a new structure to go forward with. From a mythic standpoint, you are at the gates to a new reality. Anyway, enough of my raving. I hope your temporary accommodation is holding you well. How beautiful that your husband was so generous of spirit. x

    • You call your comment “raving,” Pollyanna? I call it “Joseph-Campbell-like-insight-and-wisdom.” (Grin.) I hadn’t thought of the flood symbolism … but you’re right that we are poised on the edge of a new world. The slate has (quite literally!) been washed clean and we are starting anew. When I look past the loss and grief, there’s a wonderful sense of possibility. Thank you for encouraging me to embrace that. xx

    • Yup, I pretty much won the lottery, when I won Esteban’s heart. 🙂 Happy Valentine’s Day to you, Pollyanna! xx

  5. I knew some details of this story, but I didn’t know it happened so early into your Paris trip. That was really kind and thoughtful of Esteban to keep the news from you, otherwise I’m sure you couldn’t have enjoyed your visit as much as you did. Way to go, hubby!

    And of course, best of luck in the challenging months to come. Can’t wait to see the beautiful pics of the brand new HNest! 🙂

    • Esteban’s a keeper, isn’t he, Corey? 🙂 As for the new HNest, I can already tell you this: The bathroom walls will be white Paris-métro-style tile. We got several boxes from a friend a few years ago, but we put them in storage because we had no immediate use for them. How cool is that?! Maybe we’ll install a turnstile outside the door to complete the theme. Do you think it would be cruel to force our friends to buy a Navigo pass for when they have to, um, “go”?

      • I love the idea, but know you’ll have to also pay a small crew of “contrôleurs” to catch and prosecute the inevitable guests who will jump the turnstile to avoid the fare.

        I’d also recommend installing a loud métro-style buzzer that alerts customers the toilet seat is about to close, whether they’re finished or not.

        • I’ll have to pay a small crew of contrôleurs?! I had no idea those people got paid!! I thought they did it for the sheer joy of detaining someone for 15 minutes, rummaging through their stuff, and vociferously humiliating them in front of hordes of staring, schadenfreude-filled commuters. (Not that it’s ever happened to me. This is purely my imagined idea of how it might feel …)

          Love your idea of a loud métro-style buzzer, too. It would be the perfect solution for those visitors who linger too long, prompting awkward, knowing looks between the rest of the guests. Grin.

    • Well said, knotrune: My husband is a star! I’ll tell him you said that. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by! Wonderful to hear from you.

    • Thank you, Tom. The lessons you’ve taught me about embracing change have served me very well over the past two weeks. I don’t think I’d be coping nearly as well, had you and I not reconnected! So a huge THANK YOU for all the wise counsel you’ve provided over the past few months.

    • I think my husband is *generally* worthy of a medal — simply for the fact that he’s stuck with me! 🙂 Thanks so much for reading, and especially for your very kind comment.

  6. Yikes, I am so sorry to hear about this! Thank goodness for good people to help you through and for your husband’s thoughtfulness. Your perspective suggests you’re resilient and will get through this challenging time. Sending positive thoughts for recovery to you and your family.

    • Thank you so much for your sweet, encouraging words. You are among the many, many kind people who have brightened our past two weeks. Thank you!

  7. Your attitude is humbling, H, and I admire you for making the choice to count your blessings in the face of a really horrible situation. (Billing you for the water is rubbing salt into the wounds!) So much loss – grief is natural – but so much saved too. Thank heavens – and Esteban.

    • Well said, dear DB: Thank heavens — and thank Esteban! (By the way, I didn’t sound quite so positive when the gas bill arrived. $700. $700!!! Hopefully our insurance will cover some of that, too.)

  8. I have given you a like on this for the writing not the content. Sorry to hear you have had to face this. I can not imagine what it must be like.. All the best to you.

    • How kind of you, Barbara! I very much appreciate both the “like” and the sweet sentiment. But I’m very happy to say that our insurance company has been taking good care of us, and that all will be well. Still, your kind comment just made my day. Thank you.

  9. I’m glad your husband was able to save as much as he did but it must have been difficult. And it had to happen when neither of you were home – go figure!
    I agree, though. We can’t control our circumstances, only our responses to them. On the plus side, you’ll have a new home.

  10. It is hard to “like” a post that is so tragic, but I am in awe of your positive outlook. May 2014 be a wonderful year for you and your loved ones!

    • Thank you for your lovely comment. You are so kind! I’m happy to report that we’re back in our home — and happier than ever — so 2014 is off to a wonderful start indeed. Warm wishes to you and yours, too!

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