Dear Colorado

I’m so sorry you’re going through this. We’ve had our differences, but wildfires are terrifying and devastating and I wouldn’t wish them on anyone.

For those Coloradans who’ve lost homes and loved ones, I’m so deeply sorry. I know some of the heartbreak you’re dealing with and I know some of the nightmares you’ll face. If you can, find a support group or a professional counselor now. The next few weeks might be desperately hard, and leaning on the family and neighbors offering help might be enough. But it might not be, and that’s not the fault of you or your family and friends. I don’t know you or your lives, but I can tell you that the one-year anniversary could be more devastating that you might imagine, so having a support structure in place now will help then.

For those who were near the fires, please know that you have been through a trauma, too. People will tell you that you’re lucky even though you might feel more terrified and out of control than lucky. They’ll assume you’re fine because your narrow escape was a lack of actual damage.

But you might have some of the same post traumatic stress that other fire survivors have. I don’t pretend to know those whose homes were saved by the incredible efforts of firefighters, but I’m willing to guess that their lives might be consumed with fear and guilt for a while. You are survivors, too. There is no escaping a fire like this. Losing neighbors but not your own home or family is a blessing, but it’s a traumatizing experience, too. A lesson in “almost” and capriciousness and “what happens next time?” I’m glad you’re safe and that your houses still stand. I’m sorry about your loss of security and peace of mind.

Please give yourself the space to grieve. Please find a support group or a counselor to help you through, too. Fire victims have all manner of stories. Even those neighboring Colorado towns who feared the winds might come their way, watching for days every minute of television coverage have a story, will grieve for a while. Allow that, because it helps. I promise you won’t fall to pieces if you let the sadness take over for a part of every day.

Know that fire survivors all over the world feel for you this week, this month, this decade. You’ve joined a terrible, wrenching club. And I’m sorry to have you join us.

Fire fighters: I still don’t have the words and I don’t know that I ever will. With all the talk of heroism, embrace that you’re human. You, too, will have fear, make mistakes, feel guilt, and be emotionally exhausted. You’re allowed to grieve, too. This is what you’re trained for, but it’s scary. I still wish I could find the fire fighter overwhelmed by flames who had to ignore us as we fled down a burning fire escape. He looked so scared and I think we could all use a drink together. Tomorrow works for me.

May all of Colorado sleep well and get the emotional, financial, and spiritual help they need in the coming days and months. Fight the after effects of that bastard fire, survivors.

Be well, Colorado.

7 thoughts on “Dear Colorado

  1. I’m in that horrible club too. I now know someone else who lost their house this week in the western wildfires. Running out of a burning building with just my shoes and purse is what I did. I’ve been thinking about it all week, every time I see another news story about it, it breaks my heart knowing what the new club members are going through.

    The Red Cross could use donations. They were there for me immediately, within 2 hours of the start of the fire. People will need water, basics (toothbrushes, towels, socks, deodorant, etc), and places to stay for an extended time until they get back on their feet. Donate clothes, food, or money if you can. Cash donations go into a debit card that can be used at any store to buy immediate stuff. If anyone can help, it is greatly appreciated. I’m sure that people who received donations have given the money back multiple times over once they can return the favor.

    Thank you firefighters, volunteers, and donors. I will always be grateful.

  2. Thanks, unicorn. I tweeted about the Red Cross but forgot to include them in the post. The Red Cross helped us too, and years later I volunteered for several years to try to pay them back. With help from FEMA, the Red Cross and family and friends I was able to function for a while. I wish I’d known more about PTSD, though.

    Volunteer for the American Red Cross, readers. Or send a donation. Or house a fire survivor and offer a hand while they cry in the shower.

  3. I have not even been close to an experience such as this, but my heart breaks for all of you who have and are currently dealing with the aftermath. Thank you for writing this and reminding me to make my donation from afar.

  4. Emily, natural disasters always seem like a good time to dust off our collective humanity. And most people appreciate how hard it is to lose someone in a disaster, but it’s harder to grasp why being the only one left alive in a neighborhood is devastating for decades. Thanks for donating. That’s blankets and food and new eyeglasses for someone.

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