Coping with Loss Due to Fire

The loss of one’s home in a fire actually involves multiple losses. Not only a place of residence, but also many other things of value – photo albums, heirlooms, records and documents (financial, legal, medical), one’s wardrobe, books, furniture, and artwork may be lost. Less tangibly, you lose your primary place of comfort, the place you go for safety, respite, and rejuvenation. Losses of such magnitude can’t help but affect people in significant ways, and the more you know about reactions to loss, the better able you are to weather the inevitable period of grieving and readjustment.

Reactions to loss: the experience of grief

Everyone reacts in their own way. There is no "right" way to feel or act after a major loss. That said, we do tend to see some similarities in how people respond.

For most of us, the first reaction is shock. At this point, the mind cannot comprehend the full scope of what has happened, and people may feel like they are having a nightmare from which they will awaken. People in shock feel numb and dazed, their emotions frozen. But, shock serves a health purpose in that it softens the blow temporarily, assuring we won’t have to face any more than we are able to cope with.

Once the reality sets in, people move beyond shock. Emotions may come and go and vary in intensity. Anxiety is common. Some may feel anger. There is likely to be a deep sorrow, perhaps even depression, and hopelessness. There may also be relief that no one was injured or that some items could be saved.

At this stage, people may experience tearfulness, nervousness, and insomnia, feel physically drained, be unable to eat, lose interest in former activities, and neglect personal hygiene. They may become confused and disorganized and have difficulty making simple decisions. They may find themselves dwelling on the "what ifs" and "if onlys." Anger and bitterness can surface periodically, and can be directed at anyone perceived to have failed them in some way, or it may be unfocused and generalized.

At some point, we begin to come to terms with the loss and integrate it into who we are. Accepting the loss does mean moving on. It means a person is able to begin letting go of the hurt, sadness, and anger, and find balance in their lives again. Slowly, positive feelings re-emerge and people can experience hope and joy again, if only fleetingly at first. They begin to make new plans, and their focus turns more and more to the future.

Self-care after loss

It is sometimes difficult to take care of yourself in the middle of a crisis, especially when your attention is on such basics as food, clothing, and shelter. But, this is a time when self-care is especially critical for personal resilience, healing, and returning your life to normal. Here are some self-care strategies you may wish to consider:

Mental and emotional self-care strategies

Focus on things you have control over, and let go of the rest.

Lower your expectations of what you can accomplish and reduce the demands that you put on yourself.

Get your facts about the event from a reliable, objective source. Don’t rely on rumors or guesswork.

Talk about what happened and your feelings with people you trust. Writing about you reactions may also help.

Give your thoughts a break from thinking about what has happened and what might happen next.

Try to concentrate on what is positive in your life and the things that make you grateful.

Choose activities that engage your mind and body, and keep you focused on the here and now.

Reach out to and spend time with loved ones and other supportive people who care about you.

Be careful not to take out your hurt and anger on others. This will make it harder for them to be supportive and can create negative feelings for you.

Your spirituality may be a further resource for you.

Physical self-care strategies

Get enough sleep. Go to bed and get up at regular hours.

Eat well-balanced meals at regular times of day.

Stay away from mood altering substances, such as alcohol or drugs.

Get some type of exercise each day. It helps to reduce stress and can help you sleep better if it’s done at least two hours before bedtime.

Nurture yourself by spending time each day doing something calming, such as deep breathing, meditation, progressive relaxation, or activities that you enjoy.