“Their house is gone”: Lessons in Facing Tragedy

I’ll never forget hearing that phrase, “Their house is gone.”

I had been watching news coverage of the Silver Fire in Banning, CA all day long, vigilant because of dear friends living in that area.  With my calls going straight to voice mail  I decided to go to bed. The phone rang an hour later.  It was a brief call because I had no words, my boyfriend only knew that our friends were able to save their dogs & themselves.  I fell asleep in tears, unable to process the news just yet.

Wes, Melissa & Sky Anderson have been my friends for a couple of years. They are a wonderful family and I felt lost for them, not knowing where they were, what to do or how I could “fix” this. I knew that they only had what they were wearing at that moment, their dogs, 2 of their cars, a couple of cameras & the laundry they grabbed. Can you imagine having to grab all that is precious to you with only minutes to make the decision & take action?

What happened next took me by surprise just as much as the fire itself.  I told my work family what happened & put word of the Anderson’s need out there on Facebook. They needed everything- a place to stay, clothes, food, toiletries & everything to furnish a home,  when they got one.

The blessings started pouring in.  Donations of every kind imaginable started showing up at my desk at work. Friends contacted me to find out how to get them housewares & furniture.  Huge bags of dog & cat food, cases of water, fancy skin care products, a significant watermelon & so much more.  Sky is 13 & a musician but no longer had her equipment so my band-boyfriend talked to his endorsers & got some of it replaced.  The thing that made it so amazing is that nobody who donated had ever met the Andersons, they just knew they needed help.

I packed my car & boyfriend’s truck more than a dozen times with this abundance & filled their hotel room to the ceiling.  What they didn’t need or couldn’t use went to the 25 other families in their area that had also lost everything.  I put the word out about these other families, also in need and once again, the floodgates opened.  An entire community was being blessed by complete strangers – I have never been so humbled & inspired in my life!

What I learned from the Andersons’ loss is so valuable & here are a few of my favorite examples.

•        Don’t underestimate your ability to change someone’s life – It can be simple. A smile & hello in passing, a shoulder to cry on or a couple dollars. But you could spark a chain reaction of random acts of kindness, give someone the strength to face their challenges or maybe even save a life.  You may never think about it again, but that person won’t forget it.  Wes, Melissa & Sky are always doing good deeds & paying it forward and when they were the ones in need, I got to step in, inspired by their example.  They have changed me for the better by just allowing me to help them.

•        Put yourself out there sincerely – If you offer to help, be realistic, genuine & be ready to act.  Don’t promise what you can’t deliver or suddenly be unavailable when they take you up on your offer.  Reinforce offers to help by extending them again & again- as Neil O’Connor says, “Be bold. If you get your hand slapped once, that’s OK. Try again anyways.”  The Andersons never asked for anything, even when they needed everything.  They showed me that it’s OK to accept help that you haven’t asked for but truly need.

•        Things are just things – We all like our things, but we can live without them if we had to. Things can be replaced but people can’t (we all know that too well). Sometimes though, it’s hard to remember that your worth is not in the things you have but in who you are.

Hand clicking Donate button drawn with white chalk on blackboard.

Melissa gave me an amazing gift recently, saying “I will never be able to repay you for helping us get back on our feet but I can give you my love & friendship.”  Mel, that is the best repay possible, being worthy of your friendship.

Read Melissa’s article on what this awful experience was like by clicking here.  The photos are heart-breaking. But there’s hope, there’s people & there are so many that give.

Who have you watched live through devastation? 

How did you help them?  What did  you discover about yourself? 

Thank you for sharing!

To donate to an incredible relief organization already on ground in Haiyan, helping families to re-build, click here.

Molly Keating
Molly Keating
Hello! I'm Molly and I run & manage the Blog here at O'Connor. I grew up in a mortuary with a mortician for a father who's deep respect for the profession inspired me to give working at a mortuary a try. Work at O'Connor has brought together two of my deep passions, writing & grief awareness. In 2016 I earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. I am honored to be able to speak on these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective. I want to sincerely thank you for following & reading the blog, I hope that this is a healing place for you.


  1. Anne says:

    Hearing your plea about this dear family moved me to give some of Lou’s things, which I didn’t think I would be able to part with for many more months. I sure didn’t need it and knew it could help someone else.
    You ARE a woman of purpose and also compassion. This is not the first time we have seen you in action. Thank you for your heart.
    You were also there for Lou and I big time during his terrible time of suffering. I will never forget that.
    I love you

  2. Carrie,

    I remember your emails to us about the Andersons, what they had lost and how we could help them. Watching you in action, driving that long way for any spare minute you could, giving what you had & more, and significantly for me, giving me a place to give and bless others – was just an incredible thing to witness. You may have been inspired by the Andersons but I was inspired by you.

    I’ve never felt like I had a lot to offer people, my energy wears quickly, I’m introverted but I use that as an excuse too often. The opportunity you gave me to give was incredible. I felt wonderful as I but the card together, and sending it off with you was just one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. Incidentally, it’s inspired my husband and I to use our tithing not just for church but for ordinary, hurting people in our community.

    I recently came read the phrase, “Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing.” – you helped shake me up, inspired me to act. I can’t thank you enough for the inner-blessing it’s been for me personally. I don’t think you’ll ever know how much or how many you’ve blessed.

    Love, love,

  3. Lori says:

    Thank you for sharing what your friends experienced as their home was destroyed.
    I could not even imagine, as you depicted, having mere minutes to decide what I would grab.
    When I was in my twenties, I lived in Chino Hills for awhile. There was a fire in the hills behind the homes we lived in. We did pack a few things, but luckily did not have to evacuate. I thought then and have though over the years that as part of an evacuation plan I should have in mind what I would grab on my way out of a burning house. I know I would not have the presence of mind to keep it all straight. Like you said, things can be replaced. People and pets are the most important treasures to get out of harms way.
    I love your heart and willingness to step in and help. You are a friend who gives your all and their is no request too big or too small. You say you are honored by Melissa’s friendship, but she is equally blessed to have you in her life.

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