I looked at the nearby clock. It was just a bit after 3 a.m. I could hear Michael still awake up in the computer room. For a second I debated whether the phone had actually been ringing. Then it started buzzing again. I scrambled to my feet, grabbed the phone, and saw the name of his oldest sister. I knew it had to be bad news.
It was. There was a house fire not long after midnight at Michael’s mother’s house back in Oklahoma. The fire had completely engulfed the house. At that point, no one knew where his mom was, nor whether Michael’s youngest brother (who had moved back in with their mom a while back) had been home. Worse: one of our nieces (age 14) and one of our nephews (age 12), the children of Michael’s youngest sister, were supposed to be staying with their grandma for the weekend.
The firefighters were still trying to get the blaze under control so they could safely start looking for bodies.
A few hours later we got the news that all four of them had been home, and none of them had survived the fire.
Definitely bad news.
When you hear news like that, you want to be able to help. We feel like we should be able to do something. Everything we can do feels inadequate. We wonder how it could have been prevented. If we were directly involved in the lives of the people, we wonder what we did wrong. What we could have done differently.
I’m in a weird position on this. I never met any of the four people who died. I exchanged some messages with this brother-in-law on Facebook. I’ve had similar exchanges and a phone conversation or two with the mother of the niece and nephew. While I have met and love my husband’s other siblings and his father, the others have remained acquaintances—not helped by the fact that we’ve never gone back to visit. Just to be clear that it’s through no fault of theirs.
Except his mother… well, we’re not supposed to speak ill of the dead, so I’ll just say the one and only communication I ever received from her was enough to make me glad we live 2000 miles away. My husband’s family has a bit more dysfunction than most, to be honest. And every time that I assert my family is just as messed up, he always manages to come up with a story that is hard to top.
As my husband said to some friends offering condolences last night, to say that feelings are conflicted right now is putting it mildly.
It’s a sad situation. Powerless to avert all tragedies, the best we can do sometimes is love and support the survivors.