Saturday, August 28, 2010
But to say that all fires are alike would be like saying all people are alike. Yes for the most part we all have two arms, two legs, two hands, two feet, eyes, nose and mouth, but even those are not the same from one person to another. From my experience, fire is the same - no two fires are alike.
A day or two after the fire at our home, the fire chief was asking me to explain it from my perspective. I told him what had happened, how quickly it had moved and how close it had been to us not making it out of our home. After I had finished talking, or at least paused for a breath, he responded with a statement to the extent that the neighbors really hadn't been exaggerating. I guess he had talked to various individuals who had witnessed the fire being started and they had expressed how this fire had not even paused when it reached our house, as you would have expected from a fire, but literally exploded. I know that is what it was like from our perspective as well.
As I have stated before, I have experienced fires before and so has my husband. But nothing we experienced in the past could prepare us for what we experienced on June 26, 2010. This is why I can be nothing but grateful that we all made it out that day and know that we are truly blessed.
But even the fire that destroyed our home had its own personality. As we poked through the rubble trying to find anything to salvage, the first find was my son's blanket. I truly believe that this was a blessing from a loving Heavenly Father and a sign that He is watching out for us. That this one item could survive unscathed in a room that was unrecognizable as a bedroom continues to be a miracle. This is the only item we removed from the house that did not receive any damage from the fire.
There have been other items that we were able to find. Most important to me were the scrapbooks. I think by the time we finished clearing the lot, we had found parts of most of the scrapbook I had ever done. The most amazing save was on the day we were clearing the lot. I looked up to see a scrapbook hanging from the bucket of the tractor. Rick signalled the driver to stop and lower the bucket. It was the section of Hunter's scouting scrapbook that contained his Eagle certificate, letters of recognition and his Eagle paperwork.
But this is one example why in my mind fire is so selective. From the family room, there was nothing recognizable but a portion of the treadmill frame. Yet we found a portion of our wedding album. Unfortunately, the damage was so extreme that it was only identified by a partial picture of us cutting the cake, a picture of our best man, and the chopsticks from the restaurant where we ate when Rick proposed. An album that was once 11X14 was now the size of a luncheon plate. It amazes me that not even the frame from our sofa was found, yet this portion of an album was recovered.
The same thing happened in the living room where the upstairs bedroom collapsed. This was where the majority of the albums were recovered, much to my amazement. These albums were so burned that the page protectors had melted together. The albums that were in the office faired a little better. Yet even here there were inconsistencies with one album appearing to have received more damage than another and some hardly damaged at all, yet they had sat side-by-side on the same shelf.
The thought of going through all these partial albums to see what could be saved was overwhelming. Everytime I tried, I would burst into tears. This was a task that was so emotionally daunting that I didn't fell I could do it, yet I knew it had to be done soon or nothing would be usable. This is when I remembered the lesson that I had learned that very first day - people want to help, I just needed to ask. So I came up with the idea of a De-Scrapbooking Party.
I contacted my friend Michelle and asked if I could use her studio for the event. She quickly agreed. As she started throwing out ideas for what we could do, I had to slow her down. I know she was picturing slightly charred scrapbooks with pictures easy to remove. She admitted to me that she had no idea what we would be facing until I showed up to set up for the party. Who would have ever guessed we would be using hammers to separate pages of a scrapbook, yet that is what we had to do.
Let me say again, I have amazing friends. I was awed at how many people came to help with this project. We were able to accomplish in four hours what would have taken me months or even longer to accomplish. We were also able to recover some special things as well - irreplacable pictures, blessing certificates, Hunter's mission call and other memorabilia. While none of it is in pristine condition, I have great faith in scanning and Photoshop. The moral support of these amazing women was the greatest gift. I can't say that I didn't cry, since part of this was an exercise in letting go as I realized that there were things that were just gone. But at those times, there was someone to put their arm around me, tell a goofy story or a joke. My friends treated these books as if they were their own and were as committed as saving as much as possible just as I was, maybe even more as I became overwhelmed by the emotion of it all. Thank you everyone for keeping me sane.
By the end of the night, we were making plans for a scanning party. I promise that the food will be just as good.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
I've been doing alot of "measuring" of my life the last two weeks as I have worked on completing the inventory of our once upon a time home. What I have learned is that in 22 years of life together, with a little bit of childhood thrown in, Rick and I had a lot of things. In fact the current replacement dollar amount is over $250,000 and there is still more to be accounted for. When the insurance adjustor stated that he thought we would easily reach $300,000, I was doubtful. I am not so doubtful anymore.
Last year, when we renewed our insurance, we valued our personal property at just over $200,000. This will be the maximum amount that the insurance will pay us. If I measured my life in dollars, right now I would feel that I had literally lost 1/3 of my life, since we will never be compensated for the other $100,000 not covered by the insurance.
Instead I think of the rest of the song. It suggests that instead life should be measured in love. This is how I want to measure my life.
Over the weekend we attended the wedding reception of a very remarkable young woman. Over the last four years, she has been an important part of our family. We had harbored a secret hope that when Hunter returned from his mission that they might be married. Our girls would often refer to her as their big sister because of the involvement she had in their lives. Her influence was especially strong on Lela. It was this young woman's influence that encouraged Lela to join the Hurricane Tigersharks swim team and to start playing the violin. She will always have a special place in our hearts and we wish her the best for the future.
Attending a wedding reception always brings back memories of my own reception. How young Rick and I were all those years ago, yet how mature and ready for marriage we felt. I often wonder what those two kids would have thought of their future selves. Since I have very few, if any, regrets; I like to think that they would have run with great excitement to the altar.
What I can see looking back from this viewpoint is that our marriage began with the solid foundation of friendship. Rick has been my best friend since I was 19 years old. By the time we were married we had no secrets between us. This practice has remained a constant throughout our marriage. I know that if Rick tells me something, it is the truth. I trust him completely.
Through the years we have built on that foundation as we worked together as a team. I have always known that he had my back and is my greatest supporter. Whenever I have doubted myself, Rick has been there to shore up my faith in my abilities. Whether moving across the country with three small children, completing college, or our current situation; we will be fine because we work together.
This same sentiment has been expressed by many who know us as they watch our family go through this experience. One friend commented that she has always been amazed at how close our family is and if anything, this has brought us closer together. Another friend commented that he did not know many people who could survive losing everything and still remain happy. I know this is because we know that the most important things made it out of the house. We will not dwell on the loss, but on how we are continually blessed.
I am so grateful that we learned at a young age that we are each other's best friend. It took a couple we know 30 years of marriage to learn this truth - a marriage is not about the things you acquire, it is about the relationship you develop and grow with your partner. That relationship is more valuable than any treasure on earth and more delicate than the tiniest seedling. I hope our young friend and her new husband can learn this now so that their life will be measured in seasons of love.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
We once again received a new version of what needs to take place to resolve our claim with the insurance company on our home. Our agent has now stepped in to help resolve the issue and will work as a mediator between ourselves and the claims office. Unfortunately when we met with him on Monday, his explanation of how this process is going to work was different than we had been told even one week before. At this point, Rick and I have determined that what Jason has told us will become our instruction book. That way if we follow what he tells us to do and then we have problems in the future we have someone who knows the industry advocating for us.
A rough time this week was Tuesday. Monday Rick noticed an inflammation on our dog's backend. Dancer has been fighting cancer/tumors for the last couple of years. He had required surgery in February to remove a tumor from his rectum that was causing problems. By Tuesday morning the inflammation had progressed to what appeared to be his rectum hanging outside his body. This was confirmed that morning by our vet. Rick and I now faced the task of first deciding if we have another surgery performed or to have Dancer put to sleep. After we made our decision to end Dancer's suffering, we then had to tell the kids. How do you make the decision? How do you tell your children that the last pet they have from their life "prior" will no longer be there? How we wished we could open a book to page ..... and read the appropriate discussion.
What we did was to schedule a time for the procedure with the vet for later in the day, then Rick and I took off work and brought Dancer home. We gathered the kids together in the living room with Dancer and explained to them what was wrong. We talked about the options, that while surgery could extend Dancer's life for a month or two, the ultimate end would be the tumors rupturing his colon and he would bleed to death. We talked about some of the other biological functions that were happening in Dancer's body that were making life very uncomfortable for him. Then we talked about heaven and our faith that we have a loving Heavenly Father. We discussed the plan of salvation and that all living beings were first spirits that have taken on physical bodies and that one day, our spirits and our bodies will be reunited during the resurrection and that until that day, when we die we are greeted by those that love us and have died before us.
This helped the kids as they remembered Miley and Tigger and especially Patch, our first dog. We talked about how Dancer had laid with Patch's body after she died until the kids found her. To know that Patch and Dancer would be able to be together again brought a smile to their faces as they thought of all the fun they will have in heaven freed from bodies that are old and diseased. The kids said their goodbyes and shed many tears, then Rick and I took him back to the vet. Dancer passed with Rick and I beside him, with his head resting on Rick's lap.
Wednesday brought signs that life is returning to normal. It was the first day of school and Wil had his first fight of the school year with his parents over curfew before he even walked out the door. This day also brought a discussion of what the children should say when asked about the fire and if we should talk to the administration about specifically asking teachers to not ask. The kids joked that they wanted to have shirts that said "We're fine. Thanks for asking." We did not go this far, but did tell them that this answer was very appropriate when asked the inevitable "How are you?"
After the stress of the week, both at home and at work, we decided that we needed to get away. We spent the day at Bryce National Park hiking and picnicking and playing tourist. On the way home last night, as we were in the car singing songs together from Schoolhouse Rock and various artists, laughing at all our family's inside jokes, and making plans for the future, I realized that maybe we don't need an Instruction Manual. I thought of the saying - When all else fails, read the instruction manual. I don't think we have failed. In fact for just winging it and doing what feels right, I think we are doing pretty darn good.
Saturday, August 7, 2010
When we were preparing to get married, I made my first visit to the ob/gyn. What an experience that was!!
Even though my parents had seven children, there was never much discussion of the facts of life in our home. Most of what I learned about the birds and bees came from the maturation programs at school, after school specials or reading the encyclopedia. I remember when I was about 12 or 13, I watched an after school special about birth. It briefly touched on that a man's sperm and a woman's egg combined to fertilize the egg that would go on to become the baby. I was unclear on how the sperm got from the man to the woman, so I asked my mom. I remember her calling for my dad and demanding he listen to what I had just asked her. I figured that whatever I said must have ranked right up there with swearing and I was in trouble. It took some persuading to get me to repeat my question to my father. His reaction further confused me. As calm as could be, he walked to the bookcase, retrieved an encyclopedia, flipped through the pages, brought it back to me and told me to go ahead and read. After I had finished, he asked me if I understood what it said - I was in shock - then told me that now that I knew all about sex, it was my job to tell my sisters.
Needless to say, there was not my discussion with my mother prior to my visit to the ob/gyn. I did have a few questions for him based on my observations of my friends. My biggest concern was that even at 21 years of age, I had yet to have a regular menstrual cycle and those that I did have were so incredibly painful and heavy that I couldn't leave the house at times. I was concerned that this might impact my ability to have children. The doctor that I went to was my mom's doctor, the man who had delivered me all those years ago. I remember walking out frustrated because instead of answering my questions, he basically patted me on the head and told me not to worry. Even then I was not one who took being dismissed well. In his defense, I know he was just trying to be reassuring and the answer he gave me I'm sure would have been fine for some, it just wasn't right for me.
When I finally became pregnant with Hunter, I did not know what I was going to do for a doctor. My dad took charge this time and called one of his former scouts who was now an ob/gyn. Al Hartman was exactly the doctor I needed. He would answer all my questions honestly and completely. If there was a decision to be made, he would provide me with all the options available, offer his opinion on what he would do, but let me make the choice. I know there were some of my friends that found him too blunt, but that was one of the things I appreciated most about him. I did not need things sugar-coated. I am a child raised on Dragnet and fully appreciated the concept of "Just the facts". I also credit Al Hartman with the fact that I even have any of my children. None of them came easily and I know that his training and instincts allowed them to be born alive and healthy.
Monday, August 2, 2010
So it has been five weeks and two days since our house burned to the ground. Yes, that means it has been thirty-seven days. You would think that in that time, we would have been able to make some progress in clearing the lot, receiving reimbursement for items we have purchased, etc. Especially since we had a copy of our lease, submitted receipts, the appraisal of our home and the estimate to clear the lot to the adjustor within a week of meeting with him. But NO, except for the original $5,000 advance, we have not received a single cent without a fight.
Just so you are aware of how this process works, the insurance company hires an adjustor to provide them with reports regarding a claim. The adjustor will look at things like estimates to repair or replace, local conditions and make sure you are being truthful. The adjustor then sends a report or reports to the claims office. The same process occurs when you submit receipts to your agent for reimbursement. Every reimbursement approval is actually handled by the claims office.
It took a week before we learned from the adjustor that our appraisal was not going to be sufficient and that they would now need a floor plan with dimensions detailing floor coverings, wall coverings, fixtures, etc. That became an exercise in creativity as Rick used the exterior dimensions from the appraisal to draft a basic floor plan for the adjustor. Yet again it was a hurry up to wait process.
In the meantime we were trying to get our car back. The driver's side of my Sienna mini-van had been melted by the fire. We had the car towed to the dealership and an estimate prepared by the dealership for repairs as directed by our agent. Our agent let us know that the estimate had been forwarded to the Salt Lake office the day after they received it. Two and a half weeks later, we had still not heard anything. Rick contacted the dealership and was informed that they had not received approval yet to go ahead with the repairs. This started a process of going up the food chain in order to find where the claim had stalled (the Salt Lake office). It took a call to the supervisor in the claims office to be told that the estimate they had received was not acceptable and they wanted to send their own adjustor to determine if the repairs were necessary.
Guess what!! Our car was melted. Everything plastic on the driver's side needed to be replaced and the driver's side needed to be repainted. The dealership receives approval to go ahead with the repairs with the insurance company paying for everything less our $500 deductable. Fast forward three days - now we are being told that we will need to pay for the repairs and then submit the receipt to the insurance company for reimbursement. I don't know how many of you have a spare $4,000 hanging around, but we don't - especially since we have spent a small fortune trying to get ourselves into a house and are now making a house payment and paying rent. Somehow, by Thursday, after a few more phone calls, when Rick went to pick up the van - credit card in hand yet again - there had miraculously appeared at the repair shop, a check for the repairs less our $500 deductible. The lesson from this story is that with the proper motivation, checks can get processed in a timely fashion.
Now back to the house - Two weeks ago I received a call from the adjustor letting me know that he had submitted his first report to the claims office. The report included his estimate on the cost to rebuild our home at current market rate ($301,000) and cost for the clearing of the property ($15,000). The maximum payout on the policy for replacement of the home is $298,000, so based on the adjustor's numbers, we will take approximately $18,000 of a loss. This is okay, since this is the coverage we opted for. This check will be made payable to us and to our mortgage company. We will need to endorse the check and then forward to the mortgage company and let them cut us a check for the balance. This money will then be used to pay the contractor that is clearing the lot. A very cumbersome process that will add at least 30 days to our seeing any actual funds.
The adjustor also informed me that he had also submitted our receipts and a request to reimburse us for the additional living expenses (rent) we are paying. This check will have deducted from it the $5,000 we have already received as the advance. He felt that this check should reach us within a week to ten days.
On to today - we still have received neither check. Rick spent the morning on the phone with our insurance agent trying to find out why all we have received is promises. There really was no answer. It is my understanding that Rick, our agent and the adjustor have all been trying to contact the claims office, leaving numerous messages, but receiving no return calls. Imagine my surprise when today at work, I received a call from the claims office. If he was calling to speak to the little lady, to whom he could be condescending, he was very surprised. As my boss put it, he didn't know what tiger he had grabbed by the tail.
The conversation started with him explaining how he could only issue us a check for $150,000 (depreciated value) on our home until such time as we can receive a statement from a contractor on what it would cost to rebuild the home. The fact that there are no construction plans for the home we once had and the fact that we will not be rebuilding the same home, so there are no such plans forthcoming, have no bearing on this request. A contractor is to use the same floor plan and the same program previously used by the adjustor to determine replacement cost. Now instead of a single check to send the mortgage company, we will have two. Neither of these checks will include the cost of clearing the lot. That will now need to be handled as a separate claim after the work has been completed.
The company will not send us the full amount for our lease either, but only three months. Since we have already paid two months rent, we will only receive one month until we have to try and receive another check for living expenses. According to the claims office, it is anticipated that to rebuild the home will be at least three months. That means that at the rate they are processing our claims, our lease (six months) will have expired before we are finished rebuilding.
Needless to say, I was really ticked off by this point. I asked what assurances he would give me that if we jumped through the latest hoops, we would receive our money or what he would do next to stall the claim. He told me that he was not trying to drag it out, but when I asked him why it took so long to repair the van, he claimed that he had not received the claim prior to when he contacted Rick. When I told him I knew differently, he said he wasn't calling to discuss the car, but to discuss the claim on the home.
He then proceeded to give me the line that he was only trying to look out for our interests and insuring that we received the maximum amount possible. Did he think I was born yesterday? I told him if that was the case, then he should just send us our $550,000 and let us get on with our lives. He has already received plenty of documentation that we will more than max out our coverage. I informed him that I felt the only reason they were making us do inventories with replacement value to send us depreciated value until we replace and submit receipts was to discourage us from making a claim.
Let me say that again - the way this part works is Rick and I have to complete an inventory of everything we had in our home. This inventory includes a description of the item, the year we aquired the item and an approximate replacement value. This is then submitted to the claims office who will issue a check for the depreciated value of the items. If we wish to receive the full replacement value, we then need to purchase the item and then submit the receipt to be issued the difference.
Since there is no question that we were not at fault for the fire - criminal charges have been issued and prosecution in district court has commenced; this process feels like we are being victimized all over again. Taking this into consideration, if they did want to look out for us as a client this would not be the process. The response I received was that we needed to submit the inventories and he would process them as fast as possible, issuing the depreciated value check. Then we could purchase the item if we would like and submit for the difference.
Now here is a little sidenote about the check that was to have been issued two weeks ago to reimburse us for our expenses. The claims office stated that it was sent July 23rd, yet we still have not received it nor had the adjustor to whom it was sent. When I talked again to the adjustor, he went to search for the check. He called me back to let me know that he had the check, claiming it had been sent to the company's wrong mailbox. How convenient!!
So here is the reality of my situation. I might be handling this all with more logic and less emotion if I wasn't so stretched. Not only is our house gone and we are living in a home 1/3 the size of our previous house leaving us with no privacy, I am dealing coping with two children who are suffering from physical symptoms brought on by the stress of the trauma. And work has not been a picnic either since I have been doing the job of three people for the last month with no real resolution in sight or hope of a replacement for the vacated position.
I do know that we have been truly blessed through this experience, but there are days when I doubt my ability to endure or my resiliency. Those are the times that I look back at all the good experiences. That was part of the reason for writing this blog - a written account to remind me of the good during the bad. These are also the times when I hope that there is a special place reserved in the afterlife for certain insurance claims processors. (Sorry if I offended anyone.)