Looking Back, Moving Forward

I wrote the following article last week answering the questions, “How do I cope with the losses associated with a toxic mold exposure? How do I move past the emotional devastation of losing my home, possessions, health, and often friends and family?” I wrote the article for the Global Indoor Health Network, an organization dedicated to raising awareness of the health effects of mold and other indoor contaminants. Here is the article as it appeared in their October 7, 2011 newsletter.

It’s been three years since we walked away from our home and life as we knew it. We left twenty-six years of baby boxes, heirlooms, treasured books, and precious memories behind and walked into an unknown future.

As with any catastrophe it’s hard to grasp the magnitude of such a loss until it’s broken into heart-sized pieces. We grasp the magnitude of an earthquake by looking into the eyes of an orphan aching for his mother. I feel the loss most keenly when I picture Ryan’s beloved Barney lunchbox or our firstborn’s baby book complete with locks of hair. Why is it that losing “everything” is easier to bear than the thought of Shannon’s indelible etching of “Merry Christmas” in the wood mounting of our bathroom door?

We’ve been in crisis for three years so I’ve had little time to dwell on specifics, but the gaping heartache rarely leaves. I would give anything to know what I know now and go back to the comfort of friends and “normalcy.”

I wonder how we would survive a different tragedy. There’s something unique about losing a home to toxic mold because of the loneliness that stems from the lack of understanding. If your house burns in a fire, you lose everything but insurance generally covers the cost of rebuilding. With most companies, mold is written out of the policy. The financial repercussions pale in comparison to the life-long health implications. Would a tsunami be easier?

I’ve found comfort in the biblical account of Job who lost everything, including his children. My children survived...but my dreams for them died. There have been no boils covering my body—I’ve just had debilitating memory loss. We didn’t lose fields and livestock; we lost 3/4 of an acre. Still, I relate to Job. His friends, after all, blamed him for his disaster. They accused and questioned, just like mine.

Perhaps my greatest comfort has been the epic character of Frodo in Lord of the Rings. Frodo is given a task. Little does he know the magnitude of what has been asked of him. His first step is to leave the comfort of the Shire. The further he gets, the more difficult life becomes:

“In that lonely place Frodo for the first time fully realized his homelessness and danger. He wished bitterly that his fortune had left him in the quiet and beloved Shire.”

Many days I wish I were back in my Shire. Perhaps one day I’ll stop looking back. For now I echo these thoughts of Frodo:

“How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand...there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep, that have taken hold.”

Despite his misgivings, Frodo moves forward. He has no choice. And neither do I. This is what it means to cope: to take the next step, however small or unknown.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”