TRYING TO LAUGH
THROUGH THE TEARS
I woke up a couple of Mondays ago, checked my phone, and
there was the text message. My sister and brother-in-law were at Denny's
24 hour Restaurant, and needed a place to stay.
They had evacuated their house in Sonoma at 2 a.m. when the
fire was raging, taking only their dog and their wallets, and drove to San
Francisco to the only place that was open.
"Why didn't you come straight here?" I asked when I
reached her on the phone.
"We didn't want to bother you in the middle of the
night," she replied. "And we weren't exactly ready to go back to
Made sense. Nothing like a Grand Slam breakfast at Denny's
while your house was possibly burning to the ground.
"We'll be right over," she continued. "And
don't worry, depending on which way the wind blows, we'll only be there
for either a couple of days or two years."
Dark humor. Everyone has their own way of dealing with
devastation and dire circumstances. In our family, we try to laugh through
the tears. It's just the way we're wired, I guess.
By no means would we ever make light of the suffering and
loss of life that has so tragically affected so many people in this
disastrous event. Our hearts go out to the families and friends of the 42
people that perished, and to the thousands who lost their homes. This is
just a story of how my sister and her husband dealt with the realization
that their home could be destroyed any minute. I watched them the entire
week the fires raged, and decided it was worth writing about (with their
The first reaction, naturally, was shock. No one expects
these events to happen to them. These are things to watch on the news, or
read about in the papers or social media. It always happens to other
unfortunate people, not your own family. This couldn't be happening.
But it was. As the fires raged all day Monday, it looked
increasingly likely that their dream home in Sonoma would go up in flames.
And there was absolutely nothing they could do about it except wait and
My sister did her share of crying. I was watching the fire
news on television as she came into the kitchen on Tuesday morning, and
she politely asked me to turn it off. She couldn't watch it anymore. It
was too stressful. But then she did what we do.
She told me that her son-in-law called. They had used the
Sonoma house for a party that Sunday, and had spent two hours cleaning up.
"He said it was a colossal waste of time," she said, chuckling.
"Had he known it was going to burn to the ground he wouldn't have
That lightened the mood. She then noted that she was glad she
had let the laundry pile up. And then she discussed all the improvements
she would make when she rebuilt.
Meanwhile, while both my sister and brother-in-law expected
the worst, I became the optimist. My new nickname quickly became,
"Pollyanna." I was pumping them up every chance I got.
By Thursday they were sick of my cheerfulness. The fire was
creeping ever closer. It was on the hillside only a couple of blocks away,
and the winds were forecast to be strong that evening. Their fate depended
on which direction the wind would blow.
My brother-in-law, who handles adversity as well as anyone I
know, was ready to crack. "All I want is a yes or no," he said
on Thursday night. "The only thing I can't handle is the
Pollyanna told him once again everything would be fine. The
wind was blowing the right direction, away from his house. According to
Pollyanna, that is, who knew nothing. He just chuckled and rolled his
Friday morning may have been the worst. "Pollyanna isn't
feeling well," I announced after listening to the news. "I think
your house is toast."
That made them laugh, which was all I could do. By Friday
evening, just when they were certain their house was gone, the winds died
down and the heroic firefighters got a handle on the flames that were
bearing down on their house.
Unlike thousands of others, they would be going home. They
had laughed, they had cried, and they had got lucky. And I watched and
learned, hoping it wouldn't be my turn next.