From Julianna and the Melnick-MacDonald Family
One month ago today, our lives changed dramatically. In an instant, what was a quiet, sick day at home with my two girls, turned into what many would consider their worst nightmare. A month later, we still do not have an official cause, but in less than 10 minutes our home was fully engulfed in flames and, just moments later, it seemed, burnt to the ground. The house that we had so lovingly made our own over the 3.5 years – gone in an instant. The same walls that we had painted and repainted (much to my husband’s chagrin), rooms where we had changed and changed again the decor, lovingly encouraged a garden to take root, celebrated our first Christmas as a family with Willow, watched both girls take their first steps, started and built businesses, and raised with love our little family – taken away by searing hot, ash-filled flames and a wash of smoke as it ran out of places to creep.
A month later, I take comfort in the fact that it was daytime. We were all awake when the fire started and I was home – I was able to get my girls, myself and our pets out of the house – I still have nightmares about what could have happened had the fire have started just half an hour before, when my youngest was asleep in her room precisely below where the flames were first identified, and myself and Willow were dozing on and off down the hall to the sounds of the TV. That said, I do my best to shut off these thoughts – these “what ifs” – as I do believe that they could swallow me whole if I dwelt too long on them.
My gratitude to the North Dundas Fire Department and its 35 volunteer firefighters from not only the Mountain detachment, but all surrounding areas, is immeasurable – the speed at which they arrived and, ultimately, the hopelessness on their faces as they knew all too well the power of the flames they were trying to combat. The pained looks of both despair and pride as they delivered a depressingly few number of soot-filled items that they were able to recover – a box of wedding cards from our wedding day 4.5 years prior had been recovered from our master closet, a box of silver coins that Chris had for many years and, most touching, a photograph of my aunt and uncle who had both passed; while seemingly trivial, these small things will never be forgotten and truly meant the world to us. The men and women who fought to do everything they could to mitigate the power of the flames that day were truly heroic.
In the wake of this tragedy, what we have heard most is: “the important thing is that you are all safe – your things can be replaced.” While I wholeheartedly agree, until you have walked in the shoes of someone who has lost everything they owned, the history and sentimentality of a home and the security that comes with having a roof over your head and walls around you, you truly cannot appreciate the feeling of hopelessness in the moment. The reason why I am mentioning this is not to appear whiny or ungrateful – it is what comes next that is the entire essence of what I am trying to say here. At our very worst, when we were beaten down, weary, exhausted, emotional, and feeling hopeless, it was the power of our community that surrounded us that raised us back up. While there was no doubt in my mind that Kemptville was an amazing town, the last four weeks have made me realize just how strongly we can band as a community in face of adversity, challenge and tragedy.
As Coretta Scott King once said, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members”. Kemptville, you sure know how to live by these words! In the days that followed our fire, myself, Chris and my close family received hundreds and hundreds of messages from family, friends, community members, and even total strangers, expressing their condolences and desire to help. To say we were overwhelmed with gratitude is the greatest understatement. I truly felt like I spent the week after the fire crying my way across town and the community at large – not because of the tragedy we had suffered just days before – I could recount that without issue – but if someone so much as offered me a hug or coffee, much less the other incredibly generous donations we received, I became a weepy mess as a result of sheer generosity and kindness. And it was the most mortifying of gratitude – if that makes any sense. Both Chris and I are very proud and stubborn, and asking for help is something that is incredibly challenging for both of us. To wind up in a situation where we really didn’t have any choice but to accept any and all help that was offered was both incredible and humbling. I’m not sure that either one of us will ever really be able to express the magnitude of our gratitude.
To our close friends and family – the first people we called and cried to – thank you from the bottom of our hearts for holding our hands and helping us through the first few days of trying to piece together some sort of normalcy for our girls, much less navigating the chaos that is the aftermath of this sort of event. To Heather Black and Terri-Lyn McEvoy, we will forever be grateful for the effortless way you worked together to coordinate donations of goods, the auction, funds and help – thank you just simply isn’t enough. To Leah Hubbarb and your boys, Melissa Button, Tyler McEvoy, Andrea Prekob Gaw and anyone else who took the time to go out of your way to talk to and visit the girls, we were so grateful for any effort to make things seem normal for them.
Melissa – I will never forget how excited Willow was to see you at Wal Mart and get a hug two days after the fire. Liane, Shelley Mitchell, Jim Beveridge and B&H, McEwens, The Lions Club, any and every local business and community organization that offered love, kindness and support, we promise you we will do the same in an instant and are oh so thankful. To Tara Kroeger, Amanda Schoch and the Get Cronk’d family – thank you! And finally to the MANY, MANY, MANY people who I have failed to mention, but we are indebted to, who provided us with clothes, toys, books, treats, chocolate, socks, gift cards, money, and oh so much more, THANK YOU! To see my little girls – Willow in particular, who was devastated and confused – playing with toys that were “presents from these awesome people” as she said countless times, truly warmed my soul when it needed it most. In our greatest time of need, the outpouring of love and generosity was enough to lift even the worst of spirits, and I promise that any kindness we have received we will pay forward tenfold! Thank you again!
With love, Julianna and the Melnick-MacDonald Family.