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December 2003
LOSING EVERYTHING: COPING WITH THE CONSEQUENCES OF A DEVASTATING HOUSE FIRE
From the Los Angeles Times Home Section article, Between Us, by Benedict Carey (October 30, 2003)
By Joyce Parker, Ph.D.

Losing one’s home is more than just losing the possessions and the physical space of the house. According to psychologists who have interviewed people after natural disasters that destroy their homes, our homes become deeply integrated with who we are. They help define us and are part of our identities. When we lose our possessions and the environment that contained them, we often feel like we have lost a part of ourselves. Therefore, grief is not really about the loss of material possessions but rather the loss of some part of our identities. It is a healthy response to losing the hard evidence of our existence and history. In a study done by the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing in 2002, a quarter of the people interviewed were still experiencing distress a year after the loss of their homes. The most vulnerable people were those who have few friends or family members, the poor and the uninsured. Just as with grieving the loss of a loved one, eventually, people put the past behind them and move on. Most people do begin to rebuild their homes and their lives. They reframe the loss into something positive and hopeful, such as moving to a new neighborhood and adding that extra bedroom they always wanted.


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