Winston Churchill said: “If you are going through hell, keep going.”

The night before my apartment burned down, I was lying in my bed weeping and praying for a less chaotic life. My life was adrift and I was collecting bad habits as I moved aimlessly through it. I was smoking and drinking to excess and was in a bad, on-again, off-again, relationship with a boyfriend. I was so sad and so lost. I prayed and I cried.


The night after the fire I was propped up in a hotel room bed with a cat and a dog, both injured but alive. I gulped a tear filled laugh, as I thought about my desperate prayers from the night before. ….Had I gotten the less chaotic life I asked for?


I had less stuff, that was for sure.


The time following the fire was character building to say the least. Starting with the dreaded phone call to my father, also known as Lt. C. K. Zamek of the Waterford Township Fire Department.


The fire was considered “suspicious” so there was an investigation. A water main had broken and destroyed the uninsured woman’s apartment below mine so there was a lawsuit. The dog, which I was not suppose to have in the apartment, and belonged to the exish-boyfriend, had gotten severely burned and was in need of around the clock care. It seemed everything had gotten even worse.


The exish-boyfriend had become a suspect. The investigation DID prove he was likely responsible for the fire (totally unintentional I need to add in his defense). It was at this point that he had decided to tell me that he was seeing someone else.


…So, at least now I knew what it felt like to hit bottom….


At this point you might think I’m going to tell you to be “careful what you pray for.” But I’m not going to do that, I might suggest you “brace for it,” but not to be careful. You see, after being “liberated” from my home, my belongings, and an unhealthy relationship things started to become clear to me and the first principal for dealing with life’s major upsets began to emerge.


Principal #1

You don’t pick-up the pieces and get on with your life. Oh no. When your life is shattered, it’s not going back to what it was before the fracture. A fire teaches this principal really well. Once the photo album, cross country skies, and antique bedroom-set turns into so much soot, they do not, they can not, turn back into the items you once knew them as. Similarly once a life goes through a monumental shift it can no longer return to what it once was. After a life has “fallen apart” it needs to become a new life, with new parameters.

That’s all for tonight. Please feel free to comments if you would like and  come back for more of this conversation.  In my up coming post, I want to review of what I mean by “new parameters” and then talk about the next step in “How to Move Through Hell”.


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(ps: I’ve been getting comments, emails and sweet tweets wishing me the best to recover from the fire.  I see that in my story I did not make it clear when the fire was.  This is not a recent event in my life but it was an important one.  Life today is rich and full with good people and a great husband in it, I live a clean and sober and healthy life these days.)




27 responses to “Winston Churchill said: “If you are going through hell, keep going.”

  1. Did the dog live?

  2. >>When your life is shattered, it’s not going back to what it was before the fracture.<<
    Nearly impossible to grasp in advance or accept when it happens, but very true. So, how can we make it easier for ourselves or those we love?

  3. Holy Moly, Rachel, I’m glad you’re ok and made it out. So sorry about the pets– I hope they both full recover.

    There’s a song by Wynonna that goes “When you hit rock bottom there’s only two ways to go– straight up– or sideways.

    I have a feeling you’re going straight up. Wishing you well.

  4. To answer Sammy’s question. The dog did live. Let me tell you the bitter, sweet “tail” of Dusty (sorry for the pun). The dog became a bit of a deserving celebrity. He was written up in the local newspaper for saving his own life and for is gentle, good nature, even in his darkest hours. The firefighter who pulled Dusty from the fire said to me, “there’s something special about that pup.” And offered to adopt him if I couldn’t take care of him.

    Dusty was a 9 months old golden with a bad chewing problem that had yet to be resolved. On the nigh of the fire, trapped in the laundry room by the blaze, he chewed a hole in the drywall and then stuck he head through it. By doing this he was able to breath cleaner air. If at any point he would have taken his head out of the hole he would have almost certainly died from smoke inhalation. He didn’t move while the side of his body facing the fire burned. He didn’t pull his head out a matter of fact, until the firefighters who rescued him called for him to come out. At which point, chard tail UP he followed him out of the apartment.

    As I mentioned in my post, Dusty needed around the clock care. I was changing his dressing about every hour an a half. He lungs where congested from the smoke he did still breath in and his survival chances were questionable. Early on it was not clear if he would need skin graphs or not.. Infection was a big worry. The emergency vet who treated him the night of the fire and was providing on going care laid it on the line at one of his many appointments.

    His treatment would be long and expensive and very hard for a layperson to handle. At the end of the day, t here’s no guaranty that he would even make it. I thought she was going to suggest putting him down. I started to cry but she went on.

    She said she was breaking an emergency vets rule and admitted she had totally falling in love with Dusty. She said she would keep him at the animal hospital where he would get 24 hour care at cost, and the best medical services would be available to him at all times…. If we would agree to allow her adopt Dusty. The decision was pretty clear, we could give him the best chance of living if we let him go. It wasn’t easy, but it was clear. So yes, Dusty did live!

  5. Wow, so glad you made it through…and Dusty.

    It’s amazing how “highest high” or “rock bottom” can become relative terms so quickly. Looking forward to the next installment.

  6. Rachel, what a story! What did your dad say? And has the fact that you were brought up by someone in Fire Dept help you to escape without injuries? In fact, what did you do?

  7. I had the thought that it’s not clear how much in my past that this fire experance was. It was in the early 90’s (it’s hard to recall exactly when things happened durring my “bad girl years).

    I’ve long since cleaned up my act. I have been a non-smoking or drinking, natural food eating, fitness loving woman for many years now! And come Nov. 9th I’ll have been a happily married chicky for 2 years (yes I had 3 years here before my sweety pointed out the typo…oops)

  8. Wow!

    I love everything about this post.

    Sometimes we receive wisdom in unexpected ways. Your story made me pause…

    For the record, your boyfriend was a putz. I have some men@pause men you need to meet!

    Matthew Scott

  9. Yikes!

    I just read you are happily married chicky…and I was trying to play men@pause matchmaker.

    Sorry about that…

  10. Matthew,
    Thanks for caring! Yes, “my Matthew” the man I married is more proof that I have come a long way in my growth – to have such a good guy in my life. I’m pretty sure during my “dark years” I wouldn’t have given him the time of day. That’s how lost I was!

  11. Lilly,
    First, the fire was not in his township so it wasn’t like he was responding to a call at his kids place. My dad was great. After he found out that the animals and I were fine he just said “I’m never going hear the end of this at the firehouse.”

    It was in the evening and it was dark. As the cab pulled into the complex I just thought, “wonder what all the excitement was.” Fire trucks, police cars it was crazy. Then as I was telling the drive where to drop me off it started to become clear it was my unit…that all excitement was stemming from my apartment.

    I can’t tell you if I paid that driver or not, I don’t remember. I was only thinking about my animals in that moment.

    I don’t see well. At night I see a very confused blur of information, and with all the flashing lights I was especially disorientated.

    An officer approached me and asked me for my apartment address. I told him and then I thought he asked me “is that your dog” pointing to a lump in the parking lot. I freaked out!! WHAT? He repeated himself… “is that your rug?”

    Oh! RUG?? “How the hell do I know” I told him.

    Then he asked me if anyone had any reason to start my place on fire, and if anyone had a vendetta against me. I remember him using that word, “vendetta” because it seemed like such a surreal thing to say. I have no idea what he or I said after that. To tell you the truth, I don’t remember much about the 24 hours that followed.

    The police, I found out, were called first because neighbors had thought they had heard gun shots. What they had heard were arisol cans of paint, varnishes and other “fire accelerants ” from my art supplies blowing up. Smoke alarms did work, as did the sprinklers, but once the flames had gotten to my art supplies the fire ramped up very quickly.

  12. I love the title quote. I have been becoming of the mind that life has both defining and refining moments. Sometimes they are the same but often they are different.

    I have experienced life falling apart in the past and will soon again. I intellectually know (remember) that the pieces cannot got back together but I just realized that I was not allowing for that eventuality in the coming situation.

    That is rather ironic since my prayer and hope for many months has been to develop my talent further and expand my work which cannot happen in my current circumstances.

    I cannot imagine what it would be like to have someone burn my home/studio even on accident.; and you probably lost art work. I have had someone I live with tell me I cannot write or say in print certain things and I think the effect on my body of works is probably similar to burned pieces of art. I realized that someone who truly loved me would never do that; put their ego before my work.

    Having lost a dog to very old age I was glad to hear this one survived.

  13. How wonderful that you used a terrible experience to get your life in order. You have a very powerful message to share with everyone who has gone/is going thru adversity of almost any kind.

    Keep spreading your message!

  14. The more I thought over the weekend about your last post, the more I realized how critical it is that your message reach more people. You have such an amazing capacity to get to the heart of a problem and to inspire others by leading them.

  15. Beautiful. Some dear friends lost their home to a fire last Summer. Everything gone except their animals and the clothes on their backs. And you are so correct – it’s not about picking up where you left off; it’s about finding/setting new parameters.

  16. Rachel,
    I love the perspective and wisdom that keeps coming from you. Thank you for your courage to share and reflect on your life experiences. It enriches us all.
    🙂 Patricia

  17. WISE WORDS: “You don’t pick-up the pieces and get on with your life. Oh no. When your life is shattered, it’s not going back to what it was before the fracture. A fire teaches this principal really well. Once the photo album, cross country skies, and antique bedroom-set turns into so much soot, they do not, they can not, turn back into the items you once knew them as. Similarly once a life goes through a monumental shift it can no longer return to what it once was. After a life has “fallen apart” it needs to become a new life, with new parameters.”

  18. Huh, I’m suddenly wordless.

    I’ve had so many of those moments iny life they all just came back in a whooosh!…

    OK, I’m glad eveything is in the passed and the ending was bitter sweet.

    I need to collect myself now… peace to you Rachel. I really am glad this was a while back and not recent. Although, I know what reliving can be like? I know what acceptance is as well.


  19. Thank you for the thought provoking post. Although I don’t like to spend too much time on the lowest lows, they do tend to help point the way to getting to the highest highs. I might not make it all the way up there, but it’s the journey that counts………:)

  20. > After a life has “fallen apart” it needs to become a new life, with new parameters.

    This is really relevant for the times we are moving towards. I’m one of those nutters who thinks we’re all in for a radical restructuring of things we’ve taken for granted for generations. Your point argues for adjusting our perspective (things are never going to be the same again) and staying flexible (what does this new condition offer).

    And while a fire is the worst possible way to lose possessions, your point about downsizing all the crap is a good one too.

  21. My life recently is pelting me with inspirational people. Very glad to have found your blog (via twitter!).

  22. Thanks for such an inspirational story – and such incidents in our lives bring us down to earth in a hurry.

    (I well remember sitting beside my happy dog looking at my new car upside down, totalled. We had both escaped alive that was all that mattered).

    And yes life can never be the same. Its not meant to be. No two chapters of a book are the same. They are a sequence and with each chapter the story gets better and more exciting 🙂

  23. Jet clarity. Using it all. Vivid. Searing. Soul-building. Learning to let go. Nice post!

    (when I’m tired, complete sentences are the first to go. I’ll just let them….)

  24. Deb wrote: >>>That is rather ironic since my prayer and hope for many months has been to develop my talent further and expand my work which cannot happen in my current circumstances.<<<

    Sounds like you are entering into a possable bumpy time Deb.

    Since your hopes are not being relized in your current circumstances, maybe life is getting stired up in a way that will, in the end, help you see those hopes come to pass. Keep us posted…when you are going through hell, don’t go it alone!

  25. Lt. C. K. Zamek

    Your latest post brings back memories of a period in time when my child was a stranger to me. I always loved her but it was not easy to like her then.
    The hard work that brought back the sweetness and sharp insight of the little girl I loved and liked as a youngster has turned into the fine woman I am proud to claim as my daughter today. Her mother, I know, would be ever so proud of her, too.

    Sorry it took some rough bumps in the road before the path smoothed out.

    Lt. C. K. Zamek (aka Dad)
    Waterford Fire Department

  26. Rachel, there is something so bracing and loving and comforting about your writing – this story really made my day, especially the part about your dog and your dad!

  27. Hi Rachel – –

    I just heard the quote “If you are going through hell, keep going” on a TV show and did a quick search….and this led me to you and your touching story.

    All I can say is hang in there and look to support throught your family, friends and faith (some have all, some do not).

    My brother and his wife had a house fire many years ago, and I was one of the first ones there to help out. I know what it must have looked and smelled like. He too….was a victim of suspicion but the fire started in the garage due to some very old wiring.

    Again, hang in there….the sun will come up tomorrow….and it is the same for everyone.

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