Over Thanksgiving, I was blessed to return to my parents' home in Detroit Lakes with my new husband and other family members. While we ate and laughed and made memories, it was hard to remember that we were in the same home that was completely lost to a fire nearly 18 years prior.
I am truly saddened and disheartened by the letter I read that Sunday in the DL paper by Ms. Seim who lost her father in a fire just a year ago. Having lived through a house fire myself, I related well to the shock and pain from such a traumatic experience, but my heart aches knowing this woman suffered such a greater loss than I.
It hurt to read how she feels about the community we both grew up in. A direct quote from her letter reads, "What I have found, is that in a tragedy, the true soul of a community is seen. What I saw as a child was merely a façade, and the underbelly of the town and truly the Catholic Church saddens me."
I cannot speak for what Ms. Seim has gone through, nor do I wish to discount her experiences. But what I can say is that after our fire, my family wouldn't have survived without the Detroit Lakes community. At the time of our fire, we had only lived in Detroit Lakes for about a year and a half. I cannot say that my family was well known, because aside from family, a few friends, and the Detroit Lakes Methodist Church, we were not.
But what happened that night, the night my family lost everything and became homeless, speaks volumes of what the people of Detroit Lakes are made of. I will never be able to fully thank all of the people who helped us, most of whom we had yet to know, but they are all people I will never forget.
The firefighters: All volunteers, all people who had to leave their warm beds and their families in the middle of the night. There are no more altruistic people in the world than that of volunteer firefighters. While there aren't enough words to express my appreciation and gratitude for the firefighters that night, please know that the imprint you left on my heart has only grown throughout these years.
The neighborhood: Our next door neighbor, Mark Vierkant, who literally gave my father the shirt off his back as they stood outside at 5 a.m. and watched our home burn. The military chaplain who lived across the street and didn't leave my family's side while the firefighters worked tirelessly to put out the fire. We were so new to your nook of the town, and we were so afraid, but you didn't allow us to be alone.
My best friends: As I stood sobbing and confused, Anna Francis and Samantha Oak embraced me and we all cried together, three sixth grade girls who were experiencing their first taste of incomprehensible tragedy. Again, in that moment it was clear I wasn't alone, and their tight hugs kept my heart from splitting in two.
My school: Teachers Ms. Anderson, Mr. Granger, Mr. Hoganson - and many others at DLMS - gifted me with a teddy bear and sympathetic words, allowing me to cry in their arms as I continued to be overwhelmed with my new reality.
My peers, unaware they even knew my name, would stop to ask how I was doing and offer warm smiles and hugs. The Harper girls, Sarah and Katie (neither of which I had ever met as they were not in my grade) sent me home with a box filled with clothes and personal items they generously donated specifically for me.
Detroit Lakes United Methodist Church: The solace we took in our church family was unfathomable. When the day came to start sifting through the ashes of what was once our home, cars full of church members of all ages showed up with work gloves on and compassion in their hearts. They fed us, they helped us, they loved us through it all. Less than a month after the fire my older brother was confirmed, and the entire congregation stood as Rev. Bill Meier invited all our loved ones to bless him. In the middle of the crowd, our small and wounded family of four once again cried, but this time it felt good and safe and right.
The community: The people throughout the entire town who kept us in their silent prayers. What did we do to deserve that? I know you prayed for us, I know you did because I felt it then and I can still feel it now.
Famous words of wisdom from Mister Rogers that passed down to us from his own mother states that when scary things happen, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." My advice to Ms. Seim - and to anyone else in my hometown who might be hurting this holiday season - is that right now you might not be able to see the helpers, but they are there.
When we are overcome with grief, seeing the good in the people around us is not always easy, but speaking from personal experience, I am confident in saying that in Detroit Lakes you are surrounded by love. After 18 years, I continue to be humbled by the small town that didn't allow this once unknown Harman family to be swallowed by tragedy.
(Granlund is a reporter for the Owatonna People's Press)