and then it rained and rained

 |  May 9, 2013

Flood on our street. Taken on Thursday
Our street. The car that got stuck there is a hummer.Water almost made it to the window.

I am still getting my head wrapped around how drastically life can change in an instant. Three weeks ago today severe storms swept through the Chicagoland area and many areas flooded. Unfortunately our house was one of the unlucky ones that got hit hard. I’m not talking oh, the basement flooded with an inch of water. That is distressing, of course, especially when the water gets mixed in with sewer water. ick. But we’re talking 2-3 feet of water filling my studio and the garage. We also had 6 inches of water in the house. We were living in a ranch house, meaning it’s one level. So when we say we flooded, that means the house flooded. Two of our neighbors had to be evacuated from their homes by a rescue boat. A boat!! I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that.

I wasn’t able to get to my studio until the third day after the storm because the water had been so high. When I finally went in there and saw the extent of the damage, my heart just sank. Three feet of water had filled my studio. And completely destroyed years of works on paper and canvas. All my journals that I’ve kept since I was in grade school had been submerged in water for over 24 hours. Every book and magazine I had ever been published in- turned to mush. My collections of images and paper, ruined. I would open a drawer and water would pour out.

Up until that third day, I had kept it together. Even though we were forced to leave the house and stay with my mother and father-in-law. But seeing my studio completely trashed, filling contractor bag after contractor bag with destroyed artwork and supplies, opening a crate where I had put framed family photos in and seeing my baby girl’s framed portrait submerged in dirty water…well, I just lost it. A studio space is sacred space. It’s not just a place where you work. It is who you are. It is refuge. It is where you commune with what makes you, you. Artwork and journals are personal history. It’s not a piece of furniture that can be replaced. Once created, it’s always holds a part of the creator in it. All gone. So grateful that the majority of my current work is in my solo show right now!

I could go on and on, but I’ll spare you and myself the details of loss and sadness. I know it could have been worse. Our home was a temporary one in that we were renting after we sold our house in November while we figured out where we wanted to settle permanently. But it was still our home. And it was flooded. When water starts to fill up your home, you scramble and start moving all you can to higher ground. But then there comes a point, especially in a severe flood like this one, where there’s nothing you can do and you just watch the water rise. And rise. It’s 3 weeks out today since the last time we were able to sleep in our home. I feel for my children to have to deal with this. They are resilient though and life goes on, is something they have learned. That our home is us. We take it wherever we go.

8 years ago, wrote an entry on "loss" in ball point pen. The next page, dated with a stamp was written with non water-proof pen and 7 years later was washed away in a flood.
8 years ago, I had written an entry on “loss” in ball point pen. The next page, dated with a stamp was written with non water-proof pen and 8 years later was washed away in a flood.

I have learned many lessons, and some I am still in the process of learning. But one thing that I will never forget, is the kindness and generosity of people who see someone suffering and reach out to help. You really find out about people’s character in times of crisis. That was something that I learned early on as a little girl and have relearned many times over in my life. But this time it was in a more positive light. I learned that the artist community that I find myself in is filled with people who see something like this happen and say, “how can I help?”

Shawna Moore in particular reached out and offered her assistance in advocating for me. Because of her, several suppliers have reached out to me to help me recover from the losses in my studio. I will never know how to express my gratitude and appreciation to her and to them. R&F Encaustics, Dick Blick, Wax Works West, Paula Roland, Giselle Gautreau, Linda Robertson Womack are just a few of the many who I can thank here for sending me packages in the mail and offers to help. But the artist community on Facebook…and the friends and family I have there who have sent me and my family messages, I can’t even begin to express my gratitude either. If you’ve been through crisis, which we all go through at some point in our lives, we all know how far a kind word goes. It’s like a lifeline thrown down to someone in a pit. While we may not see who is on the other end of the rope, the fact that there are people there hoping and praying for you and your family is enough to keep pulling yourself up that rope.

Strange things that happen in a 15 year old journal when it's submerged in 2 feet if water for over 24 hours.
Strange things that happen in a 15 year old journal when it’s submerged in 2 feet of water for over 24 hours.

It took me 3 weeks to write this. Partly because I have been so exhausted by the end of the day everyday that I just couldn’t. I also am not home with access to my computer. And also because how does one put words to an event like this. You just can’t.

After my husband and I had thrown all that had been destroyed on our curb and the loss that we had just experienced was now evidenced by anyone passing by, my neighbor from across the way just came over to me, didn’t say a word, and just hugged me. And held me there for a few moments. Sometimes words just don’t cut it.

Still processing it all. Still going through so many unknowns right now. But taking each day as it comes. It will be ok. We were able to save almost all of our furniture and things inside the house despite the 6 inches in there. So that’s a good thing. And life goes on. And my load is lighter. I have so many thoughts about so much of what happened. I know it will manifest in my art when I am able to get back to creating. Not sure when that will be. But I will find a way.

Flood images: photo of me and Noah when he was around 2 years old
a water soaked image of me and my son when he was 2 years old

24 Comments

  1. by Fuzzie Fingers on May 9, 2013  3:59 am Reply

    I can only imagine how sad it must be to have things precious to you ruined or destroyed in such away. I hope you and your family can get back to normal soon and hope that you feel like getting back to creating again.

  2. by Melanie on May 9, 2013  8:32 am Reply

    I am so sorry. Not really sure what else to say. I guess since until now I lurked I will tell you how much I love your art. It draws me in, literally. I can stare at your pieces for hours.

  3. by windrock studio on May 9, 2013  8:35 am Reply

    Oh, Bridgette, my heart is breaking reading your words this morning after being awake all night to keep an eye on the creek beside us which is turning into a river. We at least have warning about the floods and spent the last week moving what we can to a storage unit. We learned about flash floods last year after the fires here.
    What a wonderful thing to hear of your community and the art people who have helped but what a huge loss you've suffered. Please consider me among the ones who hug you tight.

  4. by Tracey Broome on May 9, 2013  8:37 am Reply

    As I read this, I just kept thinking, how in the world were you even able to sit down at your computer and type. I'm not sure I would even be able to crawl out of bed..... My thoughts are with you and I am saddened by your loss. I know how precious photos and journals are, I have many. There will be many many years of memories to come, so make new ones,treasure them,and I hope this is all behind you soon!
    Xoxo

  5. by Ann Knickerbocker on May 9, 2013  10:15 am Reply

    I am so sorry. Your art is wonderful. New images will come...

    All best wishes for your current mourning for your lost art, and for a lovely and strong recovery.

  6. by tangled sky studio on May 9, 2013  10:30 am Reply

    I am so, so sorry. I'm writing with tears in my eyes for your words are so heavy and filled with sadness. I so completely understand what you are saying having gone through a severe flood a few years back and now for these 12 long weeks being temporarily displaced and lost in the in between of a big move. I wish you the strength and resources to gather up everything you are going through and hit the reset button when the time is right. That will be after the clean up, after dealing with so many mental and physical challenges, after figuring out what comes next and after the sense of loss starts to ebb just enough to let a ray of light in. That day will come and I'm sure you will create something beautiful and new from all of this....a big hug to you and your little ones.
    xx
    beth

  7. by Helen Lewis on May 9, 2013  12:43 pm Reply

    Bridgette,
    I am so sorry and heavy hearted for you as I read this. I've not met you, but as a regular reader of your blog, I feel I know you just a bit... enough that reading this truly brought me to tears. Please know that I am lifting you and your family up in prayer at this very difficult time.
    Strength and grace and peace to you,
    Helen

  8. by Caryl on May 9, 2013  1:01 pm Reply

    I am so so sorry to hear this... I have never experienced a flood and I hope I never do. My heart goes out to you and your family. The only thing that I can even compare this to, was when I lost everything I had in a divorce including 12 photo albums that my X decided to destroy. It is so hard to recover from the loss of things we hold so dear... my prayers are with you all. Salvage what you can... and hang on tight to all the memories.

  9. by Kim Mailhot on May 9, 2013  2:21 pm Reply

    I am so sorry to hear of this horrible loss your family is going through. I am sending prayers that your re-settling continues to be smooth and full of kindness from many sources.

  10. by jzr on May 9, 2013  7:54 pm Reply

    I cannot imagine what you must be going through. All I can imagine is something like losing yourself, your identity. You are an astounding artist and as you struggle to get back up out of the boat, i hope you'll keep that in mind. My thoughts and prayers are with you as you re-enter the world of art and claiming who you are.

  11. by Erin Keane on May 9, 2013  9:17 pm Reply

    I am so sorry, I cannot even fathom this magnitude of a loss. I've been a quiet follower for a year and very much respect and resonate with your work. I hope that out of this loss comes a powerful, poignant, and deeply personal new beginning.

  12. by Deb on May 9, 2013  9:31 pm Reply

    Tonight I will have that awful dream...which box to grab as I dash out of the house as it collapses/combusts around me. I throw cats out open windows and leave empty handed each time. So very sorry for the lost things. a heartache.

  13. by Joy on May 9, 2013  10:10 pm Reply

    I am so sorry for your loss, personal items are the worse. It's like losing part of you.

  14. by Mary McCloskey on May 10, 2013  12:25 am Reply

    Bridgette,
    What an incredible loss. You're right--sometimes words just can't cut it. Your neighbor knew just the right thing to do when she gave you that hug. Hang in there. Breathe. Your creative spirit will show you the way.

  15. by bridgette on May 10, 2013  9:13 am Reply

    Thank you so much everyone for your thoughts and prayers. We are through the worst of it already, thankfully! And I know things will be ok, perhaps even better...
    Thank you. I just needed to write it out and now it's about picking up and moving on.

  16. by Kim Henkel on May 10, 2013  2:23 pm Reply

    I too am so sorry for your loss. I can only imagine the sense of loss you must feel. I have read and reread your post, and even though you don't know me - I send hugs your way. Letting it out through talking/sharing/writing may bring you some peace. I truly hope so.

  17. by Kim Hambric on May 13, 2013  11:19 am Reply

    I cannot express in words how sorry I am for all that you have lost. I know there is so much more ready to be created and a beautiful family to enjoy.

  18. by Kathie Vezzani on May 15, 2013  2:53 pm Reply

    Need more paper? You know I have more than enough........as you say, you carry your home with you. You will be okay, you have a great strength within you, Bridgette.

  19. by Seth on May 19, 2013  11:42 pm Reply

    Bridgette...I just returned from 2 1/2 weeks away and have visited for the first time since I left. I am so sorry about what happened. I cannot imagine what you have been through - and continue to feel. My thoughts are with you and please call on me to offer you any help whatsoever -- be that an ear, a shoulder, or an art supply.

  20. by redredday on May 22, 2013  12:42 pm Reply

    oh my gosh Bridgette...i'm tearing up reading this. we had a huge flood in our area a few years ago so i can only imagine how devastating this must be. my heart goes out to you and your family. please let us know if there is anything we can help with...xxooo

  21. by Mary Jo on May 23, 2013  12:51 pm Reply

    Dear Bridgette--I am so sorry for your loss, but so glad that goodness has generously helped you through. So many people care, and wish you well.
    25 years ago,we'd been married for 4 years, and 2 sons were 3 and 2. The house we were living in and rehabbing as we went burned down. Everything was lost, but we and the little neighbor I babysat got out ok. So much irreplaceable stuff lost, but in the end, only stuff. How quickly more stuff accumulates.
    You miss all the stored up history ( I was a journaler, too, and wanna-be artist...all that stuff I was going to do something with, someday, was gone.) But in a curious way, you can be free of some of that history, and move forward, less encumbered. Lessons learned, momentous occasions, memories can't ever be destroyed. And yes, home is where all of you are!
    I know it will fuel your work, when you're ready.
    Wishing you strength and peace in days ahead, sending you loving vibes and virtual hugs!
    And looking forward to October's Red Thread Retreat...hope all will be well, and that will still work for you!

  22. by Jo Murray on May 28, 2013  3:24 pm Reply

    My heart goes out to you. I'd be distraught to lose years of work and collected supplies. It's wonderful that so many people have reached out to help you. Good luck with your recovery from this disaster.

  23. by tina on June 27, 2013  12:01 am Reply

    Oh Bridgette...I've been following your saga on Facebook but hadn't read here since your Coupeville trip. How I wish we'd been able to connect there. I am so so sorry for all that you've been through! Really I just don't have words. I am familiar with grief and loss. What I experienced was different than this but I understand the depths and waves of sadness and exhaustion. I see you've made the decision to relocate to someplace that makes you happy. I'm sending prayers of Ease and Wholeness your way. I hope that the transition you're going through now comes without drama or extreme challenge. Take care.

  24. by Jen Clark on September 22, 2014  8:53 am Reply

    Bridgette - I found your story when I was searching of what to do about art journals damaged by a basement flood. I'm so so sorry you had to go through this...it's sooo much worse than what I'm experiencing...it makes mine seem trivial almost. I can't imagine.

    Our basement has flooded twice in the last two weeks, due to heavy rain. Unbeknownst to me, my art journals got soaked...My husband and mom were helping me move everything in my studio out of the water and up to higher ground. I didn't have a lot of things on the ground that could be damaged, so mostly it just involved drying things off. Whomever moved my basket of journals must not have realized they were wet.

    Over the last week or so, I have been noticing a moldy smell developing in the basement...but couldn't figure out where it was coming from. Then yesterday, I wanted to do some art journaling and pulled out a journal...and thought it felt a bit damp. It was the only one that didn't end up being ruined. The remaining dozen or so journals...a wide range of journals...a few moleskines, a Handbook watercolor journal, some mixed media journals, a handmade-watercolor-paper journal, an altered book...all ruined...not just water soaked, but growing mold on them! I was heart-broken.

    I actually *thought* I could save 3 of them...I put paper towels and dry wax paper between the papes...laid them out in the sun yesterday...brought them in last night...then this morning I even tried putting two of them in the oven on low for an hour to try to dry them out. But it became clear to me that they, too, were just too damaged and smelled like mold...even if I couldn't SEE the mold, the smell was so strong that it would make me sick. I tore out a few of my favorite pages, and reluctantly tossed them too.

    So now I am down to the one journal I pulled out first yesterday...at least I have it. It was damp...but at least it didn't get ruined. I totally empathize with what you wrote when you said that, "Once created, it always holds a part of the creator in it." I felt like I was throwing away a part of me! Like I'd just thrown a limb away! Or a little piece of my heart! My husband, when he saw me crying, after he carried the big bag of journals out to the dumpster, said, "if it's that valuable, I'll go get them back out and we can file an insurance claim." I told him, it's not like that. An insurance company isn't going to be able to properly value the ART on the pages of the journals...all they're going to do is evaluate the cost of replacing the actual journals...and by the time you figure the $250 deductible, it's not worth filing a claim! Unfortunately, I don't have the money to replace the journals right now, but that's not the issue anyway. That's not the real loss.

    I know my situation isn't anything nearly as horrific as yours...but I knew you'd be able to relate to mine. (hugs)

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