The mantra came to Laurel Quast in a dream: “Yes, this hurts,” she repeats. “I just have to figure out how to do life differently. I can do that.”
It’s from a dream the 56-year-old had the first night she and her husband spent in their rebuilt Coffey Park home.
It was the Saturday before Christmas, just over a year after it burned down in the Tubbs fire. In the dream, the left-handed Quast had somehow lost her right hand, and she kept bumping her bandaged wrist up against walls and doorways. It hurt some, but not much, and as a left-handed person, she knew she could get along without it.
“The dream reflected my reality,” she said. “Some very important things had been cut away in my life. ... It was a mantra of, kind of, ‘You can do this. You can figure this out. It will be OK.’”
The mantra has been one she’s repeated as wave after wave of grief has greeted her in her new home. The neighborhood is the same, except for the constant stream of construction trucks. Many of her neighbors are coming back. And the floor plan of their Monticello Court home is nearly identical to the one she and her husband, Gary Quast, moved into in March 1987.
But the emotions wash over her more readily now than they did before.
Back in their home, there is no longer the unending list of things to do, contractors to meet with, paperwork to file with the city.
“The way I would say it is, it feels like there was more space for that grief to emerge,” she said. “For me, since the fires, it was like I could only process so much of my grief at a time. It was almost like making the decision to put it off to the side.”
That feeling is likely something many survivors of the October 2017 firestorm can expect in 2019 as construction fades and they return to rebuilt homes, said Wendy Wheelwright, project manager for the county’s California HOPE crisis counseling program, which was started as part of FEMA’s response to the wildfires.
“Sometimes we put an emotion on pause so we can get through an event or a task, and it wouldn’t be unusual once that physical task is complete for a little bit of the backlog of emotions to resurface,” Wheelwright said. “I hear people say, ‘Well, I thought I was doing OK, but suddenly there’s all these feelings.’”
The concern from a mental health standpoint is that people will take that new wave of emotion, and respond to it by isolating themselves.
“It’s just something that we really pay attention to because connection is so healing and restorative, and isolation can lead to someone going into a full depression,” Wheelwright said
Those who have already moved into their rebuilds have reported an anxiety about sleeping in the same location again, a general feeling of not feeling safe, nightmares.
For Laurel Quast, that feeling of loss is brought on whenever she’s on the first floor of her new house, with its layout nearly identical to the old one, and she thinks to head upstairs to grab something — only to realize it burned in the fire.
How you can help
To learn more about the Sonoma Community Resilience Training initiative and apply for the program, visit the Center for Mind-Body Medicine. The initial training program will be held June 19-22 and the advanced training program will be held July 31-Aug. 3.
This story is part of a monthly series in 2019 chronicling the rebuilding efforts in Sonoma County’s four fire zones: Coffey Park, Fountaingrove, the greater Mark West area and Sonoma Valley. Read all of the Rebuild North Bay coverage here.