It’s not something most of us want to think about–how would we survive if a natural disaster were to destroy our home?
This is exactly the situation in which author and psychologist Dr. Noelle Nelson found herself when she was evacuated in the face of a raging wildfire, expecting to return as she had three times before to a smoky but intact home. Not this time. Nelson’s home had burned to the ground, destroyed by the Woolsey Fire in southern California in 2018. She had nothing but the clothes on her back, her dogs, her laptop and the car she drove off in.
Her experience is similar to countless others who suffer catastrophic loss each year. It prompted her to write Phoenix Rising – Surviving Catastrophic Loss: Fires, Floods, Hurricanes and Tornadoes. The book explores the trauma of losing all your possessions, the photos and memorabilia of a lifetime, how to survive the immediate aftermath and find the strength to start a new chapter in life.
“You may be able to replace the stuff, the t-shirts and toiletries of daily life, but what you come to realize is you have to create an entirely new story for yourself,” says Nelson, “and that’s daunting. Because everything is different now.”
What Nelson discovered is her “anchors,” which all of us have, but usually take for granted. Anchors are those activities and communities that have purpose and meaning for us, that can help get us to a new story. Within those activities and communities are people, strangers as well as familiars; good, caring, compassionate individuals who want to help.
“I was astounded at how wonderful most people are, how generous and kind,” she says. “Yes, healing takes time, and there’s a lot more to it, but discovering that we are truly all in this together in the most practical as well as profound ways, saved me in more ways than I ever could have imagined.”
Phoenix Rising includes more of Nelson’s insights and suggestions on how to move forward after a disaster. It is available in paperback, audio and on Kindle. To watch a short video of why Nelson wrote Phoenix Rising: