Broken Heart

By Molly Butler

’Tis a fearful thing/to love what death can touch.’

Well, folks. We lost a lot this week. On Monday evening my parents, as well as my sister, and her three young kiddos who were also staying in the house, went out for a walk after dinner. They returned to find my parent’s home on fire.

Mom and my sister called 911, called me, called everyone. They looked for the dogs through the windows. They held the kids. The neighbors emerged to help. My dad, goddammit. That brave, stupid, hero. He ducked under the smoke line with the hose. He managed to save the family dog, Bentley; called him out of hiding in the basement and out of the house. The firefighters arrived. They fought the fire and pulled out my niece Zoe’s therapy dog, a Saint Bernard, named Hank. They worked so hard to save him. I know they tried their best. But he was too far gone. He couldn’t be revived.

We are forever thankful for the joy and comfort that dog brought to Zoe and our entire family. We lost a good boy. We lost a lot.

The stuff? Forget the stuff. My parents could barely remember what was in there. Stuff? Replaceable. Forgettable. We can rebuild, repair, replace. It’s the security. The flow of life. We lost the illusion that we all are so blessed to live under most of the time; the illusion of control.

You get to know the answer to a different question: What truly matters?

‘Tis a fearful thing/to love what death can touch.

The natural human tendency after events like this is to extract some sort of lesson. You can see it in the comment section every time a wild story comes out, covering an accident or disaster. People talk about what others should have done or what they would have done differently. People want to make sense, create a feeling of meaning, so they can reassure themselves it would never happen to them. What we’re looking for is certainty. We want to believe that if we do things right, if we make the right moves, that safety is guaranteed.

That’s just the thing about events like these. They defy sense. The mind cannot keep up. I write a list. “We need to buy this and this,” I say. “I have those,” mom says, not realizing.

Times like this take you to the place where you have a million questions, but the only one you really need answered is, “Why?” Not the technical question. Not causation. The big one. “Why?” You don’t get an answer. Your options get limited. Hope or despair? Faith or fall? It feels like circling a drain. What you’re actually getting at is clarity. You get to know the answer to a different question: What truly matters?

There is nothing you can do to prevent every disaster. Trust me. Trust my family. This is just the latest in our lineage of wild rides. From my dad’s freak dog-sledding accident and resulting severe-brain-injury-turned-miracle-recovery, to mom’s ongoing battle with cancer, to this fire, and the dozen other crises we’ve navigated in between– you can’t dodge life. Just hang on.

‘Tis a fearful thing/to love what death can touch.

We’re living in one of those times. The hard times, the squeeze, when you get a real, visceral knowledge of why cliches become cliches. When the sayings that we usually get to find empty and dull finally grow some teeth. As my shell-shocked family wandered a department store to find a change of clothes, surrounded by people still living in the normal flow of life, I kept thinking, “You never know what battles others are fighting.” Last week I vacuumed Hank’s white fur from under the kitchen chairs. He was so fluffy, his fur so thick. It tufted in every corner of the house. As I used a snow shovel to clear a path through ashy rubble on that same kitchen floor, I thought, “Life can change in an instant.” It’s been like this all week: Don’t cross a bridge before you come to it. Hope for the best, and prepare for the worst. Grief divided is made lighter. Check. Check. Check. This week, under a different roof and wildly different circumstances, as we continued our weekly tradition of margaritas and taco night, laughter really was the best medicine.

Love is a verb. It has been incredible to see it move through our community and support system. From family and friends, strangers, neighbors, and professionals, the heroes at the fire department and the veterinary hospital. We are so incredibly thankful. And we will be just fine. For now, if you’ve got thoughts, prayers, or healing vibes to spare, please send them to my parents, my sister, my nieces and nephew. I will be maintaining a Caring Bridge page to keep folks updated.

Readers, I hope you will forgive me for not including a weekend schedule. This week, I am very busy, and I am very, very tired. All our wonderful area events are listed on the MankatoLIFE calendar. Next week, we’ll be back to the usual, and stronger than ever, deal?

‘Tis a fearful thing/to love what death can touch. But fear will not keep us from living these unpredictable, good, beautiful lives we were given. Have a wonderful weekend. Be good to one another.


Weekend High Notes is a regular feature by Molly Butler. Molly covers weekend events, live music, and culture in the Greater Mankato Area. Suggestions are welcome using the MankatoLIFE contact form.