by Justina Page
On March 7, 1999, at the crack of dawn, something goes terribly wrong. I awake to explosions, smoke, darkness. Oh my God. The house is on fire. Our family is jolted from our peaceful bliss and thrown into chaos to a home totally engulfed with flames. My husband begins frantically jumping in and out of windows in complete darkness desperate to save his wife and young children. Like precious obedient lambs, the three oldest boys grab their younger autistic brother and wait at the designated point for their father. Their obedience to the fire escape plan is rewarded with life and merciful 1st and 2nd degree burns. I am thrown out first but I reenter the inferno hysterical—determined to reach my precious 22 month twin bundles. I am pinned by a large burning oak bookshelf that falls on me. I am trapped, burning, and unable to speak above a whisper.
I shout from the edge of the street where a neighbor is steadying me by pressing her head to mine—“I have six sons, get my babies.” The count never reaches six. Despite our greatest efforts, everyone doesn’t make it. Tragically the house collapses before my husband is able to get our twin son, Amos, out. I and the other twin are severely injured in the process. We lose every earthly possession in a matter of minutes.
People are not likely to grieve the same way. That couldn’t have been truer for me and my husband. I wanted pictures of Amos everywhere. It bothered him to see them. After the fire, when I was asked how many children I had, I would say six, he would say five. I didn’t want Amos forgotten. He wanted to deal with the now. Whatever our own needs may be, there are several necessary components to the grieving process. They may occur in any order but they are all necessary for healing and recovery. One thing that is helpful for you to do for yourself is to begin by admitting the truth—the pain, anger, and helplessness you feel. Allow the grieving process to take a natural course.
Most people are not prepared for grief. That is because grief follows a sudden tragedy that strikes like a thief in the night. You swing from one extreme to another. The first dose of emotional narcotics we give ourselves to ease the pain is denial. Denial gives you the leisure to not deal with anything. It is one of the stages that are most often revisited during the grieving process. Even though it is emotionally painful, grief is a healing process. That is why it is so important to allow people space to grieve.
Who can put a time cap on your grieving process? No one. You may grieve one day or you may never stop grieving. What’s most important is that you get to the final stage which is acceptance. It is so crucial because when you mount from this stage you have accepted the tragedy as fact and are ready to move forward. The one thing our family didn’t do that I feel was a grave mistake was grieve our loss together. We are all such private, strong, independent people, even the kids. I, of course, grieved with my husband alone or with one of the kids one-on-one and he vice versa. The boys even shared times together. But as a whole family unit, we never sat in one place at one time and just cried together. It’s really strange, particularly because we have spent so much of our lives all together openly sharing. I feel a time like that could have circumvented a lot of repressed feelings, validated others, and helped all of us to heal inwardly.
In the garden of my heart, the weeds of bitterness, fear, and most potent, unforgiveness had taken root. Friends counted on my faith. Many people leaned on me for support and encouragement. Even in my hospital bed at my weakest point, people came to confide in me and draw strength. The dilemma was bewildering. Who could I talk to? Who would understand the intensity of the faith crisis I was in? Only God. God lost a son, his only begotten son to a tragic, unjust death on the cross. “Show me,” I said, “how you dealt with the loss of your Son.” The scriptures stir in my spirit. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. You gave your Son to me and all things work together for good to them that love God. “But God,” I say, “even this?” I cannot sit, stand, walk, or use my hands. I hurt physically, I hurt emotionally, my twin son is hurt—my other dead.” God answers me—he is not afraid of my true emotions. “My son died yet he rose and lives again—your son lives.” he says.
I am challenged. I had accepted Christ many years ago and firmly believed in the hope of eternal life. Now my son has slipped into that eternal place where I had prayed for him to be one day since his birth. I choose to embrace my faith and not abandon it. God had saved Amos. God had loaned him to me for a season and now he had taken him back. This was God’s choice. Out of faith blossomed hope and purpose. Hope is the heartbeat of survival. I have come to understand from my experience that grief will eventually even out to a bearable level with time. What we need most during that time is consolation. It may come from a family member, a friend, or a stranger. Accept it when it is offered.
About the Author: Justina’s life was changed forever in the early morning hours of March 7, 1999. That is when fire swept through her Houston home, killing her 22-month old twin son, Amos, severely injuring the other twin Benjamin, and leaving her with third degree burns over 55 percent of her body. With the support of her surviving family, her husband, James, and their 5 boys, church family, and with the power of faith and love, Justina has made a miraculous recovery.
From the ashes of this tragedy has risen a new hope. Justina has since dedicated herself to helping families affected by burn trauma. She is the founder and Executive Director of The Amos House of Faith, a nonprofit organization, established to provide post burn support to children and families affected by burn trauma. She is also the author of the book, The Circle of Fire. Being a burn survivor herself as well as the mother of burn survivors, she has experienced all the stages of trauma a burn patient faces and is uniquely qualified to deal with these problems. She has been trained as a SOAR (Survivors Offering Assistance and Recovery) trainer, coordinator, and peer supporter. This coupled with her work at the John S. Dunn Sr. Burn Center at Memorial Hermann Hospital, Shriner’s Hospital in Galveston, and the Phoenix Society, gives her a truly unique understanding of how to teach, help, and inspire others.
Justina’s book, The Circle of Fire, is the story of her family’s journey through the terrain of tragedy to wholeness and happiness. She is also a cast member of Trial By Fire: Lives Reforged, a Megan Harris documentary about burn survivors. Justina has recently won America’s Favorite Author Competition Title. Tragedy is not confined to the burn community and Justina has found that her message of moving from despair to hope resonates deeply with a wide audience.