Sole survivor of Orrington house fire writes emotional letter
We are hearing for the first time from the mother who was the only survivor in an Orrington house fire that killed her husband and their three children. Christine Johnson wrote a letter to the Bangor Daily News that she asked to be shared with the community.
In it she asks people to remember to never take anything for granted - that life is "quote, not a right or privilege, but a blessing." She goes on to say "you never know how precious life really is until you've lost everything that is important to you."
Johnson's husband, Ben, heard the fire alarm go off early November 10th and was able to save his wife's life by putting her out a window, onto the roof. Ben Johnson then went back inside for their three children. All four people died of smoke inhalation. Fire investigators say the fire started because cardboard was stored too close to the downstairs wood stove, which was used to heat the house.
This is the full letter she wrote to the Bangor Daily News:
A damaged soul is something that can’t be repaired. No matter what anyone says, it will never heal or fully go away. You can only hope that there is someone, or something, out there that can be a salve for the wounds that are too deep for anyone to see. Eventually, you will be able to move on and find inspiration somewhere, but the first thing that a person has to do is let go. Let go of everything and not dwell on what could have, should have, or would have been. You can’t change the past, only live for the future, and what it might show you. When you survive something, like I have, it opens your eyes to the important things, and the miracles that happen everyday. You’ll lie in bed, and notice the air going in and out of your lungs-thinking that you, yourself, are a miracle. Earth does not revolve around anyone, but you revolve around it. You may think, at first, that what I am saying is hogwash, but if you sit and think for a moment. You will realize that what I say is true.
Coming out of a situation that was terrifying will make you realize that all of the small things you were worried about are insignificant. The most important thing is to live life to the fullest, and never take anything for granted. Life is not a right, or privilege. It is a blessing, because everyday you leave your house, you run the risk of never returning. Every night you go to sleep, you could end up staying asleep forever. You never know how precious life really is until you’ve lost everything that is important to you.
That’s when the world takes on a whole new look. The sunlight and colors are brighter, air is fresher and more vital to you, touch is now as important as the heart beating in your chest. You’ll hug everyone you know, because you know that, someday, they could be taken from you, too. So, you venture out into the world thinking that you only have one life, and you plan to make what is left of it worthwhile. But guess what? That’s not true. Never think, for a second, that anything you have done is meaningless. I’m not talking about the arguments, discussions, or choices. I’m talking about the friends and family that you talk to. Letting them use you as a sound board, helping a friend move, helping family when they’ve had surgery, or just sitting with a friend when they are having a bad day and having a drink with them. Those times may seem small in contrast to what others do, but they are still important. Because you’ve made someone feel better, or you’ve eased someones pain.
The small things that you give do add up in the end. A smile that you give to a person in passing will have an effect on them throughout the day. Making someone laugh when they are sad will brighten their day, and make things easier for them. You don’t need to give out money, or buy someone a big gift. Just making them feel better is enough, and never forget that family and friends are the most important part of your life. Make time for them. Even if it is only for ten minutes, that’s something that, later, you are not going to sit and think,’I wish I would have done this instead.’ Granted some people still will, but you made an effort to be there and that is what really counts.
Stop going through life looking for fun in all the wrong places. It’s not in a bar, it’s not at a dance club, and it’s not at any place that gives entertainment. The most fun I ever had was being anywhere my husband was, or my children. Your spouse is definitely important as well, and if you don’t have one then don’t fret. You will find somebody someday, even if it’s only a person that becomes a companion. As long as you find someone that you can share your joys, your sorrow, and your frustration with, then you are as rich as Midas.
Love is a very helpful tool in the salving of your damaged soul. A person does not feel completely whole without it. I feel like a walking shell: empty, alone, and lost. I still feel the love I had for my husband, but there is no one to return it. No one to comfort me, no one to wrap their arms around me and say, ‘I’ve got you, babydoll, I’ve got you.’ No one to chase the nightmares away, or snuggle with on the couch after the kids have gone to sleep. And no one to tell me a joke when I’m crying, just so they can see me smile. My husband loved to make me smile, he said it was because my eyes would sparkle, but now my eyes sparkle no more. Until I can find something close to that which I have lost to take away the feelings of being lost, empty, and alone.
For some of you, you may say that looking for someone to take that pain away is too soon. Well, for those of you who didn’t know my husband, let me explain. He made me promise, a few years back, that I would not mourn for him after he was gone, and that I would go out immediately, after everything was taken cared of, and find someone else. Let me tell you, that was not an easy promise, but, promise him I did. Only after he returned the same courtesy, of course. He didn’t like the idea, but I told him it was only fair. And believe me, if my husband was able to say something to me, right now, he’d say,’Three men walk into a bar, guess what they say?’ Followed by telling me he loved me, and then he’d give me a tongue lashing for not doing as he asked(the answer to the joke is,’Ouch’), or he would just huff in frustration. That was my Ben. Always trying to make sure that I was safe, taken cared of, and happy. He told me he knew that I wouldn’t be if I was alone, and he didn’t like the idea of me being by myself. Technically, I think I could handle myself quite well, but I told him I’d keep that promise. And for the sanity of others out there, make sure you never make a promise like that, because it could be impossible to follow through on. Luckily for me, I’m stubborn and willful, therefore I will triumph, hopefully.
The final thing I have to point out is children. God’s gift to mankind. They are the ones that fill our hearts with joy. Without them, life would have no meaning. My children are the ones I will forever cry over. For they are the ones who never had a chance at life. They never got to go on a boat, or ride a roller coaster. They never got to see Disney World, or Niagara Falls. They never got to ride on a plane to some far off land, or see a real, live moose. They never got to experience life the way we have. My youngest didn’t even get to ride a school bus, and I remember him getting excited about the chance to get on one. My daughter never got the dance lessons that she wanted. My oldest never got to build the flying car that he kept bragging he was going to make.
Hold your children tight, love them with every ounce of love you have to offer, and give them all of the free time you have. They are small, defenseless babies who look to us for guidance, protection, and love. As you watch your children play remember that I don’t get to see my childrens’ smile, or hear their laughter. I will never get to dance around the kitchen, to music, with them. There’s no more bedtime stories, or family movie night. No more taking my babies to the bounce house in Brewer, and watching my daughter get on one that takes you up in the air. No more riding bikes with them, or helping them with their homework. I’ve lost mine, and would give anything to be able to do those things with them again. Don’t take for granted that yours are still here. Treat them as if their life could be snuffed out tomorrow. Never push them away. Drop what you are doing, and give them your undivided attention. As I said before, you never know how precious something really is, until you lose it forever.
I want to thank everyone, from the bottom of my heart, for helping me in my time of need. You’ll never truly know how much it means to me that I have so many people behind me. I only hope, after reading this, that you continue to believe in me. I’m still writing books, my voice is still healing, so unfortunately, I can’t sing, yet, and I have a plan for how I want to live my life. I will continue to write, and live day to day for my family. I was always taught to never dwell on something that you cannot change, but to move forward and live for those who cannot. I hope that what I have to say becomes an inspiration to you, and that you use it and try to do the things that I have suggested to you. Life is too short to sweat the small things, unless it is in the act of giving. Then, and only then, do you give with your heart, not with earthly possessions. Because, as you know, I lost everything. Therefore, for me, material things don’t really matter anymore. Except for things that are a necessity. So, love with all your heart; your family, your friends, even people in passing-give them a smile. I pray that no one else will ever go through what I have. For it is not something that the faint-of-heart could handle.