I always tell people that I have two versions of my life story: one version of the hardships of losing people and challenges of life that could bring you to tears; and then the other version of great accomplishments, happiness and love that could make it all seemed charmed.
The reality is that I am the exact blend of both, and the person I am has been blessed with gifts beyond belief and challenged by loss that crushes your soul. The events of last October and the past year of my recovery have been both heartbreaking and joyful beyond what I thought possible. And so it goes…
There are obvious reminders for everyone of the fire disaster that struck our county last October, but for the fire survivors who lost everything, the reminders come often — trying to find a pair of shoes for an event and then realizing they were in the fire, driving across the county to take your favorite class at the gym that used to be just down the hill, trying to file taxes with no documentation, thoughts of permanently moving into a new home with the overwhelming burden of buying every last thing you need, from a spatula and a stapler, to a couch, and more personal things like art, repurchasing luggage and sample-size bottles for travel.
Then there are the more exhausting part of debris clean-up, electrical and water reconnections, all of the options and costs around rebuilding, and an almost daily relationship with your insurance broker. It can all make you tired and sad.
And, for me, in July, I realized that I had even lost some of my hair, 8 months later than some other women who had lost their home, or so I learned. Stress is an incredible thing and it seems no one is immune.
There is no doubt that my life was forever changed on Oct. 8, 2017. Running from my house at 2:30 a.m., plagued by whether my dad (in a memory care facility next to Paradise Ridge Winery) and my mom out on Sonoma Mountain Road would make it to safety, and whether the few items I threw in my bag on the way out the door would be the only remaining artifacts of my life.
But the trauma of that night and the past year of recovery has also brought so many gifts. I found a true partner in a boyfriend who I had only been dating a few months. I confirmed that I have the best job in the world and work for amazing men and women farmers who were jumping in to fight the fires, using their water trucks and reservoirs to support the first responders and take care of their employees.
I appreciated seeing the role of our vineyards and precious Ag lands in slowing and stopping the fires. I was in awe of the generosity of the wine community and supporters from around the country who called to check-in or donate money to support the Sonoma County Grape Growers Foundation and our Ag employees and their families impacted by the fires. I discovered an incredible Sonoma County community spirit, resilience and love.
So how have I really changed over the past 12 months? I am repurchasing less, but better. I no longer like clutter. I unabashedly hug people. I give people the benefit of the doubt who cut me off on the 101 or in line. I try to smile a lot more.
Karissa Kruse is president of Sonoma County Winegrowers and executive director of Sonoma County Grape Growers Foundation.
This is part of a report Oct. 8 on the one-year anniversary of the October 2017 wildfires that forced tens of thousands to flee quickly and destroyed thousands of homes. Read more personal accounts from business and civic leaders as well as updates on the economic recovery.