Burning Van -A lesson in Loss

I moved to Escondido in April 1980 to work on my unfinished business and to learn about self-love. I attended a “Life, Death and Transition” workshop with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and an additional three weeks of “Intensive Growth Psychodrama” with Marti  Barham.

I want to share an experience I had one Sunday in October of that year. I was driving my recently purchased 1971 VW van to a convention where a friend and I would sell books and tapes and tell folks more about Elisabeth’s work.  On the way, my engine caught fire and the whole van burnt into “junk” before my eyes. I was able to experience the “Five Stages of Grief” in one easy lesson. It was a battle between my “judge” and unconditional self-love as I passed through these stages in less than two hours.

When I first realized something was wrong, I pulled over to the side of the freeway.  I couldn’t believe what was happening (Denial). There was a lot of black smoke coming from the engine compartment and as I yelled,” My purse! The books!” the fire broke out. “That’s it, lady, nobody’s going back now,” said a man who had stopped to help. I backed further away and the tears began. I grabbed my friend’s arm and said, “What can we do?” She answered calmly, “Nothing, just pray.”

I fell to my knees and watched, pleading for it to stop. Then the Anger came. I had no choice. I couldn’t care what people thought. I cried and screamed, “I deserve this, I’m worthless, irresponsible, and nobody will ever trust me again!” “I’m sorry Elisabeth.” I believe you God; I know I’m attached to things. “This too much.”They’ll all be so mad at me.” I wanted to run and put the fire out and get the books. I grabbed my friend’s arm and sobbed, “We have to do something!” Her support was there as she firmly said, “Let go!”

As I watched the whole rear end of the van burn, I Bargained with myelf.  I prayed that the firemen would get there before the fire reached the books. Just then the whole vehicle burst into flames, tires blew, everything flew into the air, and I realized there was nothing I could do. When the Depression came I was aware of feeling very sad. I lay on the ground, not concerned about getting dirty, and sobbed as I watched the fire from time to time. There were flames everywhere now and it was very hot. People were concerned that it would totally explode so we were all moved up the hillside.

While in this stage between Depression and Acceptance, I had one last bout with my “judge.” A minister came by, who said he used to sell car insurance, and asked if I had any. I became very angry with myself as this was part of my unfinished business – rebelliousness. (I had planned to purchase some insurance on Monday.)

As I sat there on the hill watching my new red (anger/change) van turn black (grief/loss), I felt very sad. I thought of the joy and what the van meant to me personally. I turned at that moment back to my loss and let the guilt go. “There’s nothing I can do. I still okay,” were my next words. The firemen arrived. As I watched them throw the remains of books, seats, etc., out of the vehicle with the water spilled on everything, the silent tears rolled down my cheeks.

As we drove away with the Highway Patrol, I noticed the van was now yellow (energy).I felt relieved that it was only material possessions and not my children I had lost.

While waiting in a coffee shop for friends to come for us, I had time to correlate everything. Loss is a reality. The awareness to work through the grieving process is paramount it accepting that reality.


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