“Don’t feel guilty for having a laugh at something. You might say, ‘Oh, I shouldn’t be laughing.’ Yeah, you should be. … Your family is with you, you’re alive and that’s joyful.” – Sharon Watcher, Slave Lake, AB

The above quote was taken from a news story talking about how the people of Slave Lake, Alberta, who also survived fire, were reaching out to evacuees from Fort McMurray to offer their support and advice. The quote struck me because one of the long lasting effects of the fire was the incredible sense of guilt I feel for not losing anything of material worth to the fire. They call it “survivor’s guilt” and it’s with me still, even a year later. Mostly it’s because so many people have yet to rebuild their homes, or have taken a substantial financial loss by walking away. I witness faces filled with frustration, sadness, or pain almost on a daily basis.

Last year we spent the month of May safely ensconced in Sylvan Lake, a picturesque little town halfway between Calgary and Edmonton. It was a stressful time, but it was also a time filled with more blessings than I can count. And I do like to keep a positive attitude as much as possible. But a year after the fire it feels like Fort McMurray has been forgotten, except for the obligatory news stories. Yet many here continue to grieve and to struggle with the trauma left by “the beast”. (That’s the name firefighters gave to the inferno,)

For the people of Fort McMurray the fire cannot be forgotten. There are reminders of it everywhere. – Blackened tree trucks and dead wood are everywhere around the city – so it makes forgetting impossible. We live with it. What other choice is there? But I hope that the moments of sheer grief are lessening for my fellow citizens, that there are more moments of joy than of pain. Tree trunks will remain black for years to come, but our hearts need not be.

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