When losing everything isn’t losing everything
Author Marisha Peel once said “life hinges on a couple of seconds you never see coming… and you have no idea what you’ll do until you’re there.”
For Deacon Paul Rummery of Tuross Heads, those few seconds came on the evening of Friday December 21 as he and his wife Jo were enjoying dinner with friends in Batemans Bay.
“We were in Batemans Bay having a meal with Fr Dominic and Fr Martins and mutual friends for a Christmas celebration we have every year as a group together,” Deacon Rummery recalls.
“We were sitting at the table together and the waitress came up to me with a phone in her hand and said to me `there’s a policeman wants to talk to you’.”
In the few seconds between passing the phone from her hand to Deacon Paul, his mind had enough time to race through some of the reasons a policeman needed to speak to him, and why it was so urgent he tracked him down at a restaurant.
And then the few seconds that changed everything.
“I’m standing in your driveway, and your house has been completely gutted by fire. It’s gone.”
You can throw in any cliché you like… that you freeze, your heart stopped beating, it felt surreal… The reality is even deeper. It’s too much to comprehend. You’re mind tries to take on this new information… that all of the physical, material things of your life are gone forever. That your routine has changed forever. And the unanswerable question poses itself. What do I do now?
Unsurprisingly, Deacon Rummery chokes up as he recounts the story. It’s still very emotional and traumatic. As he speaks, it’s only three weeks since the fire and the after effects and repercussions to the Rummery’s lives are still in flux.
As the policeman spoke to him on the phone that night, he asked Deacon Rummery and his wife to go via the Batemans Bay police station to make a statement about his ownership and when he left home.
They followed all of the necessary procedures then headed home to find devastation that was hard to comprehend. Brave firefighters were trying to protect neighbouring properties. One neighbour had even stood steadfastly in the blistering heat of the flames fixing his hose on the Rummery’s small home office and garage to try and save something.
But the house itself was gone.
It’s emotionally confronting walking through the remains of the house with Deacon Paul, even intrusive. He points out various piles of ash and where a newcomer sees just that pile, Deacon Paul can still see the couch that used to be there. The table, the walls, the carpet, the pictures.
“Standing here looking at what was once our home is… it was our home for nearly 28 years,” he says.
“We’ve had 52 years of marriage, and so much of that was contained here. Pictures of our children, our grandchildren, pictures of things we did together… all the things that families collect. All in here, all gone.
Two key areas of loss regard his and his wife’s great passion – reading and music.
“We had a great collection of music,” he explained.
“First of all there was the vinyl, that’s now melted. Over there was an extensive CD collection. That’s all gone.
“There were books… we are both avid readers and kept a lovely Library of books which we used to refer to, books that we enjoyed, even some books I picked up on travels to the Holy Land in 2010. They’re all gone too.”
Even these weeks later, Deacon Paul said he and Jo will think to get something or use something only to have to remind themselves that it’s gone.
When his three adult children got the news, they couldn’t make their way from Coolangatta to Tuross Heads quick enough, Deacon Paul advised there was nothing they could do, but they argued they could at least be there. That they needed to be there.
With 11 grandchildren in tow, they set up a tent embassy behind the remains of the house… laughing, preparing a BBQ, pitching in with anything they could. It was a very poignant experience.
Standing in the backyard, Deacon Paul could look in one direction and see the life he and his wife had acquired. Looking the other way, towards his family, he could see the world they’d made.
In Deacon Paul’s new reality, he and Jo are staying at places owned by friends while they sort through the processes of their insurance company.
It’s the sort of event that has the potential to shake a person’s faith, but nothing could be farther from the truth for Deacon Paul.
“It hasn’t tested my faith. It’s made me so grateful that I have a faith,” he said.
“I’m just so grateful for the people who supported us in prayer. We have felt particularly uplifted by the people. The Archbishop has been great. Fr Tony Percy came down here on Christmas Day especially to see us. Fr Tom Thornton came over from Young, Fr Joe Tran from down the road in Narooma and so many others. And not just the clergy… so many people who’ve known us for years, reaching out and praying for us.
“The extraordinary thing to come to terms with was the extraordinary generosity of people, including many that don’t know us. The people of Tuross in particular have been amazing. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.
“We’ve just had stuff dropped in front of us. Plastic bags of food, towels, the sort of things you need to move on with… all of the things that we’ve lost.
“People have given us accommodation, given us money… they took up collections at Narooma, Batemans Bay, Moruya, Tuross people all did collections for us and it’s just been overwhelming. I remember receiving an envelope at the door from someone with $70 in it. No note, no identification.
It’s a bit of a paradigm change for Deacon Paul.
“In the ministry that I have, it’s a giving ministry, a pastoral ministry. It’s hard to be on the receiving side of it. We don’t receive as well as we give. “
But the community want to give. Some want to repay the Rummery’s generosity over so many years, some just want to help a stranger in need. All of which helps sustains Deacon Paul and Jo for the tough times ahead.
Restarting from scratch is a difficult task for anyone to consider. Moreso for retirees in their 80s. But restart they will.
That quote by Marisha Peel about life hinging on a few seconds you don’t see coming… there’s one more sentence to it.
“And what you decide in those few seconds determines everything from then on.”
Deacon Paul and his wife decided to keep going. They decided to start again. They decided to live, to be fulfilled by the gift of family they have always had, and the gift of community they’ve always known and recently been reminded of.