One week ago, the Gipson family lost nearly everything in their home.
A fire broke out Feb. 6 at the family home in the 11600 block of West Brazito Road in Cole County. Though the fire was contained to the bedroom where it started and the kitchen where it had spread, the smoke damaged pretty much everything else, according to fire district reports.
Fortunately, the family was safe, with the exception of one cat and a tank full of fish in the bedroom.
Now temporarily living at the Candlewood Suites, Amanda and Shaun Gipson, along with their three children, are trying to figure out how to move forward.
The MO Blues Jam, a monthly jam session, hopes to provide some relief to the Gipsons. The event, set for 4-8 p.m. Sunday at The Hall, 714 Michigan St., usually helps raise money for the MO Blues Association, but this month will operate as a fundraiser for the family. Buddha Blue will be the host band, and a 50/50 raffle will be held.
Valerie Brandt, manager for The Hall, said monetary donations or gift cards are being suggested, but once the family finds a new place to live, they will need everything.
Amanda Gipson said though they lost so much last week, they could have lost much more. Normally, their 18-year-old daughter would have been home at the time, asleep, she said, but that day had opted to head into Jefferson City for a deal at Starbucks. And their son, Alexander, 12, would normally be inside playing video games but had been grounded from electronics and headed toward a nearby creek with the family dog, she said.
As Amanda, Shaun and Tobias Gipson, 1, were not at home and Alexis, 18, had left, it was Alexander who arrived home to the smell of smoke only to find fire creeping up the curtains in the back bedroom, Gipson said.
"He was the one who had to stand there all alone while waiting for help to arrive from the 911 call. He stood there wondering what he could do. He stood there afraid of this thing that in a little kid's mind is not supposed to be able to happen to you. He stood there feeling so, so small and so, so helpless," Gipson said.
To make matters worse, she said, he feels responsible for not getting his sister's cat out of the house safely.
"He's going to need a lot of prayers," Gipson said.
Gipson said they've taken him to a counselor who said he likely will have some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder. She said he's been mostly shut down since the fire, but Tuesday night, he broke down while she tried to get him to pick some clothes from a box of donations.
"He just broke down bawling, and he's like, 'Mommy, I can't, it just reminds me that we have nothing,'" Gipson said.
The other two children have taken things a bit easier, Gipson said, though her daughter is devastated by the loss of her cat. (Firefighters were able to rescue the cat from the house, but within minutes of being removed from the home, she stopped breathing. Though emergency responders worked on the cat for 30 minutes, they were unable to revive her.)
The night of the fire, she said, they went to Walmart to get a few things to last the night. She described being discombobulated in the store, wandering around and trying to figure out what to get while her brain was buzzing. Ultimately, she grabbed clothes, diapers and wipes. However, when she got back to the hotel, she saw her 1-year-old son playing with a plastic spoon and realized she had forgotten toys.
Each moment, Gipson said, she began to think of something else she needed. She got toys, but forgot tub toys. She grabbed diapers, but forgot the cream for a diaper rash.
"It's so hard to get your brain to work," Gipson said. "It takes days for your brain to recover from that kind of trauma. You feel numb and hollow and almost like a robot, just going through the motions and reacting to one thing at a time as it comes; any decision further out than the immediate is too hard to make. Your brain just can't get there yet. And then once it does, you can't breathe."
Gipson said the family is looking for a rental in the Russellville area so the children don't have to change schools. She said Wednesday they may have found a place but noted it had been difficult as they have a large dog, which many property owners try to avoid.
She said she was grateful for the support the family has received so far from so many, including the Russellville community and the firefighters who responded and did everything they could to save the home and the cat.
"This caring, this humanity is what gets you through," Gipson said. "It's what gives you hope and reminds you that you aren't alone and that there are those who care and are willing to help in any way they can."
For now, what's helping Gipson is turning the experience into a warning for others. She wants people to know what the experience is like so they can be more prepared. Gipson said her boss had an experience more than a year ago with water damage, where she learned the insurance company wanted serial numbers for all appliances. Since then, Gipson said, she's had an alarm on her phone go off every Saturday reminding her to make the list, but she's snoozed it each week thinking there would be more time later.
Gipson advised others to make sure rental insurance is in place, if applicable, and to make that list of appliances, serial numbers and replacement value.
"You never expect to have to go through something like this, to walk through the store trying to figure out what you need to get your family through the night, smelling like smoke and looking like a homeless person, only to realize that all of a sudden you are, that all that you own now fits in a plastic sack," Gipson wrote on Facebook. "Your brain takes days to start working again. And once it does, it is filled with questions and uncertainty and sadness."