It’s coming on five years that Santa Rosan Brian Burke lost his wife, Kate, a most extraordinary woman who counseled and comforted legions of people with cancer while she fought the disease herself.
So when the Burke family home in Coffey Park burned to the ground in October, Brian had something to which he could compare the magnitude of the personal tragedy.
“What I lost in Kate was huge,” said Brian, a father of two who won an international award for the way he cared for his wife through nine years of illness. “What I lost in the fire was just stuff.”
Like so many others whose homes were destroyed by the firestorms, Brian did some searching through the remains in case there was recoverable stuff that had belonged to him or Kate, who was 46 when she died, or to Riley, who’s now 22 and studying at Biola University to become a nurse, or her brother, Colin, who’s 19 and a freshman at Northern Arizona University.
Brian found his safe. He saw it had been surrounded and shielded to a degree by the tub that fell from the upstairs bathroom, and by the concrete foundation and some stairs.
He opened the safe and saw that everything on one side was pretty well destroyed, but the other side had stayed cooler. There on the cooler side was a videotape labeled in his late wife’s writing, “In case of fire.”
Brian had no way to play the tape so he sent it out to be transferred onto a DVD. He put the disc into a player and on came Kate’s voice.
She hadn’t videoed a deathbed message to her husband and kids. There had been no need for that; before she passed, Kate left no expression of love and gratitude unsaid.
What she’d done with the camcorder maybe 10 years ago was to walk around the house and catalogue the silver service handed down by Aunt Lillian, the china set, major pieces of furniture, the home entertainment setup and any other possessions that her family might have to document to the insurance company were the house to burn down.
Brian had forgotten that his late wife made that tape. He watched it and he came to tears thinking, “She’s watching out for me again.”
PHOTOS WITH SANTA will be free this weekend for fire-displaced kids, as will the cookie decorating.
It happens from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday at the Umpqua Bank at 801 Fourth St. in Santa Rosa.
The bank and the Exchange Club are hosting a Santa’s Workshop for families affected by the fires. Guests are asked to go onto eventbrite.com here or call the branch to register.
Local heroes will be there, and gifts, and Santa and Mrs. Claus, and at least a few elves.
THIS COLD WEATHER has players and parents in Petaluma Youth Lacrosse thinking about the kids who don’t have a decent, warm sweatshirt.
And the River Cats are doing something about that. From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, lacrosse players in uniform will be at the Petaluma Village Premium Outlets and encourage shoppers to buy and donate a hooded sweatshirt for at-risk youth served by Mentor Me.