Fire erases a home but not a family's spirit

Cherie Williams and her family continue to persevere after having their Chatham, N.Y., home destroyed last spring.

Last spring, Cherie Williams was on vacation in St. Thomas when her neighbor called and frantically informed her that her home in Chatham, N.Y., was on fire. Her neighbor had seen the flames from down the street.

"Time just kind of froze," Williams recalled of what happen on March 19. "I didn't really know what to think."

"It taught us what was actually important ... and it wasn't our possessions."
- Cherie Williams

Williams was on vacation with her youngest daughter, while her husband, Ed, was still in New York. After ensuring her husband and three other children ranging from their teens to early twenties were safe, she took a deep breath. It was a few days until Williams could return to Chatham.

When Williams arrived to her house, she and her family stood in awe. There was no house. A mere pile of ash, ruble, and a foundation remained. 

While the loss of clothes, furniture and personal belongings was difficult, the loss of the two family dogs was the hardest part.

"Possessions can be replaced, (and) that's no big deal," Williams said. "But the dogs; they were part of the family. And they were gone."

Moving forward, the Williams family was met with an extreme outpouring of love and support from friends and the community.

"We used to donate and give a lot ourselves," Williams said. "So learning to accept, and switch my role, was hard in the beginning."

The Williams family moved into a temporary house just a few miles away and were able to start piecing their lives back together.

Throughout the rebuilding period, the family stayed optimistic and positive.

In the long run, Williams said the fire made her family stronger and closer.

"It taught us what was actually important ... and it wasn't our possessions," she said. "I'm blessed, and holding onto anger, or holding a grudge for what happened, isn't going to solve anything."

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