SYKESVILLE — They thought they had already faced tragedy.
But just three days after Ken Blake underwent surgery for a brain tumor at Sinai Hospital, his wife Madeleine returned to their ranch-style home to find theirbelongings spilled over the lawn and smoke billowing from the windows.
Lightening had struck their home. Firefighters were already on the scene when Madeleine returned from visiting Ken that evening.
The Blakes faced tragedy again.
And again. On top of that disaster, the Blakes learned that Ken's operation had left him with a permanentdisability, which precludes him from returning to his job of installing and repairing X-ray machines.
"Certainly, this is more than any one person should have to contend with in a lifetime, not to mention within the same week," said James Bruns, director of instruction atCarroll Community College, where Madeleine works.
"We were totally shocked at the tragedy," he said. "To think that her husband had brain tumor surgery on Wednesday and then their house burns down Saturday. It's too much."
Their modest home, nestled among large shade trees, still stands. The kitchen was destroyed and the rest of the house sustained heavy smoke and water damage. Their charred belongings are piled in the yard.
The Blakes intend to rebuild the house they lived in for seven years. That will take at least three months.
Inthe meantime, the Blakes are living in a rented apartment above a vacant Main Street store. Their insurance company has advanced them money to cover living expenses. Furniture, pots and pans, and curtains have been donated to the family.
Not much from the home was salvageable. Madeleine hopes the family will be able to save some books. Shewas able to retrieve a photo album.
"It's things like that that can't be replaced," she said.
The kindness of friends and their church, St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Sykesville, has sustained the family.
"Right from the night of the fire, people have been bringing us clothing, toiletries and offers of furniture," said Madeleine, anative of Devonshire, England.
Many donations have come from strangers. A Finksburg resident, for example, sent some money and a letter that began, "Our prayers are with you, as you and Ken endure this most difficult time."
Rereading the letter, tears well in Madeleine's eyes. She has found some comfort in these words from strangers. She was particularly touched by a poem sent to the family and written by a woman, Alice Pickett, whose home also was burned.
God spared my life, cars and Bible
He has wrapped me in his comfort and love
The fire only burned my earthly possessions
Not my heart treasures that are from above.
"We feel that everyone has taken such goodcare of us," Madeleine said. "It's not an easy time, but people are doing their best to make things as easy as possible for us."
Immediately after the fire, Madeleine and son Geoff stayed with some friends in Carrolltowne, while Ken remained in the hospital. After his release, the family stayed at the Dedication Farm near Eldersburg.
The weeks at the horse farm were good for 11-year-old Geoff, Madeleine said. He enjoyed himself. She said he has adjusted to the tragedies and talked out a lot of his emotions with his teachers at Sykesville Middle School.
"His teachers were very helpful," Madeleine said. "They were very helpful even in helping him deal with the surgery."
Teachers also have donated money to the family.
Geoff has been very concerned about his father, who has sustained short-term memory loss and some long-term memory loss, and how he passes his time. Ken is not able to read and must pace his activities slowly.
"Geoff has been quite anxious to help his dad," Madeleine said. "He wants to helpretrain him."
Geoff volunteered to read to his father. A copy of "Sherlock Holmes" sits on the family's coffee table, but Madeleine said there really hasn't been quiet time for them to read.
Said Ken,"There's a lot of stuff that I can't really pick up right now."
"It's been a real busy time," Madeleine added. "There's been a lot of phone calls to make, paperwork to fill out."
Bruns said Madeleine's courage and strength through the tragedies have been incredible.
Madeleine, 46, believes the fire has been a blessing in disguise.
"We were having a hard time dealing with the brain tumor," she said."The fire helped bring our situation to people's attention. It's notthe timing I would have chosen. It's something I would have never chosen."
Madeleine, who returned to her secretarial job last week, is trying to return life to some semblance of normal.
Those who wish to help with the family's living expenses may send a check to Madeleine Blake, Carroll Community College, Room 229, 1601 Washington Road, Westminster, 21157.