Right now, Jessica and Matthew Graham and their five children are quarantined in two hotel rooms in Spokane Valley.
On Sept. 7 their Malden house and barn, built in 1911, burned to the ground – a “total loss,” Jessica Graham said. One house to the west of theirs survived, but it seemed like the rest of Malden perished, Matthew Graham said. Most houses, the post office, town hall and fire station are all gone.
They think they caught coronavirus while staying with family that week after they lost the house. Matthew Graham dismissed his cough at first, thinking it was an effect of the smoke clouding Whitman County. But right after they secured their hotel rooms, the family they’d stayed with came down with flu-like symptoms.
Everyone in the family tested positive, Jessica Graham said. That includes 12-year-old Constantine (“Costa”), 10-year-old Claudia, 7-year-old twins Zoe and Adele and 5-year-old Darius.
When asked how they’re managing, the couple paused.
“You just have to get through it. You have no choice. You just do it,” said 10-year-old Claudia.
Matthew Graham is the sickest. He said it’s like a cold with intense exhaustion. He has a hard time staying out of bed for more than a few minutes. He laughed and said that the “worst part” is having a 5-year-old who doesn’t feel sick cooped up in a small room.
His mother’s condition is a greater concern. She babysat the kids that first week after they lost the house and has since tested positive for COVID-19. She has pneumonia in both lungs. Matthew Graham said he’s grateful she hasn’t needed to be hospitalized.
All the kids miss their home. They had an acre-and-a-half, a grassy pasture, a cherry tree, a chicken coop and four huge trees around the house that kept it cool in the summer. Those turned out to be hazards in the fire.
“Driving up there, within like five minutes of getting there we were like, ‘Yeah, we’re getting this place.’ It was just such a cool setup,” Matthew Graham said.
More than anything, the sickness means a delay in finding a new home, as they’ll have to quarantine in their rooms for at least another two weeks.
The first two weeks were “a haze” of trying to feed the kids, Matthew Graham said. All the kids have had their moments of “freaking out.” For the first week and half he was giving them “pep talks” to eat, because they’d lost their appetites.
And then there was the moment Zoe, 7, “our homebody,” curled up on the floor in the corner of their hotel room, wedged between the couch and the wall.
“It kind of kills your heart to see her hurting like that,” he said. “I just held her for a while and explained to her that finding the smallest space isn’t going to make her feel safe, because what she wants is the safety of home, and home is gone. Sleeping in a corner on the floor isn’t going to fix that. It took awhile, but she did come sleep on the bed.”
The couple has a lot of hope. Jessica and Matthew Graham laugh as they talk about their misfortune.
Their faith is “the most important thing,” Matthew Graham said. They met in church. He looks back at persecutions, plagues and oppression people have endured through history and said their “rough period” isn’t so rough.
“Even though we lost everything, we still have everything. We – well, we were healthy,” he said, laughing. “We will probably be healthy again. It’s just keeping that perspective.”
They’re looking ahead to living a sustainable life, hopefully on a big plot of land, where they can grow their own food. Matthew Graham has been dreaming of methodically growing different yields to create the most sustainable life possible.
They got their biggest boost when Graham’s older sister took the couple to see some potential new houses.
“Coming from the devastation, from seeing all your stuff in about a foot of ash, to just seeing there is hope,” Matthew Graham said. “It’s going to take some time, but we know that we’re going to get out of this OK.”
They count themselves as one of the lucky few families in Malden whose home was insured. That insurance is helping pay for their hotel costs now, as many other families are on their own. Through their GoFundMe, family, friends and strangers have raised $8,000 .
Jessica Graham said looking at the list of donations, there are so many names she doesn’t recognize.
“We aren’t thinking this is, like, the worst thing to happen to anybody,” Matthew Graham said. “It’s probably the hardest time of my life. I’ve told my children that, but we’re going to get through this.”
Maggie Quinlan can be reached at (509) 459-5135 or maggieq@ spokesman.com
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