MARLBORO — Losing a home with all of your possessions to a fire is nothing compared to the death of your two children in that fire.
Every day since March 7, Nancy Muller Milligan, 74, of Marlboro, has had to wake up to that reality. On that day, Milligan's two children, Laura Milligan, 41, and Elizabeth Milligan, 46, died from smoke inhalation during a house fire where the three of them lived together.
Through this hardship, caring local residents and non-profit organizations have rallied to help her move forward. Milligan needs assistance with permanent housing, furniture, and other household items. Southeastern Vermont Community Action is one particular organization that is accepting monetary donations to aid Milligan.
"She's lost a lot, she lost her daughters that she lived with, she has nothing," said Pat Burke, Director of Family Services. "Not only did she lose material items, but probably the most precious things in her life. So we're trying to help her get back on her feet and be successful."
Friday afternoon, Milligan spoke for 15 minutes in a phone interview, not about her suffering, but rather her inexplicable gratitude.
"I am not being treated like a case to be taken care of; I'm being treated like a complete human being who has suffered a tragedy," said Milligan. "With this kind of support, it shows humans can be there for each other."
Marlboro Cares, a local community service organization that has been helping her with various basic needs since the fire, has requested that all donations for her be sent to SEVCA. Checks should be made to SEVCA, Attn: Marlboro Fire, 91 Buck Drive, Westminster, VT 05158. Alternatively, donations can be made online using the Donate button on SEVCA's website, www.sevca.org; include a note indicating the donation is for "Marlboro Fire."
According to SEVCA's website, its mission is "to enable people to cope with, and reduce the hardships of poverty; create sustainable self-sufficiency; and reduce the causes and move toward the elimination of poverty." A SEVCA press release stated they served over 10,000 people in Windham and Windsor counties with crisis fuel assistance, homelessness prevention, weatherization, home repair, business start-up and support, job readiness and skills training, financial fitness, asset building, Head Start, food stamp outreach, access to affordable health care, budgeting/savings, information and referral, and thrift stores.
"I basically think people are good and want to help, but they just don't always have the means to help," said Milligan.
Milligan said her case manager, Susan Howes, has gone above and beyond in trying to find her housing. In speaking about SEVCA, she said she has appreciated the"quality of their ability to guide me and help me understand and anticipate what I am going to be experience."
Again, to her surprise, Milligan was overjoyed and appreciative for the bereavement counseling she began receiving from Brattleboro Area Hospice twice a week.
"They're giving up their precious time, it has been unbelievable, and all done in the spirit of volunteerism," said Milligan. "We're talking about a continuity of a whole year, so you're not left after everybody goes."
Becoming choked-up on the phone when discussing the sensitive matter, she continued in her goal of the conversation — to thank the community. "This is a very amazing experience, if something pretty awful is going to happen, it's lovely to have the deep caring for my welfare and the welfare of my future."
Milligan is originally from Manhattan and has also lived in New Jersey, Washington D.C., Long Meadow, Mass., and traveled to several countries. She also studied other cultures along her journey to earn her PhD in Anthropology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. But of all the civilizations she has encountered, she has been most impressed with how she has been embraced in Vermont since she moved in 1974. Milligan said the best example of this kindness was demonstrated when her daughters died.
"In the culture called, 'primitive,' they are caring and work with family or whoever is in a problematic situation, they use their time and energy until it is better. This doesn't always happen in Western culture, we're not always able to come out of ourselves," said Milligan. "This is what I have seen here in this community, we can learn a lot from this experience."
Most of Milligan's family lives out of state, and she said they described Brattleboro and surrounding towns as one of the most "generous and gracious "communities they have experienced. Though her extended family lives hours away, she has cherished the moments with them.
"I think how lucky I am to live long enough to have grand nephews and nieces," said Milligan. "They've been doing drawing for me, or just saying 'Great Auntie this is a drawing to make you feel better.' They are a part of that emotional education that we want our kids to have."
Her great nephew, Logan, 3, drew her a picture and her great niece Emerson Rose, 4, gave her another "darling little drawing," and also danced and sang "happy birthday" to her recently.
"It's another beautiful layer of generations I have been part of. I can't think of anything more blessed than knowing these children," said Milligan.
Milligan is currently staying in a hotel in Brattleboro and is waiting to be set up with housing.
"It would be great to get funds in to help her get settled and move forward," said Burke.
Any questions about how to assist Milligan should be directed to Burke at 802-722-4575.
Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275