You Don’t Know What You’ve Got ‘Til It’s Gone

Though it’s such a cliche phrase, it’s also so true. We learned that the hard way when, at the beginning of May, our home was burglarized.

When I walked in the door, which was far too easy to unlock (because it wasn’t locked, as I had left it), our refrigerator was dinging… dinging… dinging. I wondered if my son had left it open before we left the house that morning, or if my husband had come home on lunch and left one door ajar. No, some strangers had decided it might offer them extra cover while they pilfered our things, and decided to leave it open because who has time for that and who cares if the owners rack up extra charges on their energy bill?

It’s such a violation of your space to know your home was trespassed upon and things you valued were taken from you with zero regard to you as a fellow human being. I keep walking down my hallway, looking at the photos we have on the walls with our smiling faces, wondering how anyone could walk right past those images without any remorse for how they were affecting our lives in such a negative way.

Taken from us were standard items: tablets, cameras and equipment, jewelry. Some of that is “replaceable.” But the thing is, you can’t replace the videos of my son that were on the tablets that I hadn’t quite gotten around to copying onto the computer (which they left, thankfully). I can’t replace the years’ worth of the data that was on the hard drives that were stolen. Nor the pearl necklace I wore at my wedding that was passed down from my grandmother-in-law to my mother-in-law to me. Nor the undeveloped film that was in a purse I was in the process of switching out of, nor the photos on the roll in one of the film cameras they took (12 in all were stolen). I cannot “replace” the silverware that was given to my grandmother as a graduation gift in 1938, that was passed on to me when my grandfather passed away. There was my engagement ring. A necklace I chose on an anniversary outing.


I hate the phrase “insurance will cover it” because it just isn’t true. It is absolutely not an honest representation of what happens to the victims in these crimes. Not all victims have insurance that “covers” items being stolen, and even if it does, many have a deductible that is subtracted from whatever the insurance company will cover. And many things are so unique to the victims that they can’t simply go out and buy another one.

Insurance also doesn’t cover my time for the layers upon layers of extra work I’ve had to put in following the burglary — we have to replace a key with the help of a locksmith since we didn’t have a duplicate, there are various personal-identity documents to replace that were stolen, I have had to call multiple people to replace other items, drive around to get copies of our police report and mail them to put a freeze on our credit, etc. And it has just taken up a lot of my mental energy.

222017_6722438124_7376_n   engagement ring

All I can take away from this are a few simple things:

1) Write down serial numbers. We had many because we kept the boxes for valuable items. That helps for those things, but I hadn’t written down the numbers for any of my film cameras. The thieves took 12 cameras from me. I had a collection I loved. But even if someone ended up with one of my cameras, without the serial number it looks like any other camera and is not traceable back to me as the owner.

2) Back up anything you value. I had been scared of “the cloud.” I’m old school in a lot of ways (I was pretty late to the game with touch screens… they still kind of bother me and I prefer a keyboard) and cloud storage feels like an intangible, as well as something that could be breached. But I regret those fears because now I am without some videos of my husband performing with his band years ago, years’ worth of mp3s, back-ups of online journals, other writings that were solely written on a computer… I don’t even know all of what was on the hard drives. It’s all gone. Key pieces could have been saved to discs, at the very least.

3) Do it now. If I had developed that film back when I finished shooting it, I would have those photos. If I had stopped to back things up, if even just here and there, I would have more of my personal data saved. If I had written down serial numbers, my film cameras could be traceable and potentially brought back to me.

4) Protect your space. Yes, burglars will find a way in if they really want to, but any deterrent you can add makes your home that much less desirable. Aside from the basics of making sure all doors are locked, keep windows locked, too (we have screw-on stops so windows can’t be slid open from the outside). It’s also a good idea to keep windows covered when you are not home so no one can see in if they are casing your property, and keep valuable items away from any visible spaces that can’t be covered. Put up motion-detector lights on the outside of your home. Security doors and dead bolts are helpful because basic knob locks are easy to breach, as are chains. Everyone has suggested we get a dog; I’m not a dog person, but if you are, a loud, barking dog is not a burglar’s friend. If you really want to invest, cameras or home-security systems are options that are less expensive than I thought they would be. And you can get really hard-core and get a safe that is bolted to the floor.

5) Join Nextdoor.com to get to know your neighbors better and to communicate about what’s going on in your community. Any way of connecting with neighbors is, to me, key to helping everyone better protect themselves and keep an eye out for one another. I handed out fliers about our burglary not long after it happened and a neighbor up the street came over to let me know he had been burglarized a few months earlier. I had not known that and didn’t think my home was in any danger of being violated, as well. Communication of these type of events, no matter how small they may seem, may help someone else be more aware and better protect their space and things.

Somehow, the day of the burglary, after a debate with myself over whether to take my digital camera to a gathering with friends because I already had plenty of photos to edit following spring minis, I ended up with my camera on my person, and I am so thankful for that small favor of happenstance. Sadly, however, I had switched out my memory card because I thought some photos from the mini sessions would be safer at home than with me, just in case my camera was stolen from me while I was out. That memory card was taken in the burglary and the photos from that session are lost. It just goes to show that we can never predict what will happen.

Taken by Jessica Shirley-Donnelly
(I’m so grateful I chose to take my camera with me that day! Photo by Jessica Shirley-Donnelly.)

All I can do now is to learn from this and help to let others know how important it is to protect the “things” that matter in your life in the long term. They are ultimately just things, and I remind myself that daily, but the loss of memories is the most painful. Back up your photos and videos and print out photos that are especially important to you. We can never know when someone (if not Mother Nature) will come and take these things away from us.

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