Since the fire at her Connecticut home on Christmas Day of last year that took the lives of her three daughters and her parents, Madonna Badger has wondered why she survived.
Badger, a New York advertising executive until the 2011 fire in Stamford, made it through the funerals for her children and parents. Then she fell apart, she told the Hearst Connecticut Media Group.
Her hair turned gray and fell out in clumps. She waved a fistful of pills in the air and threatened to swallow them.
Badger traveled to Little Rock, Ark., in February to live with a friend from their college days. She says the only condition was that she promised to not commit suicide.
"I don't know why I survived," she says. "I told everyone I was going to kill myself."
The fire killed 7-year-old twins Grace and Sarah Badger, 9-year-old Lily Badger and their maternal grandparents, Lomer and Pauline Johnson. The city investigated and determined the cause was accidental.
Firefighters arrived and dragged Badger off the burning building. A friend also survived the fire.
Badger remembers lying in a hospital bed for hours, screaming for her children. A doctor took her hand and told her that her daughters and parents had died.
"I remember coiling up into a little ball and I looked at the nurse," she said. "I just wanted to crawl out of my body. I don't remember anything after that. People in the hospital said I was just screaming and wailing."
Badger wears three bracelets on her wrist, one for each daughter. Grace gave her the beaded bracelet on Christmas Eve and Madonna was wearing it when she escaped the fire. Two leather bracelets symbolize Lily and Sarah.
"Now that they're not here with me physically, but here with me spiritually and every other way, I still want to be a great mom," Badger said.
Badger is keeping her house in Little Rock and rented a loft in Brooklyn and plans to start working again in January. She traveled to Thailand on Christmas with several suitcases of her daughters' toys, collected from her garage after the fire. She planned to donate them to at-risk girls at an orphanage.
"Santa Claus and retail signs and gift wrap and Christmas lights just doesn't do it for me right now," she said. "I don't know if it ever will."
Badger said she believes love is the legacy her children leave.
"They're not going to write a masterpiece or a symphony. This is really it," she said. "What saves you, what saves us all, is love."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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