The Five Stages Of Recovering From Having All Your Stuff Stolen

Five days ago, unknown jerks broke the door handle off our van and got in, grabbed all the luggage they could find, and drove off.  We had been parked in the lot of a big mall near the airport, getting Italian SIM cards for our phones.  It took longer than usual for the SIM cards to activate, and we went back to the van to get a couple things, talking about the weird message Lynnell had gotten about two purchases in Rome on her credit card.  We thought the mall wifi was hacked, but when we got to the car, we found out WE had been hacked.  Jacked.  Fracked.   Here’s where we had been parked.  Yeah, you’re right: the tree on the left covered the bad guys.  They just grabbed everything that was packed like luggage, which was pretty much all our stuff, minus the cooking gear and travel books.


I won’t bore you with the list of stuff we will never see again, but the police were very calm.  No, we can’t give you a form right now, but don’t worry, they told us, you can file your report any time in the next 90 days.  Don’t feel too bad, that mall doesn’t have very good security.  Go have a nice dinner with your family.  It was closing time, maybe 6:30 pm, and the officers were all going home.  Thanks, guys.

We were stunned and numb, walking aimlessly back to the mall and trying to decide what to do after visiting the precinct.  We were out by the airport, planning on putting the van in long-term parking and meeting our son Carter and daughter-in-law Jennifer who were joining us within the hour for a long weekend, getting away to Rome from rainy, cold London.  For a while, we thought it would be better to stay in a hotel near the airport, so we could have the van to drive to big box stores and buy new stuff.  We needed everything.

But we wisely decided to leave the van in a much more secure lot, near the po-po, and go meet Jen & Carter’s flight.

The next 24 hours we spent in their loving and efficient care, making lists, telling the story over and over, going through Kübler-Ross’ stages of loss:

  1. denial (doesn’t last long, looking at a very empty van with a broken door handle)
  2. anger (how dare they!)
  3. bargaining (OK, God, thanks for the lesson on impermanence, but no more, OK?)
  4. depression (let’s just go home to Minnesota.  I don’t want to see the Colosseum, I don’t want to have to find someone to fix the door, what else did they take?), and
  5. acceptance (Fine, dammit.  We’ll buy enough clothes for now, and toiletries, and I guess I can do without my precious laptop for three more months, and let’s sit down and change all the $%^&* passwords we can think of so the thieves can’t do more damage).

My “precious laptop” had been backed up pretty often to the “Cloud,” thanks to Breck’s google-doc system, but some documents and many photos from the last eight months are now just plain gone.  (Yes, we had also backed our computers up to a hard drive, but alas,  the thieves got the hard drive too–it was packed away in our luggage.) The best photos have been saved here, on this blog, which lives in the Cloud, too.  Meanwhile, our son Jackson, who was robbed four years ago in Minneapolis,  helped me remotely lock my computer, and walked me through creating backup systems I should have had in place before now.  He is a gem.  Here he is with our soon-to-be-daughter-in-law, Mackenzie:


And Lynnell and I are both fine.  Uninjured.  It’s just stuff and arrangements.  Lynnell said she had double-trauma: first, getting all her belongings stolen; then realizing she would have to go shopping, something she hates. But Jennifer, who is shopping-savvy and highly-organized, shepherded her through two big-box stores, Decathalon and H&M. and they managed to buy just about everything she needed (plus more!) in less than three hours.

Yesterday, we went to see an English-speaking doctor who wrote new prescriptions for the medications we had been carrying.  The appointment cost us $50, and the Rx were filled down the street in ten minutes for one-fourth the cost of what it would be in the USA.  We said goodbye to Carter and Jennifer, and I found a Big and Tall store with great stuff, and then bought some wedding bowties made in the back room of the shop.

Other than being shellshocked, really, we have had a great time.  The “kids” were so utterly sane and adult, so adept at finding amazing restaurants and patiently waiting in line for them (and it was worth it, just to savor the pasta).  They also love walking, and this is a great city for it.  We saw the Pope on Sunday, at St. Peter’s, in his white Popemobile, waving and encouraging the faithful to work for justice in the world and nurture their inner lives so they wouldn’t burn out.  Good advice for us, too.  We saw the Colosseum, which is bigger than I could have imagined, and its history is so gruesome.  We spent a long time in the Pantheon, which has been perfectly preserved for 1800+ years, and couldn’t get enough of that shaft of sunlight coming in through the circular opening at the top of the dome.


We took a slow walking tour of the ruins of the Roman Forum, and sat in the sun while the “kids” bought a very cool gift for someone back home who might be reading this.  We will be eternally grateful to these two for parenting us through our ordeal.


We will get around to writing about our four days in Istanbul.  Lynnell is giving me her laptop every morning, and I will find pictures from wikimedia to replace my stolen ones, and will properly cite my usage.  We might write about our two days in Figueres, Spain, where we learned that Salvador Dalí was an amazing artist and despicable human being.  Figueres was where we waited for our van to be ready at the VW dealer, after having flown from Istanbul to Barcelona to resume VanLife.

But Rome is a wonderful city, loud and full of tourists following guides, and full of monuments to the vanity of men who built maybe the greatest empire ever by systematically stealing from others and then building infrastructure that lasts for ages.


This is Nero: a paranoic, thief, bigot, liar, and very cruel, humorless man.  The pigeon and the graffito “Hi” made me smile.

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I am an Episcopal priest, retired Upper School Chaplain at Breck School in Golden Valley, MN, and the author of the world religions text "Tree of World Religions," available on I've also done two lessons for TED-Ed.

5 thoughts on “The Five Stages Of Recovering From Having All Your Stuff Stolen”

  1. So sorry to hear about this; so cheered that you had such incredible support from your progeny and co. There’s a reason to have had kids, if ever you needed one! Mark and I went to Paris for a weekend once and had a brand new camera pickpocketed within about five minutes of getting on the first bus. Your loss was bigger, but we feel a little something of your pain. The efficiency of those guys! (Not the kind of language I used at the time…)


  2. I am sad to hear about the break-in and theft. What a punch to the gut and to faith in other people. I’ve interviewed thieves as part of my research and now I’m imagining the break-in, more or less against my will. Fortuitous that you had Jennifer and Carter with you so soon afterward. My prayers are with you.


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