Kim Cantin lost her husband, son, dog and house in the deadly 2018 Montecito flash flooding and debris flows.
Five years later, she hopes her survival story will help others.
“Life leaves all of us humans, none of us go unscathed,” Cantin told Noozhawk. “At some point in our lives we are going to face challenges.”
Cantin shares the story of her family in her new book, Where Yellow Flowers Bloom. She’s recently held book signings at local venues and has made the news media rounds to share her story.
In the pre-dawn hours of Jan. 9, 2018, Cantin’s husband, Dave, and their 17-year-old son, Jack, were swept to their deaths when nearby Montecito Creek exploded through their house on Hot Springs Road.
The Cantins’ then-14-year-old daughter, Lauren, was buried alive in the wreckage of their house, but miraculously rescued hours later.
Cantin was seriously injured as she, too, was swept out of the disintegrating house.
With the book, Cantin said she hopes that people will see that “I am moving forward and I am adapting in it, and that is what life is about.”
She decided to write the book during the COVID-19 pandemic. She had more time on her hands and she also wanted to write down details of her harrowing experience, and someday be able to share that with future family members.
“I want to maybe, if I am blessed with grandkids to have them know the story and hear it from me, and hear Lauren’s story from her,” Cantin said.
The process also helped her grieve.
“As I went through it, I saw it was becoming a reflective process of me going from real desperate grief into more of a peaceful adaption,” Cantin said.
“Once I saw that, that process was cathartic. I thought maybe this can help someone else.”
In her book, she also explains how she received signs that held a special meaning.
On Valentine’s Day the year after the tragedy, a friend texted her that there was something on the Montecito Lost & Found website that looked like one of her ultrasounds.
“I looked on it and I was taken aback,” Cantin said. “It was the ultrasound of Jack in my belly. It survived in the elements wedged between a rock and a little plastic sleeve that you put in a binder.
“It survived wedged between rocks on Butterfly Beach and it shows up on Valentine’s Day.”
The search team found other things with special meaning, like a Christmas ornament with Dave’s name on it, and a quilt that she had made for her husband.
In all, 23 people were killed in the disaster, which was preceded by several hours of intense rain on the mountains above Montecito that had been burned to the dirt by the Thomas Fire less than a month before.
Writing the book was a learning experience for Cantin.
“I was so hyperactive as a young child, doing gymnastics in the backyard all the time, and cartwheels, I never sat down and read a book from beginning to end all through elementary school,” she said.
Cantin wrote the book herself, with help from editors.
When she really got into it, she networked with a couple of authors, Hollye Jacobs and Catherine Weissenberg. She got advice from them about how to write, which included designating the same time every day as a time to do it.
“It took so much more than I would ever have anticipated,” Cantin shared. “It was a cathartic process, it was reflective, it helped me see the gratitude, as I reflected on all the people who helped me along the way.”
And what did she herself take away from the book?
“Maybe there were silver linings,” Cantin said. “It’s never going to be the same and I miss my husband and son every single day, and my dog every single day.
“By writing it down and reflecting on it, helped me see it.”
Now that the book has been released, Cantin said she feels like she is now “getting on the back side of this.”
“I did this thing that I hope did my husband and my son and my family justice in honoring them,” Cantin said.
“Now, I need to model for my daughter that life is supposed to go on and we are supposed to go forward and find joy in our lives and thrive and it’s OK.”
Cantin said she knows her husband and son would want the same.
“I know that because we loved each other and if the tables were reversed I’d want my husband and son, if they were here on earth and Lauren and I were in heaven, to go on and find joy,” Cantin said.
“That’s what we are supposed to do as humans. Make a meaningful life.”
Where Yellow Flowers Bloom is available at Chaucer’s Books, Tecolote Book Shop and online at Amazon.