He came in and sat the bags of things I asked him to pick up on his way home on the kitchen floor. I didn’t look up or even greet him, I was “too busy” trying to fix the dishwasher tray as the kids had broken it the night before. He reached over me to grab a drinking glass and then I heard the heavy thud on the counter. I knew what it was and I hesitated to look. I stood up and finally looked at him and saw the liquor bottle on the counter and the red rings around his eyes.
In that moment my heart broke, even though I had no clue as to why, my heart was broken for him.
I found my stomach in my throat and the fear I wouldn’t know how to help, with whatever was wrong.
I’m normally the one who needs a rock.
I asked him what was wrong only to be greeted with a “Nothing.”, he knew I knew it was a lie. I’d rather be met in silence than a lie. I asked again and asked him not to lie to me.
Of course he could have just avoided me but he finally said, “It’s been a bad morning.” and his eyes glazed over. He backed up and leaned against the counter and I hugged him for what felt like forever. All I could smell was the bourbon on his breath and the rising cinnamon dough on the stove.
I choked back the lump in my throat and knew I must control my own emotions.
He had a bad morning. A bad call. Death had been working that morning. He was on duty at a one man fire station. They aren’t equipped to handle much in the way of medical calls. This morning he arrived on scene where a wife was anxious for someone to “fix” her husband. To be honest, I’ll spare the details but it didn’t sound like there was anything viable about the poor man anyway.
BUT helping people is what they do and he was going to try.
He had done everything he knew to do and had the equipment to do. She stared at him, he said almost as if she expected a miracle and he never felt more helpless or alone in his life. I thought my heart couldn’t break anymore for him but it did and continues to. He was alone. Just a wife who didn’t know she was a widow, a man who had seeming passed and himself. Alone.
He has never had the burden of deciding whether there was a life to save or if there was no life left. On top of that an eager wife watching you, because you are expected to have all of the answers and all of the means to fix everything.
That single decision is something that has to come with a heavy price you pay with every bit of heart and the bits of doubting yourself try to slip in too.
Nothing short of a real, Lazarus moment miracle would have brought the man back, he has to know that. I hope he accepts that.
I pushed the thoughts of being a tired fire wife who was looking forward to some kind of break today to the back of my mind, and just pushed through. Being whatever he needed me to be. All I can do is listen and offer comfort that I am here and if he needs to talk about it, I can handle hearing it. The particulars never both me, it is the lives that go on even when others don’t that make me sad. It’s important to let them talk it out if that is what they feel they need to do.
You are his other half, the one who he should be able to bare his soul to, please find a way to let him pour this out to you if that is how he copes.
Sadly so many do not, I wish they all felt comfortable enough to not bottle up the things that haunt them. I wish they knew it is not a burden to their spouse.
I wish they reached out for help more often.
When a firefighter needs help, it is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign that they are real. Human. The heart that gives them the drive to enter into the fire service isn’t made of stone, it’s real.
It beats and it hurts like every other heart in the world.
Please let them know that having emotions is not being weak. Please also watch how they cope. My husband only needed a drink to calm the nerves, it isn’t something he regularly turns to for comfort. All too many times, they make bad decisions in the name of coping.
If you don’t like to hear some of the more detailed information, you should have a conversation about that NOW, for when the time does come that he needs to let it out, you may be somewhat prepared to listen while he may be more prepared in what to leave out. Explain that if you ever need to be an ear, that you are more than willing to listen to anything but (insert whatever it is that you don’t think you can handle). Some of it, like a wife watching over him as he worked, as he had to debate over actions to take with her husband, is hard to hear but you must listen.
Death is part of the fire service; it’s in our lives whether we want it there or not.
Don’t wait until it’s time to be his rock to say you don’t want to hear it. You have to hear it because if he needs to say it, someone needs to listen. If not you, then who? If your firefighter is not a talker and he seems withdrawn, it may just be his process, don’t force him to share with you but take note on behavioral changes. Support him or her in other ways that you can.
If your firefighter is showing signs of depression or PTSD, please reach out and find resources to help not only him cope, but help you cope with him.
Unfortunately, these situations take their toll on marriages. The stress and hazards of the Fire Service when not met head on can rip a relationship apart. Some still do not survive meeting it head on but you must try, give it all you can. My husband is an occasional drinker and while I didn’t say anything about his morning nip, I also know to speak up if he consumed more than what I think is ok considering the circumstances. Don’t put your head in the sand, watch for any signs of any substance abuse or other behavior.
Family, friends and firefighters… reach out for resources.
We have a few resources for you HERE
Help in a Crisis Resources
Here at 24- COMMITMENT we have the Fire Wife Sisterhood to encourage and support each other through the unique challenges of being married to a firefighter. On the flip side of the coin, we have the Honor Guard for the all you firefighters to help you be the best firefighters, husbands, fathers, and brothers you can be through your own unique challenges.
Sometimes those challenges require professional support that even your department cannot provide.
If you or someone you loves needs help, click the button below for our best suggested resources.