He has just closed his eyes.
He is exhausted after his shift the night before.
He slowly drifts off to sleep.
Suddenly, his eyes are forced open by shining lights. His ears are pierced by the shrill of the alarm. He rubs his eyes and listens to the loud voice conveying vital information over the PA. Not missing a beat, he quickly makes his way toward his gear.
In less than 90 seconds from the moment he first heard the alarm, he is in his seat. Flashing orange lights and shrieking sirens fill the bay. He can almost hear his heart thumping. His training sets in. He prepares his body and his mind for whatever the call will require of him.
He is a firefighter. This is his job. This is his passion.
Meanwhile, I am home. My thoughts have drifted to him throughout the evening. As I played with our daughter, prepared supper, bathed her and especially at bedtime, when our daughter wished she could hug and kiss Daddy goodnight, I thought of him. Now, even though we’ve already said goodnight, I send him one more text. He’s likely asleep–he’s always asleep before me. I wash my face and brush my teeth. I check my phone: no response. I put my pajamas on and crawl into our empty bed. Even after seven years, I will never get used to him not sleeping next to me.
I check my phone: still no response. I watch television in hopes it will lull me to sleep. I check my phone: still nothing. It is late, so I turn off the television and attempt to sleep. But my mind wanders in the dark, and I don’t always like where my thoughts lead. Night shifts are the hardest. As my mind continues to wander, I finally hear the sound of my phone. The screen glows through the darkness. “I love you too,” I read. Relief floods my body. Even though I know more calls will come, for now, I know he is safe. I can finally fall asleep.
Being the wife of a firefighter, this is my normal. As he prepares for his shift, I am preparing myself as well. I know all too well the risks of his job. He is the man rushing into the blazing building everyone else is fleeing. He is the man who willingly walks into unsafe situations to protect others. He is the man who is on the road, amidst the traffic, helping those who need him most.
As his wife, I experience all of the highs and all of the lows alongside my husband. But I don’t see what his eyes see. My mind doesn’t share his thoughts. I don’t live his experiences, but I live to love and support him. There is nothing worse than seeing his face following a horrendous shift. I see the sadness, the helplessness and the weight his shoulders carry. I see his eyes, which speak volumes louder than any word he could possibly say. Often, there are no words.
As his wife, I feel helpless. There is no magic potion to heal the wounds his heart has endured, no magic potion to erase the haunting memories, no magic potion to help him un-see the horrors he has witnessed.
What can I do? I can hug him, and I can love him. I can gently wake him in the night from his nightmares. I can cry beside him when a life is lost or tragedy strikes.
But, I am also here to share his joy. I am here to share in his countless accomplishments. My heart bursts with pride when he comes home and he has a certain other look in his eyes—a look I know means he has had a good shift. A look I know means he has saved a life. A smile that tells me he has helped someone who needed him. A gleam in his eyes that tells me he has made a significant difference to someone and their family. For my husband, these moments outweigh the risks. These are the moments that help him survive. He lives for these moments. As his wife, so do I.
Our daughter does not quite understand exactly what her dad’s job entails, but she is the first to tell people, “My daddy is a firefighter. He helps people.” One day she will understand all that it means when he leaves for a shift. I know she will worry. I know she will be scared. When this time comes, it will be our job to listen and love her through her fears. Although I am unsure as to how that conversation will sound, I know it will require copious amounts of love and reassurance.
Every time my husband leaves for a shift, I pray for his safety and protection. I try not to worry, but this is virtually impossible. While there are many perks of this job, we live with the fact that he risks his life every time he goes to work. He leaves those who love him most—and whom he loves most—to protect the lives of strangers. The men and women who do this job are courageous, selfless and honorable. They are husbands, wives, sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters. Their job is one filled with physical and emotional challenges, laughter, tears, failure and accomplishment.
There is no handbook for marriage, and there is no handbook for being a firefighter’s wife. We take one shift at a time and face each moment as it comes our way. The only advice I can give to other spouses in my position is to face these moments together. While I will never know everything my husband has been through, standing by his side and loving him through it all is what helps us survive.
We have two rules in our house before my husband leaves for a shift, and I suggest implementing them in every house. Life is short, so whether or not your loved one is a firefighter or not, the rules are simple:
1. We don’t part mad at one another.
2. We always kiss each other goodbye.
We never know for certain if we will see each other at the end of his shift, and we don’t ever want to regret our last words to one another or wish we had kissed one last time. But really, nobody does.