Thursday, August 06, 2009

Line of Duty

I have only ever been to one funeral in my life. People say I'm "lucky". Lucky... I've never been the same since my mom died. She was such an important, necessary part of my life that some days I feel like I'm just allowing myself to go along with the flow, rather than participating. Some days I still feel really lost.

Tomorrow I go to another funeral. This time for one of Ryan's "brothers" who died on duty less than a week ago. We were camping and out of cell phone range when it happened, and when I got the voicemail from a friend telling me that they'd seen a firefighter death on the news, maybe Ryan knew him... my heart skipped a beat as I waited for
the voicemail to get to the name. WHO IS IT?!? Tink... Honestly I think I'd take any death in his department hard, but some of those guys feel like my friends too.

In December of 2006, my mom went into the hospital for the first time. It was such a surreal experience to watch my healthy, dog-walking, hiking, daily gym attending mom get locked up in a hospital room and hooked up to an innocent looking bag of drugs. It felt so unreal, that the first week she was there, she was actually dancing around the
hospital room to keep herself entertained. Because her dance partner was an IV pole, she loved to tell people she was busy practicing her "pole dancing". We all thought she'd be one of those who miraculously escaped chemo with very little ill effect.

Week two, she definitely started to show some fatigue. No more dancing. Week 3 is when it hit all of us what was really going on. She was sick. And she started losing her hair. By Week 4, Christmas week, she was in Intensive Care, and not ever being around someone who was sick, I was sure she was going to die. I didn't yet know how much more torture the human body could endure before it gave up.

That Christmas Eve, which is when my family always celebrates Christmas, I was alone. My husband and my brother were both on shift and my mom was in the ICU. I called Ryan sobbing. I could barely even talk. His
captain that day, Eric Tinkham, told Ryan I had to come down. Tink made me stay with them, and he sat with me while I cried. See, his daughter had AML, just like my mom, so he knew. This was a man who worked extra
shifts constantly to help with his daughter's medical bills, even though she was married and on her own already. He was a good man.

I just played mud volleyball with him 3 weeks ago. He was fine. He was our monster spiker! OK, he was our only spiker (I think he was the only one over about 5'10").

My heart hurts for his family. I know what it's like to send my husband to work and worry about his safety on a regular basis. I worry my husband isn't going to come home. Tink's wife... I just can't imagine. And at 30 years old, I was too young to lose my mom. Tink has girls much younger than that. I wouldn't know the right words to say to
them...

And my heart hurts for the firefighters. You can only imagine what kind of community they have. Firefighters are a special breed of men and women, and it is remarkable to see how they support each other. Firefighters from around the Valley have driven down to Queen Creek to place their shirts on the fence around Station 1. Phoenix, Gilbert,
Mesa, Sun Lakes, Globe, Florence... There will be 100 fire engines in a processional tomorrow, and a helicopter fly-over from air ambulance and police departments around the Valley. New York City is sending firefighters for the funeral. They do this because fire departments around the country supported them during their time of need, and they
pay it forward. Firefighters from around the Valley have volunteered to stay with Tink 24hrs a day until the funeral so he's not alone.

I'm glad that my Ryan belongs to another family that cares so much. And I'm lucky to be on the sidelines watching all the amazing ways they support each other.

Tonight we went to the viewing. It was impossible. But oh man, there's nothing better then a good strong hug when you're feeling sad, and there were plenty of those to go around.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Wendy said...

I just found your blog by surfing around. I'm a medically retired firefighter that is married to a firefighter. My job now is to take care of the families of firefighters who die in the line of duty. It's so, so hard. I'm sorry to hear about all that you have gone through with your mom and now this. So sorry.

8:31 PM  
Blogger Hydrant girl said...

Hugs to you, I'm sorry to hear this.

6:47 AM  
OpenID wideopensquint said...

Devastating ... but I am so glad that you and others have such a strong network of people who care for each other. You're blessed for that.

10:08 AM  
Anonymous SunnyInspiration said...

This brought tears to my eyes. Hugs to you.

10:38 AM  
Anonymous Jonny said...

First off, I want to say I am sorry about your Mom. I know from reading your blog that you were very close. Second, I am a Firefighter back here in North Carolina. I cannot imagine what you and your Husband are going through, after a los of a Brother. But the thing that keeps us going, is something you already know about: Firefighters are all Brothers and Sisters. We are there at the beginning, and we will be there through the end. You are lucky in one regard, that with you and your Husband, you have two families; a family so large, so loving and so generous, that a family reunion takes place each time you visit a Firehouse. Your loss is felt by us all, so you should know that you are not alone. --Jonny

12:03 PM  

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