They have just closed their eyes.
They are exhausted after their shift the night before.
They slowly drifts off to sleep.
Suddenly, their eyes are forced open by shining lights. their ears are pierced by the shrill of the alarm. they rub their eyes and listen to the loud voice conveying vital information over the PA. Not missing a beat, they quickly makes their way toward their gear.
In less than 90 seconds from the moment they first heard the alarm, they are in their seat. Flashing orange lights and shrieking sirens fill the bay. They can almost hear their heart thumping. Their training sets in. They prepare their body and their mind for whatever the call will require of them.
They are a firefighter. This is their job. This is their passion.
Meanwhile, I am home. My thoughts have drifted to them throughout the evening. As I played with our child, prepared supper, bathed them and especially at bedtime, when our child wished they could hug and kiss them goodnight, I thought of them. Now, even though we’ve already said goodnight, I send them one more text. They are likely asleep–they are 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 them 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 they are safe. I can finally fall asleep.
Being the spouse of a firefighter, this is my normal. As they prepare for their shift, I am preparing myself as well. I know all too well the risks of their job. They are the person rushing into the blazing building everyone else is fleeing. They are the person who willingly walks into unsafe situations to protect others. They are the person who is on the road, amidst the traffic, helping those who need them most.
As their spouse, I experience all of the highs and all of the lows alongside spouse. But I don’t see what their eyes see. My mind doesn’t share their thoughts. I don’t live their experiences, but I live to love and support them. There is nothing worse than seeing their face following a horrendous shift. I see the sadness, the helplessness and the weight their shoulders carry. I see their eyes, which speak volumes louder than any word they could possibly say. Often, there are no words.
As their spouse, I feel helpless. There is no magic potion to heal the wounds their heart has endured, no magic potion to erase the haunting memories, no magic potion to help them un-see the horrors they have witnessed.
What can I do? I can hug them, and I can love them. I can gently wake them in the night from their nightmares. I can cry beside them when a life is lost or tragedy strikes.
But, I am also here to share their joy. I am here to share in their countless accomplishments. My heart bursts with pride when they come home and they have a certain other look in their eyes—a look I know means they have had a good shift. A look I know means they have saved a life. A smile that tells me they have helped someone who needed them. A gleam in their eyes that tells me they have made a significant difference to someone and their family. For my spouse, these moments outweigh the risks. These are the moments that help them survive. They live for these moments. As their spouse, so do I.
Our child does not quite understand exactly what their parents job entails, but they are the first to tell people, “My parent is a firefighter. They help people.” One day they will understand all that it means when they leave for a shift. I know they will worry. I know they will be scared. When this time comes, it will be our job to listen and love them through their 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 spouse leaves for a shift, I pray for their 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 they risk their life every time they go to work. They leave those who love them most—and whom they love 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 spouse. 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 spouse has been through, standing by their side and loving them through it all is what helps us survive.
We have two rules in our house before my spouse 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 their 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.