fire life

Current Thoughts of a Firefighter’s Wife

I don’t often write about my role as a firefighter’s wife anymore as it isn’t the main narrative in my life. For various reasons, I distanced myself from focusing on it as doing so caused excess anxiety.

Honestly, I struggle the most on the days my husband works his 24 hour shift. He remains a stabilizing, calming factor in my life. Moreover, even though I no longer listen to the scanner when he works, if I let it, my mind will run away with worst case scenarios. I try to stay busy when he works so I don’t have time to dwell on “What If.” One (ex-) therapist didn’t understand the rise in anxiety while my husband worked his shift. She didn’t last long.

Yesterday I attended the funeral of a retired firefighter with my husband the rest of the department.

I’ve wanted to go with him every time over the years, but until August I worked a day job that didn’t let me escape for three hours midday. Until this year, I also didn’t have a local childcare option if the kids didn’t have school on the day of a funeral. Now that I set my own work schedule and have childcare when I need it, I can attend with my husband.

As we gathered in the garage at the fire department, a fellow firefighter commented on my presence in a positive manner.

“This is what we’re missing these days: our families,” my husband replied.

One other firefighter wife attended.

I sat with our department, all dressed in their Class A uniforms, and watched as a beloved wife said her final goodbyes. I listened as a grown son told a room full of loved ones and firefighters how his dad was his hero. To say my heart felt heavy would be a gross understatement.

I sat in the funeral home knowing I might someday sit in that very same funeral home to say goodbye to my husband surrounded by a bunch of firefighters in their Class As. I also realized I will attend many, many more funerals over the years—not just for those firefighters who came before, but for the men who work, day in and day out, with my husband. The ones who joke with me at the VFW after a funeral, who love our sons.

At the cemetery, I stood alone as the firefighters stood in their two lines during the military rites and the final goodbye.

Last night, the two of us watched Burn, a documentary about the Detroit Fire Department. I can’t decide if it’s a must watch or a must avoid for fire spouses, but it definitely ranked as highly informative and well done. I didn’t know that the DFD fights the most fires per year of any city in the country. Detroit is literally burning down, with 95% of the fires they fight (as of release in 2010) being arson. That’s not okay.

In the documentary, we saw how one firefighter lives life as a paraplegic after a devastating collapse at a fire. I also learned that bath tubs fall through ceilings and air conditioners fall out of windows, neither a thing I’ve ever considered. The saddest part, however, was a man who loved his wife oh-so-much and couldn’t wait for his retirement to live his life with her; she died shortly before his last day of work.

I don’t know what life holds for me as a firefighter’s wife. The unknown of it all kind of pokes at places I don’t like to go very often anymore. I choose to live in the present as much as my tricky mind lets me. But yesterday made me think a lot about the fire department family, my personal skill set, and that previously mentioned setting of my own schedule. I may write more about being a firefighter’s wife this year as a new project seems to be forming itself. We’ll see.

For now, if you know my husband is working a 24 hour shift, maybe just check in on me or send me funny gifs or dog videos. I’m working hard on my coping techniques to remain in safe spaces while he’s gone, but sometimes they fail. Over the past year, I’ve realized how I need to ask for help when I need it. So. Here I am.

Current Thoughts of a Firefighter's Wife

fire life Parenting

When It’s Just the Three of Us

When It's Just the Three of Us

I’m not always on top of my parenting game when it’s just the three of us.

During a particularly dark bout with depression, I dreaded my husband’s 24 hour shifts at the fire department. In addition to fearing the normal things (like giant fires and impending doom), my anxiety spun off on worst case scenarios about the house, the boys, the dog, the world.

And it’s true, as many fire spouses will tell you, that all “bad” things happen when he’s at work: I lock myself and the boys out of the house in 27 degree weather right before dentist appointments. The dog runs away. Kids throw up. Bad news about family arrives. The car battery dies. I always have therapy on a shift day.

It’s the way it works.

And for a long time, I didn’t feel capable enough to handle any of that on my own. I’d panic the moment something started to go awry, and the rest of the day would snowball away, smashing everything in its path. If we ran a few minutes late for school, the whole day counted as a loss. The boys argued? I was the worst mom on the planet. I muffed dinner? End times. Everything became very black and white during this time; if it didn’t look like a perfect win, everything was a total fail.

I’m pleased to announce I’m no longer in that bout of depression.

I can currently see shades of gray, different variations in color, and the beauty in imperfection. It felt as though this journey might never end, but here we are. And oh, I’ll take it over the other version any day.

This afternoon didn’t quite go as planned. BigBrother’s homework load surpassed any other amount during this school year—or any school year. He required help, and I managed to give it while paying attention to LittleBrother’s impromptu science lab and cooking dinner. All at the same time.

I did text my husband a message full of gloom and doom at one point because I goofed on a dinner process, but I decided shaking myself out of the funk seemed like a better idea than dwelling on it and counting the day as ruined. Eventually BigBrother finished all of his homework and the three of us lounged in the living room, reading books, telling jokes, and relaxing. I had more plans, but they don’t seem to matter now.

At bedtime, BigBrother thanked me for helping him get through his homework. We talked about a few things—school, work, anxiety, puberty, water line breaks, Star Wars—and then he set off to read while I finished up some of my tasks. Despite the fact that my husband had to come home and jump the car this morning, I count today as a win for the three of us. We did what we had to do and we enjoyed each other.

Letting go of perfectionism still might take me my whole life, but I sure like the days when I get it right.