I don’t pretend to even begin to understand what the brothers and sisters of those in the fire, police or military professions go through when they lose one of their own. I was in the position of the wife of one who lost a brother and friend. My biggest fear when married to the profession was that I would lose the man that was the center of my world while he was out there laying his life down to save others. While I thankfully never had to know that pain, I knew a different kind of pain when it hit close to home. The husbands and wives of those in these careers carry a fear that they work hard to keep locked away, in a mental and emotional drawer. If it wasn’t locked up you’d go half crazy when your hero was away doing what they are trained and to do. Adrenaline junkies is what I like to call them. They live on the edge with their professions. Those on the home front are a special breed too, because believe me it takes a hell of a lot of courage to kiss them good-bye and wonder if they are going to come back when their shift is over.
4 years ago it all came crumbling down, the courage and strength I had built up. For a while after this day I knew serious fear every time I heard a siren, got physically sick with worry, and worked hard to get it all back under control without showing my husband that my reserves were shot to hell and I wanted to throw myself in front of the door and beg him not to go to work again. Maybe I should have shown him that? I thought I was supposed to show how strong I was instead.
While the marriage is gone, and I think these events may have been what started things cracking underneath us (these are the things that cause the intolerable to rise to the surface and no longer be ignored in a relationship), as long as I live I will never forget where I was, what I was doing, and how my world changed.
The following are 3 blog posts from the weeks that followed. Unedited, they are my heart coming to terms with it all and starting to deal with it as the wife of one of the brothers who lost another. To the heros that go off each day, never forget the hero that is at home waiting for your return. They don’t know what you go through when this happens, and never will. But hopefully you will see a little bit of what your soul mate at home carries with them.
To all those fighting the fires, policing the streets, and serving our country, be safe. And to those waiting at home, be strong and never ever hesitate to let them know how you feel.
Part 1 Mental Dressers and Spilled Drawers
Current mood: determined
I think everyone understands the analogy that the mind is like a large dresser full of drawers. We fold up and place all of our memories, emotions, thoughts, fears, joys, etc. into those drawers to be pulled out as needed, or locked away with the hope that the drawer never has to be opened again. Just like our dressers each drawer has specific contents.
Every significant other of a fire fighter, cop, or soldier has a mental drawer in which we keep our thoughts, feelings and fears connected to their profession. In the day to day living of life while pulling open other mental drawers we sometimes pull that one open but quickly refold whatever tried to slip out and close it quickly again. We don’t dare let that drawer’s contents spill out as they are the things that will rob us of our sleep, peace of mind, and drive us insane if we dwell on them. They are best left folded neatly in stacks with the drawer shut tight and left alone. We are never unaware that the drawer is there but we chose not to open it.
On April 4th, 2008, many men and women in, married to or other wise connected to the fire profession, had those drawers yanked open and the contents spilled out on the floor of our minds and hearts. Many discovered emotions and fears, thoughts and feelings that they had not been aware of before. In the days that followed we sailed uncharted waters trying to survive being pounded with some very strong waves and tossed about out of control and feeling quite lost. Some of us watched as our fire fighters weathered a storm that all their training could never have prepared them for, losing a brother. And those of us that love them just as unprepared as to how to help them row through emotions or throw them a life line.
Sadly no one can truly help another fold all this up and put it neatly back in the drawer. It has to be done individually by each person in their own time and own way. Cramming it all back in doesn’t help because it simply doesn’t fit, believe me I’ve tried but the drawer won’t close and the shirt tails of many things stick out demanding to be properly folded and replaced in their rightful spot.
This Friday we will be 15 weeks out from the day the drawer was spilled, if my calculations are correct, and it is time for me to get it all folded back up and put away. In dealing with the pile I am positive there is more now than before, new items that need to be squeezed in there. Funny the drawer seems to expand to fit the contents, but only if it is done right. So, I’m going to do what I’ve been meaning to do for weeks now, put it all away. It means looking back for a bit over the events, putting it down here, then closing the drawer and praying to God it is never opened again the way it was that never to be forgotten morning in April.
My blogs will focus on that for a day or two or however long it takes me to retrace, fold, and regroup the contents so I can close this drawer completely leaving nothing hanging out to be caught in the mental breezes that try to stir and wake up things that are best left put away.
I understand if no one reads them, they really are more about and for me than anyone, but if you do remember, it is from my own perspective. It is what hit me, touched me, left scars on my heart and mind, all about me for the moment.
Part 2 – The Drawer is Spilled
Current mood: sad
Friday is my favorite day of the week. It marks the end of working for a 2 day break. It usually means the party starts at 3pm when I walk out of the office. I’m usually in a great mood and counting the hours down until I can head home.
Friday, April 4th, started like every other Friday. I got to work at 6:15am, started coffee, got my breakfast and sat down at my desk. I usually eat and read the news paper or one of the news channels online to see what happened in the world while I’ve been asleep. Then it is time to get down to the job.
That morning I had WEBN on, listening to The Dawn Patrol now minus Eddie Fingers, and waiting for Pete to log on for our morning IM’s of hello, how did you sleep etc. My favorite multi-task of the day, working and chatting with my honey.
At some point in my concentration I heard the news that 2 fire fighters were missing in a fire. Before they gave a location my mind immediately shuffled through those drawers to remember which unit was on duty. It wasn’t Unit 3 so my brothers were safe. Then when I heardColerainTownship I began yanking mental drawers open to remember who we knew that worked there….Amy! And what of Paul is he there? No he is with a different department. Who else??? I’m drawing a blank. Pete logs in and I send him and IM telling him what I had just heard on the radio, knowing he’ll want to be aware. He asks where I heard, I tell him and he says he doesn’t think any ofDelhi’s guys are on duty in Colerain today but he’d check into it.
News begins to filter in and word is they are believed dead. So begins the attempt by every branch of the media to have the scoop first and the facts are usually lost and twisted, who knows what the real story will look like compared to initial reports, it’s pathetic.
A little later as I’m working with my radio turned up, with reports that the two fire fighters are reported dead. I text Paul to be sure it isn’t he or Amy and get a quick text that they are ok, she is with the fiance of one of the lost, and thanks me for thinking of them. Then my phone rings. I have caller ID on the office phone so I can see that it is Pete. When I answer his voice is cracking, and before the words are out of his mouth I know we’ve lost someone fromDelhi’s ranks. His first words are “hey, we lost one, Brian died.” Now mind you, as a fire fighter’s wife I hear stories and meet these guys, but it is rare I ever hear a real name. Fire fighters are known by last name or nick name. The only Brian coming to mind is “wanny” but I cannot put that together in my head because it is a Unit 2 day and he would be atDelhi. I ask Brian who, and Pete says “Schira…Chico”. Now my heart is in my throat and all I can think is that he is too damn young to die it cannot be right. I’ve only met him a few times but I know Pete felt close to him, really liked him a lot. “I gotta go to the fire house I’ll call you later, do not share that it hasn’t been released to the media yet. love you” and he is gone.
The “do not open” drawer that holds the unpleasent side of being a fire wife is yanked rudely from my mental dresser and contents are now spilled out all over my mind and heart. The fears, worries, and things I cannot yet identify poured out. I cannot think or breathe for a minute as the first of so many tears to come start to blur my vision. My first real pain is for my husband. On some level I know that his life, and his comrades lives will never be the same from this moment on. I cry for his pain in his voice, knowing it is the first pain of shock and what is coming is going to be so much more than he can begin to know. Without knowing how I know this, I do, and I know this is going to be a long weekend.
Before long my phone rings and it is my daughter, Liesl, wanting to know if we know who it is. I know Pete said something about not to share that information, but this is Liesl. She isn’t going to tell anyone but she knows many of the guys and she is at work hearing the news, scared. I swear her to secrecy knowing her manager dates aGreenTownship fire fighter, then tell her. Silence for a moment and then “oh no”. Customers are coming in so she has to go, I remind her by text on her phone that she cannot share that. But by then her coworker is hearing names too. Even before the media here will know, a friend fromDayton with fire fighter connections will have the names too, asking me if we knew them.
Some how, and it is fuzzy, I know that Captain Robin Broxterman is the other lost fire fighter, but I cannot recall how I came into that information. I think Pete called from the fire house and told me shortly after he arrived but I knew it before my son called on his way home from work to ask who it was and be sure it wasn’t dad. Being a cop I know he isn’t going to share either, so I tell him and he too is shocked. He really isn’t sure what to say, he himself in a brotherhood that defies one’s ability to explain it to those not connected. I know like me part of him is thanking God it wasn’t family, but struggling with the knowledge that it is too close to home.
The remainder of the day I received reports from Pete, his voice sounding so lost and confused, full of shock. Word is making its way around, the media has names, the noon news full of reports and mixed up facts. The Delhi wives are still meeting tonight at Price Hill chili, the guys are going to Baker’s, then we’re all going to Pirate’s Den after that because Ray’s band, Time Piece, is playing and we all just need to be together.
Somewhere in the details I know our friend, a Delhi Cop that is off that night is going to drop us at the bar later and then come back when we are ready to go home so we do not have to worry about driving, he knows we’re going to need to get drunk and very numb.
In the blur of the events I’m in Price Hill Chili with the otherDelhi women, one is shattered and I don’t know at the time she is one of the guy’s sister, and was a close friend of Brian’s. Many are in tears, more details are shared and I’m blown away by what is already in the works. I’ve always watched all this unfold on TV when it was another department/city, wondering how it all falls into place but never did I imagine I’d be sitting there in shock myself listening as things are shared and already so much is in motion. I hear the scream of sirens approaching, feel as much as hear CFDs Engine 24 and company flying down Glenway past us and I cringe…Dear God let it be nothing, no more death today, no more tragedy, please….then I’m listening again. And then we break up and go our ways.
At Pirate’s Den the men start to filter in, many wives are already there. I watch as grief is displayed in a variety of ways…some are quiet, some are in or on the edge of tears, some laugh sharing memories, and there is anger. My brother is there and he is angry, his grief being displayed through that anger, his streams are crossed and fully charged. (the veins in his forehead protrude when he is angry and the guys joke that you don’t want to cross his streams/veins at the fire house) I’m taking it all in, seeing raw emotion and just not sure what to feel. I feel guilty for being thankful my own fire fighter is standing nearby safe and sound, and sad for all the love in the room for the one they lost. I wonder if Brian had any idea how special he was to these men and women around me, could he see them? Could he touch and comfort them from the other side cause they need it so badly. Little did I know this was only the beginning, most are still in a state of shock and reality hasn’t set in yet.
In the early hours of the next morning as Pete is restlessly sleeping, it crosses my mind there is so much coming at him and his department. Their grief is going to be very public at first, broadcast for so millions to see, captured in photos and before they heal they’ll deal with weeks of investigations, news accounts, fund raisers…things that will keep things very fresh and tender long before they can start to find a way to bring some healing to their wounded hearts. I cry all over again for the man laying next to me that has never dealt with anything like this and praying for wisdom to know how to help him through what is to come, my heart breaking for him and his friends. And again I feel guilt, for being so thankful he is there, safely in bed with me and not laying in the funeral home waiting for his brothers to lay him to rest while the world looks on. I pray for the department again that God will see them through this and help them hold together to do what they must do.
Part 3 – Spilled Drawers
Current mood: sad
Wednesday, April 9th, an estimated 10,000 fire fighters were in Cincinnati to lay to rest 2 heros. As long as I live I don’t think I will ever forget that day.
Pete was already gone to drive E36 in the funeral procession when I went to St. Simon’s to board the bus with the rest of the wives and family members ofDelhi. At first many of us just stood there in the misty rain. I think on some level we just did not want to get on the bus, it would be the beginning of such a painful day, a day many of us pray we never have to do for our own hero. Finally someone suggested we could get out of the rain so we boarded. Many of us had small coolers with water/soda, some snacks and things. Thanks to Lt. Ihle’s wife, Marti, our wive’s den mom I called her, we were prepared for what would be a very long day of standing and waiting.
I was very nervous about this day, I wasn’t sure what to expect, how much if any emotion I’d feel. I certainly wasn’t prepared for the amount of tears and heart break I would encounter.
Chief Zozs boarded our bus shortly before we pulled out and informed us that Brian had been moved during the previous evening and was now waiting for us at Colerain. Many of us shed our first tears of the day with that announcement. Then he left the bus and we soon began to move. We had a police escort, us and the other buses there, over toColerainTownship. I’ve always wanted a police escort but this was never how I intended. Ahead of us on a bus were the rest of our boys that were not riding on fire apparatus. My brother, Mike, was in that one I knew, I caught site of him in the parking lot briefly from our bus. I wondered what he was feeling at that moment as we pulled out and headed out.
We were taken around the back of Northgate Mall, to be ‘staged’ into order to move to the Colerain Administrative offices to be added to the very long procession that would proceed from there to the church, then on to the cemetery. While in a line that kept creeping forward in the back lot we were given a packet of papers and told all of us had to read all of the information. It told us each step of the way what would take place, where we as the wives of the Delhi Fire Div. would stand, etc. We even had an escort fire fighter from another department that would be our liaison and get us where we needed to be at the correct times. On 2 other occasions, cops and one fire fighter’s funeral, I had wondered how it was that something so huge could be so well organized and choreographed. This again was NOT the way I ever planned to see what goes on behind the scenes so to speak.
As we inched forward, a couple of Cincinnati Fire Fighters boarded our bus, from the back of a truck, and handed out peanut butter crackers and bottled water to us to help get us through the day. They knew what it was going to be like having just done this for one of their own 5 years ago. They were all so polite and their gesture brought a lot of tears to all of us. Who ever would have thought crackers and water could be so emotional?
At last we left the lot and drove to the starting point of the procession, Colerain’s administrative offices. As our bus move up the long driveway we passed E102 from Colerain FD, and E30 fromDelhi. Robin’s flag drapped casket rested in the hose bed of E102, Brian’s in E30. No one talked but the tears were flowing for many of us. I was torn again between pain for the loss, and gratefulness that it wasn’t my husband resting atop his engine.
It wasn’t long before the procession began to leave and head downColerain Avenue. As we pulled out, the road crews for Colerain Twp. all had lined up their equipment/trucks, all head lights on, all the hazard lights blinking, all the employees standing, some saluting, some hands over their hearts, their images began to swim as tears started again. All the way downColerain Ave, people were lined up. Some held signs, some held flags, some just stood crying, watching the procession. A banner with Robin and Brian’s photos was on the catwalk. School buses lined the front of the mall parking lot, headlights on, their red lights flashing…all the cars on the front line of the car dealerships we passed also had lights and blinkers on. Small gestures of respect and sorrow to the families for their loss. It tore us all up to see these small, precious acts of kindness from complete strangers that wanted Robin and Brian’s families and coworkers to know how sorry they were. Traffic going the other way was a stop, many out of their cars quietly watching. We pass many police cars/officers, lights on, saluting the entire procession, many with cheeks wet from their own tears. Many fire departments had trucks along the way, with fire fighters saluting and crying. Little children holding flags, some little ones saluting, for miles it went on like that. I wondered if the families riding in the limos up front were able to find even a small amount of comfort in the out pouring from the community as we rode along, a community saying good-bye to 2 people many never knew.
When we neared the highway, the procession went on downCentral Parkway, the buses pulled out of the procession and went down the highway to arrive before the rest of the procession. We pulled behind the Cathedral and we were all ushered to our places in front on the steps. And so began a rather long wait as the slow procession made its way through downtown to where we all stood waiting. I glanced about at a sea of fire fighters from all over the country, and later learned some had come fromWales andAustralia. I looked at the parking garage across the street and every level was lined with uniforms of fire fighters, and many civilians as well. And all were quiet, so quiet we could hear as the procession was coming closer. Bagpipes playing at a distance, engines on dozens of trucks.
Before E102 and E30 arrived on some cue all fire personel were suddenly standing at attention. When the trucks pulled up carrying Robin and Brian, platforms of stairs were brought out and set at the backs of the trucks for those that would bring them from the hose beds and into the church. Dozens of fire fighters were coming up the steps filling with those already waiting. I started to see theDelhi logo and faces that were familiar. And then I saw Pete coming up the steps with tears free flowing. My heart broke for him and I so wanted to go hug him. But the protocol is important, so I had to stand across on the other side with the other wives as we watched our husbands struggle with their pain and not be able to go to them.
If you watched the news you know that there is much ceremony, and things go ever so slow. Time seems to stand still as the caskets are brought off the trucks, all movements very precise, and everyone files into the church. I remember very little of what was said inside, I was very busy struggling with my emotions. I was feeling for the families and fire fighters that had to grieve with television cameras recording every tear. I struggled with guilt for the prayers of thanks that I was on the side in a chair and not in the front pews. And I wondered how Pete was holding up, since I was unable to see him from where I was seated.
When the services were over, ceremony moved us all into place again, and Brian and Robin were placed back on the trucks to be taken to the cemetery. Our buses had been moved and turned around to follow in order to leave for Spring Grove. After they were in place on the engines we were all moved quickly to board the buses to follow in the procession. We watched as many engines and squads rolled past our bus…and I could read the pain in Pete’s face as E36 came into view then rolled past us.
The ride to the cemetery seemed to go forever as well…moving slowly through downtown we could see a few blocks over and then onto over passes entering downtown, dozens upon dozens of fire trucks from all over lined up waiting to move forward toward the cemetery. We knew that the day up inIndianapolis at the fire convention had been canceled to allow all those fire fighters to attend. And they did…in mass. It was amazing. The sheer number of trucks that would later be double and triple parked onSpring Grove Ave. in front of the cemetery was incredible.
Once at the cemetery we were ushered to a spot up front on the side near where the caskets would be placed. To our right were the bagpipers. SO many bagpipers. My brother, Yatz, was standing there, though he never caught my eye I spotted him. He had told me of the many fire fighters from the conference that would be there, with full dress and bagpipes to play. Nothing could have prepared me though, despite knowing it was coming, when they kicked in together and began to play “Going Home”. I’ve been the mother of a bagpiper for 12 years so the words of the song were well known to me, and the tears started all over again. I’ve put the words at the end of this blog in case you want to know what ripped at the heart of so many, but even those that didn’t know the words knew what the song implied. I saw our boys in front on the other side, and saw my brother Mike with the otherDelhi officers. And saw Pete there too, and could see the pain all over his face. And still we were not allowed to go to our boys.
The services there in the cemetery were sad. When the bell rang, and the last call came for Robin and Brian, when the bagpipers played Amazing Grace and the one walks off symbolizing the leaving of those that have gone I don’t believe there was a single person that was not crying. And then it was over. People started to move and I lost sight of Pete. As I started that way I saw him coming toward me, could see his tears and could read his need to just get to me. He grabbed me and just held on, and just cried. We stood there and just held each other and cried together. I had never seen such raw emotion with Pete before. He just isn’t one to show much outwardly. To see him hurting so much was one of the hardest things for me. I knew there was nothing I could do to make it better, it was such a helpless moment for me. I just clung to him thankful again he was there in my arms and not waiting to be taken to another part of the cemetaey to be buried.
If my calculations are correct, it has been 17 this Friday weeks since the morning we lost 2 of our bravest. I’ve watched Pete move through his grief, but by no means is he anywhere near past it. Sometimes he talks, but mostly he processes. I’ve struggled with my own moments when he has gone off to work and I’m trying like hell to keep from worrying and thinking about the what ifs. Since he started on the fire department I’ve always worn his wedding ring on a chain on my neck when he is on duty. One of the first mornings he left for the fire house I found it on the dresser. For safety reasons he doesn’t wear it to work. So to keep him close to me I put it on the chain. Since Brian’s death more often not I fall asleep with it curled in my hand, still on the chain, while Pete is on duty, and wake with it there in the morning. I’ve managed to fold and return most of the things to the drawer, the fears and worries all fire spouses have. Some aren’t there yet, they are sitting at my feet. I don’t think I will ever view his heading off to work the same way again. I treasure his texts and phone calls all the more, knowing those could be the last communication we may have. I don’t dwell on it, don’t get me wrong, but they are just all the more cherished pieces of us that we share.
I only just shared much of the events with my mom and sister this past weekend. The subject came up, and I opened up and told them of the events of that day. How peanut butter crackers can make a bus full of women cry, or little guys dressed in mini turn out gear saluting a procession can break your heart, or how it all changes your perspective and makes you just love the man so much more.
I pray we never have to go through this again, that our fire fighters will all come home safe every morning. I know that is unrealistic but I will never stop praying for each unit’s safety, every single day, and being thankful every day that I get to hug mine one more time.
Going home, going home,
I’m just going home.
Quiet-like, slip away-
I’ll be going home.
It’s not far, just close by;
Jesus is the Door;
Work all done, laid aside,
Fear and grief no more.
Friends are there, waiting now.
He is waiting, too.
See His smile! See His hand!
He will lead me through.
Morning Star lights the way;
Restless dream all done;
Shadows gone, break of day,
Life has just begun.
Every tear wiped away,
Pain and sickness gone;
Wide awake there with Him!
Peace goes on and on!
Going home, going home,
I’ll be going home.
See the Light! See the Sun!
I’m just going home.
you can watch some footage of the events here: