Poetic Juxtaposition in a Small Town

Working in a small town provides a glimpse at some truly beautiful, near-poetic things. There are the smiles and friendly waves of townspeople as you walk around downtown in your uniform. There’s the warm food, donated by generous local restaurants that volunteered to open in the middle of cold, brutal nights; provided to the victims and responders of a local tragedy. There are the “Thank you” cards that are proudly and thoughtfully tacked to the station cork boards. There’s that pristine hour after clearing an end-of-shift call, where new morning sun filters through the mist, and reflects softly off still ponds. There’s the privilege of being allowed inside of those small, sleepy townhouses and cabins; the same ones that seep curly plumes of sweet woodsmoke into crisp morning air. There’s the sanctity of caring for the people we see every day; those we grew up with and know well, and those who are familiar strangers.

That familiarity–that close-knit bond unique to those who work and live in a small town–can provide for the most inspiring, speechless joy; and unfortunately brilliant sorrow. Sometimes, you are called into those small, sleepy townhouses and cabins, and you witness and participate in the recovery of not just an illness, but a life that weaves frequently into yours within this little town. Other times, you are called around the stoves’ hearths that seep those curly plumes of sweet woodsmoke, and you are asked, demanded, begged to fix something that cannot be fixed; cure something that cannot be cured. Then, that particular thread of life is missing from the usual, comfortable tapestry of every day.

It’s hard to tell a family, “I’m sorry, but she’s passed away.” It’s hard to stop pushing on the chest of someone you’d known, either close or from afar. It’s hard when a family member cries into your uniform as you try to console them with a hug. It’s hard when they watch you pick up the trash, pack up the equipment; and leave them with their sorrow, the whirlwind of funeral directors and arrangements, and the shell of their loved one. What’s harder is when you can’t put the call to the back of your mind, filed away somewhere along with the other codes and unfortunate calls you’d been a part of–when you are forced to face the aftermath of what you couldn’t help. When you are required to attend this person’s funeral.

I was uncomfortable as we waited for the services to start. I kept my head down, chin tucked against the lump in my throat. Part of me hoped I wouldn’t be recognized by the survived who were there on that day my partner and I were called to try. I prayed I wouldn’t be asked once again by a distraught family member, “Why didn’t you save her?” Because it was too late. Because the odds were astronomical. Because it was her time. Because I couldn’t. I would never say those out loud. They wouldn’t alleviate the pain. What’s more, it doesn’t answer question they really want answered: Why did she have to go now?

I focused so intently on trying to find comfort in this awkward, sad situation; trying to be both present and invisible. I was focused so intently, I almost didn’t recognize the man who had taken the seat beside me. He turned and chatted with a friend and coworker of mine. Then, my shoulder was tapped.

“Do you remember that code a while back?” My friend started. I squinted my eyes and thought as he described the house, the room, the circumstances. It all flooded back to me, back from the corner of my mind where the code that resulted in this funeral should be. I nodded. “This is him. This was your patient.”

I looked into those bright, sea-glass green eyes. The last time I looked into them, I was breathing for him. He was cool, gray, limp. Now, his handshake was strong and warm. There was such a life about him. Every blink, every smile, every word out of his mouth seemed so completely miraculous and wonderful. I wanted to talk to him all day, if for no other reason that to truly be in awe of life and every little thing we take for granted.

We sat next to each other during the ceremony. I sat beside a man whose life I helped save, whose thread I helped preserve; while mourning the loss of a life I couldn’t save, the newest uneasy void in our local community’s tapestry. The juxtaposition was beautifully, inspiringly, sadly, uniquely poetic; leaving me with a deeper, greater appreciation for my life and work in this small town.

Let Them Say Goodbye

“Huh, interesting,” I thought. I was being sent up to the ER to assist with a transfer to another, larger hospital. “Interesting, but not particularly rare or unusual.”

I’d seen this diagnosis numerous times. Hell, I’d seen this presentation for this diagnosis a couple times too. When asked if my assistance would be needed, the doctor sucked on the inside of his cheek thoughtfully, and finally said, “The patient will probably be alright. But, eh, it wouldn’t hurt to stack the deck.” And that’s how I became a second set of hands in the back of the truck. If you were superstitious, you might say I was sent with the intention of being more of a good luck charm than a second practitioner. If you weren’t, you might just say I was a poorly allocated resource.

Four-leaf clover or unnecessary weight in the back of the truck, I was happy to be going along on a transfer with a pretty sick patient. Even better, a pretty sick patient with an anticipated positive outcome. Sounded like I was going to go home that night content with the somewhat false knowledge that I helped a little bit today.

Our patient was a sweetheart. Polite, witty, intelligent, friendly, but definitely a bit nervous and frazzled. She had a dog that needed walking, a yoga class to get to, an upcoming vacation to pack for. This trip to the hospital was not planned in her tidy schedule. Her husband stood at the door, fidgeting with his jacket, occasionally taking a few paces forward and a few paces back.

We got her settled on our stretcher, and hooked her up to all of our equipment. Explanations were sprinkled with light jokes, which seemed to calm her somewhat. In short order, we were ready to load her into the ambulance and get on our merry way. I started for the door when I felt my partner pull back ever so lightly on the stretcher.

“Would you like to give her a kiss goodbye?” The paramedic offered gently and brightly. The husband sheepishly grinned, and shuffled over to his wife. He kissed her on the lips, then gently on the forehead. He smoothed back the stray, wavy locks that had sprung free from her braid.

“I’ll be over soon. I’m just going to go home, pack a few things, and call the boys. But I’ll be right there,” He promised.

“Take your time. Don’t worry. I won’t be going anywhere,” She dismissed with a smile and a squeeze of his hand.

It was a cute and tender exchange–one that softens my heart for a little whenever I see it. We whisked her away into the back of the ambulance and took off without much of another thought about it. After a few quiet minutes, her concern became evident.

“I never thought this could happen to me. I do everything right,” She said quietly, tears brimming in her eyes. The paramedic set down his paperwork, and fished around for the small box of cheap tissues. Our patient squeezed my hand lightly. I squeezed back.

I picked a line from my mental toolbox. I’d used it plenty of times before, and I meant it every single time.

“Hey. Look at me,” I started gently. When she lifted her eyes to meet mine, I offered a timid, crooked smile. I tried to let my eyes reflect the compassion and concern I had for this wonderful woman. “Do I look scared?” I ticked my head in the direction of the paramedic. “Does he look scared?”

“No.”

“Then it’s okay. We’re doing everything we can for you, and there is nothing about what’s going on right now that scares us, or is making us panic. You’re in great hands. We’re here to help.”

 

I will never use that line again.

 

She thought it over for a second, as a playful smile eased her worried brow. “So, when you guys start looking scared–then I should be scared?” She teased.

“Yes,” I laughed, “Then you can be scared.”

Her nervousness diminished some as she told us about her life. About how her childhood best friend grew up to be a nurse. About how she met her husband at the local lake one summer. About how she turned down his friend’s request for a date because she really wanted to date her future husband instead. About how she went on to be a teacher. About how she loves to make apple turnovers while singing, which she thought bothered her husband (although he never said anything). About how she loves going to yoga in the morning, and taking walks in the evenings. About her small house by the lake. About how the smell of daisies, pine, and pond water always seems to set things in perspective.

I could’ve listened to her forever. That might be my favorite thing about EMS–being granted the privilege to look through these snapshots of life with another person. But, soon enough, we arrived at our destination. We wove our stretcher through throngs of nurses, doctors, and families, we found our room assignment.

I turned to prepare our patient for the sheet transfer to the hospital bed. In a sickening, heart-dropping instant, everything had changed. That rare, potential complication that is listed when consent forms are signed…it was actually happening. It was no longer just words on paper. It was no longer something the doctors say to cover their ass. It was right there, and it was real. And there was nothing we could do about it.

The changes were subtle, but rapid. The next few minutes were a blur of gloved hands, quick assessments, urgent murmurs, and STAT tests. A frustrated doctor cursed in the hallway. Nurses were preparing to take our patient to other departments, other rooms; somehow heading simultaneously towards and away from hope. We all knew what the results were going to say, but we needed to see the physical, undeniable damage to permanently extinguish the ever-diminishing hope that maybe this won’t be so bad.

As we passed the stretcher to the staff, our patient grabbed my hand, nearly pulling me over from the momentum of the rolling gurney. Her glassy eyes searched my face. My eyes probably betrayed my fearful, worried interior that I tried to mask with a stoic, serious face.

Barely lucid, she mumbled, “I’m scared now.”

I squeezed her hand and swallowed hard. They took her away to care for her as best they could. Approximately ten minutes later, she was unconscious. She would never wake up again.

My crew and I cleaned the stretcher and ambulance, occasionally muttering something to reflect our disbelief. We stood in the ambulance bay, taking in the skyline of this foreign, distant place. On some street between here and home, is a husband driving over to check on his lovely wife of so many years. A bag is packed and sitting in the backseat. Maybe an apple turnover is sealed up in some Tupperware in there. Maybe a shirt from off the clothesline, saturated with the comforting scent of daisies, pine, and pond water. And as he sings softly along with the radio, he has no idea that he just kissed his wife goodbye for the last time.

We sighed. “I can’t believe…” We’d start. “It happened so fast…” We’d try. But in the end, we were left with nothing but the road noise and a quiet, sad shock.

“We can’t prevent everything. We can’t treat everything. Some things you just don’t see coming,” The paramedic said numbly. “But you can always let them say goodbye. You can always give them that minute. You just never know. It might be the last time.”

Angels

It wasn’t until we were in the truck and moving that I really noticed it. Those eyes. They looked so, so much like my grandma’s. The same cool, celery green that turned that softly blued in low light. I was torn between wanting to stare at those eyes for the duration of this trip, and wanting to look anywhere else.

Those eyes remained closed, mostly. When they did open, they pulled at my heart, reminding me both of the happier memories and the harder good byes. Her gaze drifted around the truck, never really focusing on anything. I couldn’t help but wonder if my grandma did the same thing when she rested on that very same cot, taking this very same journey. I absentmindedly wriggled my hand into hers and lightly squeezed. She very gently squeezed back. We continued on in silence, lost in our own thoughts.

Her lips moved, forming words I couldn’t quite read or hear. Her gaze still hung around me, not at me. I leaned closer, struggling to hear over the road noise. I asked her to repeat herself. She spoke just a little louder, but not quite loud enough. I asked one more time. She squeezed my hand. Quietly, shakily, but certainly, she answered.

“I see angels.”

My heart thudded in my chest. I asked, “What?” more out of disbelief than not hearing her correctly. She repeated herself.

“I see angels.”

It was reassuring, and shaking. Comforting, and shocking. Instilling hope and unease. I’ve seen people die. I’ve heard a loving last testament, spoken with the hope it would be passed on to those who were held dear. But this, for some reason, came as more of a shock. I don’t know what I do or don’t believe in. Maybe that’s why I can’t figure out how this feels.

To this day, I don’t know what to make of it, or my feelings around it.

Mother’s Day

I worked for a few hours today, before my family had woken up to start their day. There was a kind, elderly farmer’s wife who we picked up off the floor. Another call brought us to the humble house of a gentleman experiencing some difficulty breathing. Later, a young couple flagged down our ambulance to ask for directions to a local breakfast place. And in some way, I was able to get all of these people to at least crack a smile. I returned to my house feeling at peace with the knowledge that I did a little something to improve the days of these total strangers.

But when I got home, that element of my day wound up causing some confusion and frustration in my little heart.

Today is Mother’s Day. Everyone in the country knows that. Regardless how you view the commercialism of the day, it’s supposed to be about honoring your mother and expressing your love and gratitude for all that she is and does. But, what none of you know, is that today is also almost exactly 6 months since my maternal grandmother passed away.

I made a card, like I do every year. I put a ton of thought into the perfect gift for my mother. And I fully expected to spend the day doting on her, and showing her all sorts of affection and gratitude…the kind that she deserves every day. The kind that I am inexplicably and inexcusably hesitant to show her every day.

Yet, when I came home from my shift, and met her in the kitchen with a hug and a kiss and a “Happy Mother’s Day!”, it all seemed…flat. It’s her first mother’s day without her mom. And, obviously, she’s going to be sad. What frustrated me was that I didn’t know what to do. The little trinket I was so excited and proud to give her didn’t make her feel better. The extra housework that I did (that she always does without complaining) didn’t seem to help. The hugs, kisses, and “I love you’s” that aren’t given out nearly enough…well, that didn’t seem to do much either; except maybe make her quiet sorrow a little more visible for a brief, fleeting second. She carried on the way she tends to: strong, with barely a hint that something was wrong. You had to know her to see it.

I can make any stranger smile. Whether it’s a tough old bird who slipped, a scared man who can’t pull enough air into his lungs, or a lost couple, I can figure something out. They can present me with anything on a whole spectrum of problems, and I can usually find a way to make them feel a little bit better, even if it’s only for a minute. And yet, I can’t seem to do that for my own mother today. I tried, but didn’t know how, to make mother’s day happy.

Grandma, we miss you. And Mom? I do love you, even if I’m not the most open about showing it.

And to all, happy mother’s day.

Gratitude and Christmas

My friends and I are at that age where we’re too old to be kids, and not mature enough to call ourselves adults. While noting the difference between Christmastime as a child and Christmastime now, in this weird pseudo-adult phase, a friend told me, “You know you’re an adult when what you want for Christmas can’t be bought or put under the tree.”

It’s funny to think that 10, 15 years ago, the Christmas season seemed so long to me. Wrapping paper and candy cane borders covered the corkboards at school. Construction paper Christmas trees and cardboard cutout snowmen lined the hallways. My evening car rides to swim team were spent watching the festively illuminated houses pass my frosty window. Christmas carols floated away with the foggy breaths of my girl scout troop as we made our way through town. The warm aroma of baking sugar cookies drifted through the house as we decorated our little cookie-cutter reindeer with sugar crystals and too much icing. Glitter would inevitably end up everywhere inside my house during the holiday parties, when we restless children would abandon the “make your own ornament” table, run amuck, and play games. (Oh, my poor and brave mother…) My sister and I tugged on much-hated tights to wear under our fancy dresses, picked out special to wear to Christmas mass. And, of course, anticipation seemed to stretch each magical minute of the season to twice its usual length, filled with an omnipresent hope and excitement that I’d find that one special thing under the tree.

This year, I felt the season completely passed me by. Maybe it was the lack of snow in a region that’s usually blanketed by this time. Maybe it was focusing so aggressively on schoolwork and finals that kept me from enjoying the little things of the season. More likely, it was the time spent grieving national, local, and personal tragedies. This year, there was little excitement, celebrating, or cheer. Instead, there seems to be a lot of blinking back tears, holding heads in our hands, and asking, “Why?”

When I go to bed tonight, I won’t be straining to hear for reindeer hooves on the roof; or Santa’s hands rustling the tree branches, heavily laden with ornaments created from Decembers past. My stomach won’t be full of butterflies as I toss, turn, and sigh at the clock as it ticks closer to dawn. My feet will hit the floor this Christmas morning at a much later hour than they did more than half-a-lifetime ago. What I truly want won’t be found under the tree; it’ll be found around it.

I want the same things now that I–and everyone else–want the rest of the year: love, friendship, acceptance, and happiness. Maybe, because of the recent shakings and trials of life, my need for these things is a bit stronger. This year, I’ll be fortunate to spend half of the day with my biological family, and the other half with my EMS family. Each of them serves as a source of joy, laughter, frustration, love, and strength. Through smiles and tears, they are there. Nothing has made that more evident than these past few weeks. My gratitude for such a blessing could never really be put into words.

I’m grateful for what I have. And I’m grateful that my losses weren’t worse.

Finally, my heart, thoughts, and prayers go out to anyone fighting through a tough loss this holiday season–especially the families, victims, and first responders of Hurricane Sandy, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and the Webster fire department shooting. May you find some comfort soon.

The Old Apartment

There’s still a big Maple tree out in front of his old apartment, right next to the road. It turns the most beautiful, vibrant red in the fall. In the spring, I’m sure he watched the green buds grow into leaves from his balcony. But he wouldn’t be around to watch them burst into color and fall into the street in autumn. A sobering and strange ball of emotions drops into my stomach whenever I think about that.

I drive under that tree, past his old apartment on my commute to work. I always slow down and look up into his balcony. The last time I saw him, we stood on his deck, comparing the view to a photo he had that was taken from that same spot in 1900. The deck chair is gone now. The windows are always dark. The hanging plants have been removed and cared for in our fire station. It’s empty.  In our hearts, he will never be replaced. There’s something strangely comforting about seeing that same sentiment reflected in real life.

Then one night, I drove home, past the nearly-bare Maple and the old apartment. But this time, there was no comfort to be found. White deck furniture had been placed on the balcony. A lone pumpkin sat on the railing. Someone had moved in. Someone was starting a new beginning. It was more of that cycle; one’s end is another’s beginning. I know it through and through, and time erodes, dulls, fades, and helps. But another pang of sobering reality jabbed into my gut. He was still gone. And life was still moving on.

I still miss you, Commissioner.

Rest Easy, Friend

There’s a magnetic white board in the radio room at our station. I noticed it on my first day, back when everything was so interesting and scary and new. Stuck to the board were multiple rectangular magnets. Each magnet had a member’s name, rank, and training level typed on it in utilitarian, unassuming font. Your magnet remained on the board when you were in town or available. If you were out of town, your magnet was to be removed until you came back. I read through the unfamiliar names, with standard titles after them such as “paramedic,” “firefighter,” or “driver.” But one in particular caught my eye.

George
Photographer
Chick Magnet

I smiled to myself, furrowed my brows in disbelief, and made a mental note to find this George.

One day, a classy champagne colored Lincoln cruised into the fire department parking lot. On the side, in traditional fire service gold leafing, was printed “COMMISSIONER.” An 80-something year old man stepped out, and walked into the department. Everyone greeted him, “George! Commissioner! How are you?” He smiled and made his way over to one of the chairs in the radio room. From this chair, he would share stories, give guidance, and raise hell.

George had served on the fire department for over 20 years, helping fight some of the worst blazes in the region’s history. He went on to serve as deputy chief. After his retirement, he stayed with the department for an additional 30 years, serving as our photographer. His heart was truly in the fire service, doing some incredible things for both individuals and the town. Be it running into a burning building and surviving a flashover in order to rescue a woman, or donating his childhood home to become a fire museum, he always put others before himself.

In his retirement, he came by the department just about every day to stir up trouble. He would tell you that’s exactly what he was doing too, laughing all the while. “Look what I started here!” He would say when a commotion got going. If you ever good naturedly back-sassed the man, he would take mock offense and say, “You know, ever since we gave you women the right to vote, you think you can just do whatever you want. We used to not even allow women in the station until some years ago.” And if a man challenged him? “What’s that? Oh, I’ll have you runnin’ down the street, cryin, ‘I didn’t mean it! I didn’t mean it!’”

He befriended all of the members, regardless of their age. He was always encouraging. He let me know how proud he was of me when I won my trip to Vegas, and when I’d passed my EMT-B. It didn’t matter if you’d been on the department for 20 years or 20 minutes; he was there with a devilish smile and a quick comment to make you feel right at home. We’d sat down and talked on a number of occasions, sharing tales of bravery and stories of stupidity. We discussed successes and failures, past and future, happiness and sorrow, life and death, and just about everything in between.

One summer morning, we learned that we had lost our dear friend. We lost a wealth of humor and knowledge. He was so much to so many: Firefighter. Navyman. World War II veteran. Museum curator. Comedian. Lady’s man. Friend. Third grandfather. Mentor. That day, the station was flooded with members from the community, officers from other fire departments, and members not on duty: all people that loved “The Commish,” as we’d come to call him, so much.

I kept all of this in mind as I pinned my gleaming silver badge to my uniform, very mindful of the thick, black elastic wrapped around it. A firefighter once described the functions of Class A uniforms as things to wear, “For marryin’ and buryin’.” The black and purple bunting over the bay doors fluttered in a breeze. A strong gust ultimately flipped the bunting over onto the roof of the station, and we all chuckled to ourselves and said that was George’s doing. We stood about 70 strong, made up of members both past and present, as well as firefighters from departments all over the region. We were identical in our Class A’s, with mourning banded badges over our heavy hearts. We led a slow, somber parade to the church. We stood together and saluted him as he was carried past us. We laughed and teared up during the beautiful service and the heartfelt eulogies. We cried together as the fire whistle blew 10 times for his last call: 8 for his forever-retired badge number, and twice more for “All Out.”

His ashes are out to sea now with his wife’s. Now he can make the trip twice a day to Europe with her, just like he always told us he had wanted. The bunting has since been removed from our station, which I know would be a relief to him; he never liked having a big fuss made over him. Although the mourning bands have since been removed from our badges, we will all carry a mourning band around our hearts for quite some time.

Dear friend, I wish I’d hugged you one last time. I wish I’d written down more of your stories. I wish I’d made it abundantly clear how much you meant to me and everyone else. Above all, I love and miss you very much. Rest easy, Commissioner.

The Death Fishbowl

Dead. Pushin’ up daisies. Curtains. Checked out. Deceased. Gone. Passed away.

People ask me how I handle dealing with death all the time. Usually I just tell them that patients don’t die all that often. But it brings about an interesting point. We in EMS see death more often than the general population. When I think back on my experienes, there’s a certain “fish-bowliness” to it.  It’s looking in and sympathizing with the family, without necessarily getting your heart wet with the sadness of the event. With practice, I’ve been able to separate the family’s tragedy from my own life. Maybe I’ve done it too well. I found myself believing that death and sadness happens “out there,” outside the station.

It’s going to happen to each and every one of us. Me. You. The goldfish. The potted plant on my kitchen windowsill (although, given my gardening skills, that death might happen sooner than later.) One day, it will all be gone. Yet that thought doesn’t pervade throughout our daily consciousness. It doesn’t sit forefront in our minds. That’s probably a good thing. If my ultimate demise was constantly on my mind, I doubt there would be a whole lot of skydiving, Rocky Mountain climbing, or riding bulls named Blue Manchu. For me anyway, I think there’d be a lot of fear, sadness, and freaking out, with a couple of reckless activities thrown in there. So I, like most people, live with thoughts of death tucked away in the back of my mind.

Then, something happens that shatters the worn falsehoods you’ve wrapped yourself in, keeping you emotionally safe. Where death doesn’t just happen to the goldfish or the potted plant. It happens to people–and not just the people in our ambulance coverage zones.  The red lights of the ambulance don’t penetrate the darkness of that unknown “Great Beyond.” The brick walls of the station don’t keep death from reaching for those inside.

I was fortunate to have gone several years without losing someone dear. Maybe that, in combination with seeing death happening to others, allowed for me to forget that death happens to everyone. Even those I see all the time; fixtures in my life that I’d taken for granted. Even those I work with. Even those I care about.

It’s an interesting and uncomfortable roller coaster. It’s a learning curve–an important one at that. I find myself wanting to spend more time with the people I love. I find myself giving out more hugs, and telling people how important they are to me. It’s unsettling to have that naive, protective bubble removed. I’m no longer on the outside of the fishbowl. Instead, I’m swimming in it.

One Less Set of Lights in the Sky

It’s one of those perfectly clear winter nights. You just have to marvel at the brightness of the stars. And up there, gliding over the smooth, even blackness of the night, are the glittering lights adorning a small plane’s wings.

In my pre-EMT life, I was That Girl that did way too many extracurricular activities. For about a year and a half, I participated in this wonderful aviation program. It sounds like something out of a dream; too good to be true. In exchange for community service hours, you received free aviation school. This included both ground school, and in-flight instructor time, all in an effort to turn kids on to aviation and allow us to earn our private pilot’s license. Because of this, I got to do some pretty incredible things. I flew a plane before I ever drove a car. How many people can say that?

The program was run by a great man named Paul. He was financially well off, from what I understood, and he funded the bulk of the program, allowing myself and several other students the opportunity to learn about a whole career path for free. All he asked for in exchange was that we maintained good grades, and that we gave back to our community. It was his dream to give the gift of aviation to as many people as possible.

He piloted my very first airplane ride. I’ll never forget the butterflies in my stomach as the plane hurtled down the runway, or the smoothness under the wings when we left the ground. His laugh and the excitement in his voice were hard to ignore as he pointed out local landmarks from the air. He was always smiling.

Paul loved flying, and helping people. In addition to starting this program at our high school, he also volunteered for Angel Flight. Always grinning, always laughing. He loved what he did, and worked to spread that joy and curiosity in everyone else.

I did not finish the program with my private pilot’s license. Somewhere along the way, I realized that as cool as aviation was, I had different dreams that were to lead me down a different path. I had to respectfully withdraw from the program. Although, I know a few of my fellow students did go on to earn their private pilot’s license. What’s more, I believe at least one of them is planning on becoming a commercial pilot, or an aviation instructor.

Paul and I occasionally ran into each other from time to time, walking downtown, or waiting in line at the grocery store. We would exchange stories, update each other on our lives, and wish each other well in our brief encounters. Last time I saw him, I was waiting in line at the bank. We started our conversation, but I had to cut it short when I saw a teller open up. I outstretched my hand and waved good bye, as we started to go our separate ways. “See you around,” I said. He told me to take care. It’s funny how quickly things can change.

A few days later, his Cessna would crash shortly after take off. The fire department had said, “there was no chance of saving the person on board.” Just like that, an endearing, compassionate, loving soul departed.

It seemed weird…I’d seen him only a few days earlier, and all was well. I suddenly found myself wishing I’d spent just a little longer talking with him that day at the bank. That maybe I should have let him know just how grateful I was for the opportunity he gave me. But of course, there’s no way I could’ve known then. In EMS, I feel like I see the living, the dying, and the dead. Like there’s a natural progression. It’s just shocking to have someone go from alive to not without being in that stage between. For some reason, I just never imagined such a thing happening to him. How could something he loved so much turn and take him from us? It’s shocking, maybe even cruel; and yet, it’s somewhat poetic.

I look up into that gorgeous, endless dark, and remember the days I spent coursing up there in the clouds. I’ll remember the man who selflessly shared that passion with so many. That clear, starry sky is going to have one less set of light-adorned wings gliding through it.

Rest in peace, friend.