Today I visited my friend and Fire Captain at hospice. I had slept poorly all night, tossing and turning and having a bad dream about him. I dreamed that he had died and everyone was at the fire station dressed in their Class A uniforms waiting for his formal Fire Fighter funeral. But I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t dressed and I was freaking out.
But of course I’m not ready. And I had no idea what to expect today when I saw him. I was at work with my partner and we hoped for a call so we could visit him. Hospice house is right near the hospital and we were determined to transport anyone who called today just so we could visit. On the other hand, I was also scared who I would find when I got there.
When I first walked into the room, I saw my Lieutenant with him. My Captain was sitting on the couch leaning forward with his head down. I had just seen him on Monday at our meeting where he had received his 25 years of service pin. He didn’t look well then, but I was so glad he was there to get his pin. But today…well, today he looked like he was really dying. There is no other way to put it.
He looked up when we walked into the room and I wasn’t sure he knew who I was and it was all I could do not to lose it right then. It wasn’t my friend looking back at me. But we did what everyone does in those situations, we acted normally. Tried to lighten the mood and talked to him like nothing was different. My Cap was always a big joker–always playing practical jokes on everyone. It was hard to see him looking like he was in a different reality. Completely not with it.
His conversation was halted and he seemed uncomfortable and with his hands and legs cramping. So I asked him if he wanted to walk. Amazingly he said yes! So he and I got up and slowly walked out of his room and down the hallway into the big, bright main room. And while we did, I recalled stories of us together. Slowly and beautifully something began to flicker in him.
By the time we reached the main room he appeared more his old self. He began to joke with me and tease me. All the guys came out there by then and we got some smiles. We all started to tell some stories and it began to feel a little like normal. My Captain started to get a bit negative, but I reminded him: day at a time and he said, “yes, I’ll be OK.” And we all strolled back to his room. But I felt like I had been given a great gift.
Some people choose not to see people when they are dying and refuse to go to their funerals. But I needed to be near him. I needed to be near him for a couple of reasons. Even if he hadn’t rallied like he did, we still can’t be sure that somewhere in their dying people don’t sense our presence and aren’t comforted by it. And any way we can ease their fear or pain is a good thing. And for me, being a physical person, I needed to be close to him, touch him and kiss and hug him goodbye. Because even though his spirit will linger in our fire department, I will take every chance I get to be near him while he’s still here on this earth.