Thursday, January 7, 2016

Revisiting "The Notebook"

I have had a few FFWs reach out to me about a post I wrote  for in 2013.

It was probably the hardest and most emotional post I have written.

Revisiting it, that hasn't changed. I haven't looked at it beyond packing it up for the move, in over a year. I guess it was time to take a look, again.

That Knock on the Door – LODD Preparation for a Firefighter Wife

Knowing that I will be a total and complete disaster, I have made a list.  My Secret List.  I have it in a ordinary notebook on my dressing table.  It is not pretty.  It looks like it could be my kids’.  I don’t share it.  I don’t talk about it.  My hands shake whenever I pull it out.  My FF knows I have it, but does not know what it looks like. It has some links and some notes.  My list comes from questions that I have asked him – sometimes on the sly and sometimes rather blatant.

A composition notebook that could be in any backpack in the world…
but, it is my secret notebook.

It has print outs from the local and from the IAFF.  It has spots for scripture passages, pall bearers and speakers.  I have the contact information for the cemetery – luckily we already have a place in a family plot.  I know that the department will take care of much of the details for me when it comes to the actual service, but there is so much we don’t ever think about.

So, without all of the specifics of my notebook, simply because I will never make it through this post with all of the tears, here are some links and lists I have to work from.

The first page I have written – BREATHE and CRY AS MUCH AS YOU NEED. In big bold letters.  I need to give myself that permission rather than try to play the stoic statue.  I need that permission.  You might too, or perhaps you are comfortable enough, but here’s where you put anything that will help you get through that initial shock.

The next page is a list of numbers and people I want each person to call for me, so that I don’t have to rehash the loss verbally quite so much.  His parents – with all of their numbers, with a note for them to call their family and friends.  My parents – with a note to call each of their perspective families.

I also have the kids’ school numbers there.  I can’t even begin to imagine how hard that would be – trying to manage my grief while breaking such heartbreaking news and watching their world crumble in an instant.  But I digress…

The next number is my firefighter wife next door – cell and work, and her Lt’s number – again, even though he would probably already know.  Chances are, since our FFs work the same shift, she would probably be right there when I got the news.  She would see that department SUV pull up, but just in case, I have them readily accessible.

I also have a few firefighter wives that are not local, but are on this list as well.

I have his partner’s number and his Battalion Chief’s cell number and the Union President’s number and email.  Again, they would all know what happened (probably before me), but if I have a question or  need help with something, I don’t have to search to try and find them.

I have two funeral homes – one close to the Basilica and one my family has used forever – their numbers and a contact person at each.  I also have the number for our parish with this list, with the extension for each of the priests.  The Basilica is a most beautiful place to say good-bye.

The cemetery – their fax number and phone number – made it to my list.

Make this list your own.  Be sure you have a go to person.  One who can take calls when you can’t. One who can organize meals for your family and help spread information.  You might want to make them your number one call just so you have someone to lean on.

I have an entire packet from our IAFF Local printed out and highlighted/marked up.

If needed, call (866) 736-5868 to request help from the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s Local Assistance State Team (LAST).
No matter what, you are never alone!

Funeral and Burial Plans
This is probably the hardest part of my notebook to discuss – mainly because I have asked him some of these questions and others are just too painful.  I have asked what scripture passages he wants (to which he shrugged his shoulders and so I have put some ideas of my own in to share with the priests) and music.  One of the songs we sang at a friend’s father’s funeral in college, and so it breaks my heart every time I hear it, is one he would like.  Mental note to myself – get a copy of the sheet music.

Class As – if your firefighter does not have one for burial purpose’s Lighthouse Uniform will provide one for free for Fallen FFs.  If you have a local uniform distributor, check with them.  Local is always easier during these hard times.

Wedding ring – I wear his ring a third of the time.  It is important to me.  I will have his wedding ring on his hand for the services, but I will ask to have it removed before burial.  I have a plain titanium ring that I bought him for work – which he doesn’t wear – that I will probably replace it with.  It is important to me that he have a ring with him when we part ways in this world.

Burial – I have a folder of pictures that I will have printed out for his casket.  If I don’t send him into a fire without pictures of us with him in his helmet, how I can I send him on to the next life without them.  This set of pictures is constantly changing.  I have a note in my notebook with their location, but it is not on my laptop to keep my husband shielded from them.

I also want to make sure he his buried with his St. Florian’s Medal and his half of our Mizpah coin. When I touch my half of the coin while he is on shift, it reminds me to say a prayer that he stays safe. When we are separated by death, it will continue to remind me to say a prayer.

A BIGGER question for burial is does he want to be buried?  Would he prefer cremation?  We have one plot.  I will be cremated and under the headstone.  He will be buried.  Not easy questions and oh so awkward to even bring up.  But, easier to know ahead of time.

Music – Speak with your FF, does he have a hymn that he has loved since he was a child.  My husband and I met in our college choir and we did many pieces of sacred music that we fell in love with.  Just as an example I have John Rutter’s The Lord is My Shepherd  and Franz Biebel’s Ave Maria included in my list.  No celebration of my husband’s life could be complete without these pieces that were such a big piece of his life.  But, this also means you need to make arrangements with your church, parish or funeral home for musicians if they are not in your close circle of friends.

Keep that in mind, also.

Readings – If you are at a loss for readings, there are several funeral planning guides out there for the general public.  I have the Memphis Diocese’s Planning a Catholic Funeral bookmarked and I looked at a United Church of Christ guide, but there are so many others.  Don’t feel you HAVE to be this specific.  Your spiritual leader has done this many many times and will be of great assistance to you in your time of need.  I just know that I am a control freak who will be out of control.  I will need this much detail to feel quasi-comfortable.  As with all of this information, do what works best for YOU.

This is just my plan.  Feel free to use it as a starting point, but it does not have to be a replica for your plan.

Readers and speakers – I have not yet asked him about this.  Who do you want to speak?  It can be a joint decision or just leave it up to him or have people in mind should the need arise.  Make a note and be sure to add their phone numbers to your phone list.

Photographer – I would like one.  The images might be more than the kids and I can take at that moment in time, but they will eventually be a beautiful reminder of a beautiful service commemorating a beautiful life.  Your department might just provide one. PLEASE be sure to check with you church or parish BEFORE the service.  Many are okay with photographers as long as no flash is used, but you want to be certain.

Pall Bearers – Another list of people I have not been able to ask him about.  Does he want our oldest son, both boys or none of the above?  Only if they are adults? Only FFs or family as well?  I am sure there is a protocol for an LODD, but I want to make sure that I have his input.

Badges – When my FF retires, he wants to give each of our muppets (our nickname for our lovely children) a set of replica badges – one of each level he achieved in the department.  For my funeral plan section, I thought it would be a nice touch to give each of the Muppets a replica of his current badge, as well as a mini shield key ring  from his current helmet shield.

ME – I have a note to make sure someone makes appointments for me to get my hair and make-up done.  I am not going to be able to stop crying long enough to put on mascara, so I am hoping someone else doing it will be enough of a distraction that we can get through that part.

I have taken the section of the Survivor’s guide that provides a Contact Form (p. 15) and printed out several copies of that.  You need to know who you are talking to, about what and when.  This just makes it so much easier to recall.  You are going to be calling sooooo many people.

Along with these, you will need death certificates.  The  guide suggests that you get 20, I have a note to get 25.  It is cheaper to get them en masse than it is to order a few more at a later time.  Make a list of all the places  that will require this – banks, insurance, etc.  And then order extras.

This is such a personal issue, please read through this section of the guide carefully.  It does indeed vary by where you are in life.  Make sure to research what benefits you are entitled to, through your department, state and the federal government.  There are many scholarship opportunities for children of firefighters who gave all, please take advantage of them.

One Last Thing…

The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone.  No matter how you feel like you are on a desolate island, all by yourself, you are never alone. Your family, your department and firewives from around the world are here to lean on.  Please be sure you reach out any of these resources, even if you only need to hear that things will be okay.

Don’t let this overwhelm you.  Don’t try and plan this all in one day.  Take to your firefighter and your family.  Simply know that there is a reference that is available for you in your time of need.
Love those firefighters like there is no tomorrow.  Don’t waste a single minute.

So, some of the things I have added in here since I wrote this post, nearly three years ago...

  • I bought him a Thin Red Line Qalo ring earlier this winter. I want to make sure that he is buried in that ring after we switch out the diamond ring. I want that small part of me to stay with him. If that ring is damaged, I have the company's number in case I need to replace it.
  • Now that he is on the TEMS team, I would like his TEMS gear there and I will request that their SUV be in the procession behind his Engine.

  • Marriage License - I am SO slacking on this one! When we got married, we never got a copy of our license. We he came on the job in 2010, we needed to get a copy so that I could be carried on his insurance. And I never thought to get a second or third copy. I need to get that and get it in my Notebook. I have one of our wedding pictures in there to attempt to remind me to head up to that courthouse.

  • Prayer Cards - I have to talk to him about I sit with another FF's prayer card on my dresser.
  • Music that he has mentioned in the last few years has been added, along with specific readings.
  • Phone numbers - They change more frequently than you would think. I just made sure that I updated them, several of them were out of date.
  • Our oldest - He is active in our Explorers program. He is planning on following in his father's footsteps. If he is a cadet or on the job, that had a whole other dynamic to this discussion - for both of them.
Please don't be afraid to reach out if there is anything with this you'd like to talk about. If you have ideas for what should be added, please let me know. I know there is probably more. Make this work for you.

Have a good day. Have the tough talk. Reach out to those around you. Kiss that firefighter.


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