Nothing reminds us of the sanctity of life as much as the finality of death. Luke and I went to a memorial service today. I didn’t actually know the woman who died. We might have met a total of two times.
Her husband is the one we are friends with. He volunteers with Luke as an EMT here in our little town. He’s a captain named K. Our relationship with K began before Luke ever volunteered at EMS.
My husband didn’t have time for any of that in the summer of 2014. We had just brought home 3 (4 when Marcus visited) foster children with plans to adopt them. That summer was filled with a series of crisis. Mary was having out-of-control violent episodes on a daily basis. They’d last for hours and leave a swath of broken furniture, broken walls, and a bruised up mother in their wake. Sometimes there was blood.
When it got too dangerous for us to manage we’d have to call for backup. The mobile crisis team would send out a therapist. Often Mary was much too violent for them to manage. The police and ambulance would soon follow.
Every time we had to bring Mary in for a psychiatric hospital stay I felt like such a failure. Why wasn’t she getting any better? Was our love breaking her in some way? Why couldn’t our family be enough to help Mary stabilize?
Here is where K came in. After the third or fourth hospitalization he began to show up first on scene after a 9-1-1 call. Luke was at work and I was on my own. K never judged me. He never judged Mary. K had a similar experience with a family member suffering from a mental illness.
Mary was terrified to be alone with men back then. She wouldn’t let anyone touch her. The only way to get her to the ER was if I rode in the back of the ambulance with her. When Luke was working I couldn’t ride with her. I’d end up without a way home from the ER. I couldn’t leave the other kids with neighbors overnight again and again as I stayed at the hospital.
On one of the worst days, K was there. Mary was heading back for an inpatient stay. Her violence was escalating. Marcus had called their oldest biological sister and their biological mother in a fit of rage. I don’t even recall why he was mad that day. My cell phone started blowing up with calls, threats, and comments about the terrible things we were doing to Mary who really just “needed her mother.”
At my wits end, I looked at K in despair. He gently asked me where my car keys were. That night he drove my car behind the ambulance to the hospital. I was able to go with Mary and still have a way to get home. I dare anyone to find an EMT that amazing.
Over the next few years Mary stabilized. We would see K around town and she’d run to hug him. Luke began volunteering at EMS as family life settled down. They became fast friends and K was always there for us.
At the service I brought him a brightly colored pink and purple bracelet made by Mary. I told him, “This may not be your style but you know who wanted you to have this.”
He put on his sparkly bracelet and wore it the rest of the service. When I glanced down at Luke’s hand I realized both of us were still decked out in our Mary-made jewelry, too. Luke never takes his off.
Sometimes things change. K’s wife died after a hard-fought battle with cancer. Mary went to a residential school after two years of relative stability here at home.
Some things never change. I know this each time I glance down at our wrists.
**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.**