The sounds of silence and where do I go from here?

Sitting at her desk this morning trying my hardest to focus on the 6 millionth start to a book I have already written, something comes to mind. It is lonely. So very lonely and it’s not a lonely that can be filled by friends or family, a phone call or a letter, facetime or actual conversation with well simply anyone.

It is the lonely that comes from silence.

You never realize how noisy your marriage is until it’s over. All the little things like you hustling trying to get kids out the door, her making lunches or singing in the kitchen to a song on Pandora using made up words because well it is the morning and she knows it bugs the crap out everyone so they move a little faster while she smiles with glee. It is hearing her use the damn coffee pot you hate because you own a Keurig and she simply likes the cheapness associated with a standard coffee pot. Her humming I love you as you walk out the door reminding her you’ll be home in an hour. She says she knows but you never know what can happen and she just wants you to know how much you mean to her.

It really is all the little things. The little things that make up the white noise of a relationship.

I woke up this morning and my dog had climbed onto the bed. He was asleep with his back up against mine and in the haziness of first awaking for a second, one split second I thought it was all a bad dream. 5 years a bad dream! It wasn’t, I was still alone, Jacy is still dead. In reality we hadn’t slept together for almost a year. She needed to be downstairs and with her being up all hours of the night depending on where she was with her meds and her constant need for sound (something she had before she got sick only more intense as time went on) the only way I could achieve even a few hours of sleep a night was to retire upstairs. I regret that decision now. I guess in a way it was preparing me for the future. None the less I have fully determined I hate sleeping alone. Oh well, guess I will have to get over it.

The white noise is everywhere.

I will never come home to the joyous sounds of her playing the piano again. She was never taught how, she played the flute, but her understanding of music made it easy for her to adapt to just about any instrument she picked up. I hate looking at that fucking piano.

Walking through the door in the afternoon to smell and hear all about some god awful concoctions she was creating. Foods or flavors that should never and mean ever be associated with each other, but there wasn’t anything left in the fridge so out to the garden she went and viola we have dinner! The funny thing is with only a few minor exceptions, even her craziest of Top Chef mismatched masterpieces all tasted great! I really am missing that right now on a cool fall morning.

The sounds of her painting or creating leather work. She was blind, but would sit at this very desk and create pieces of art out of whatever she touched. I made her a board from scratch to adjust and hold her leather while she stamped it or painted it slowly with one eye squinted shut and the other double focused on her work. The board is sitting here, never to be used again. I hate that fucking board.

Listening to her ask about the kids days when they got home, remind them of chores, reprimand them when they were jerks to her or smother them in love when they apologized. This whole thing has been so hard on the kids and I know they feel sad about each and every time they brushed her off as she was bedridden still trying her best to run the household. She loved them all so much and that love came out every day. The sounds of love bouncing from these walls, it has certain ring, a specific note when it comes from a mother’s perspective. It is quiet now; that sucks hard.

The permanency of it all is so overwhelming.

I know, everyone keeps telling me she can hear me, her love is all around us, it is in our children and the home we made. I know I simply need to talk with her, or I guess to her because she really can’t talk back. I stare endlessly into this room I created, I hear the oxygen machine still running or the lack of it, I am not sure. I wish I was still bleach mopping the floor while she incessantly apologized for all I needed to do to take care of her. That always bugged me, I would snap at her and say to knock it off! I would tell her I loved more than anything on this earth and there is no place I would rather be! I would kiss her on the forehead, then make her lunch, sit in the chair at the end of her bed and stare at her. Worried this day was coming.

In reality there was some other place I would rather have been.

Back in Alaska on the cruise with her! In Mexico, on the beach with her! In the mountains, hiking with her! In our own backyard riding horses with her!

I would have gone anywhere or done anything with her! Even if I didn’t want to. She just had a way of always convincing me to go and really, if you knew my wife or spent any time with her you just knew what ever her exploits were it was going to be one hell of a good time!

Besides that woman could convince a police officer to rob a bank, a hooker into becoming a nun, or the wealthiest person in the world into giving away every last dime. It just is who she was. I seriously am going to miss that I think the most.

So yeah, the silence is killing me, crushing me, it is hard to breathe most days. I am trying so very hard and it really is so nice how strong everyone believes that I am, but I don’t feel strong, I feel, I feel, I think I feel cursed. I feel as though there is some kind of vendetta against me. I feel like a permanent black cloud. I feel like loneliness is my calling. I hate being alone.

Jacy would tell me that God has a plan for us all and this was his plan. I remember her telling me through tears not more than 6 weeks ago that she wasn’t ready! She wasn’t ready to leave this earth, that she felt there was still so much work to do, so many kids to help!!! I held her while she cried and promised her if her time did come I would carry that work on for her.

I have always been a man of my word.

I am starting a scholarship fund in Jacy’s name for high school kids here in Dixon. It will benefit Ag kids because that is what she believed. We were able to secure a little over $700 on Saturday at her memorial by selling left over tri-tip. So we are up and running.

I am also looking into starting a foundation using Jacys Army as the name. It will hopefully grow and secure enough funding to become perpetual. The objective will be to assist families that do not have the assistance or support we were lucky enough to have while going through Leukemia treatment. This one was my idea and something my wife backed 100% as we talked discussed in detail the lack of assistance for families less fortunate as ourselves as we went through the process.

I also promised her I would continue on, that I would be ok, alone. I lied to her a lot on that one. Starting with day trips, new places and taking lots of pictures of my alone adventures. But I never wanted her to worry about me more than she already did, so I kept doing it even though I wanted nothing more than to be by her side. Ultimately it created a man who was quiet and walked a lot with his head down. She called them rest breaks or time away from caring for her. It was time needed there is no argument there, I put on a super brave face and sold it like a used car salesman, but it is coming back to haunt me now as I long for all those moments I missed with my wife. I hate myself for not being there, for distancing myself from family. But it is what it is I guess, no changing it now.

So instead of rambling on like an A-hole; I guess what all of this is leading to is this;

If you love someone, I mean really love someone!

Make every moment count. Even the little ones. Life is short, it can be taken away at a moment’s notice. I am blessed because we knew it would eventually come. But there are so many that walk out the door in the morning never to return again. Is that how you want to leave it?

Never stay mad at your spouse, no matter what. You have the ability to talk just about anything out and come to a resolution. I promise! I could make that woman spit hot lead, and she could make me flip a truck at times, yet we always forgave each other in our own ways. And yes, sometimes you need to recognize that not all forgiveness comes with an apology. Anyone who has been married long enough who reads this knows exactly what I am talking about.

Remember daily why you love them. Why you married them or are with them. Never forget that, they are special to you for a reason. Honor that reason and cherish it.

Never go to bed mad. Seriously it sounds dumb but it’s true. Every day truly is a new day! We are only given so many of those days so don’t waste them! Besides the snoring is enough on its own, so don’t find something else.

Enjoy every single little thing, from burnt meals, dirty clothes, dishes not done, to bad singing and even watching shows you cannot stand. The thing is you’re spending time together and that’s what’s important. You can never get that lost time back.

When the going gets tough, don’t even think for a moment about running away. If that’s what you’re thinking then in my humble opinion you never truly loved each other. Sorry but as my wife would say; the truth can be painful but in the end, it is still the truth.

Love is amazing, it makes us do crazy things. But the reality is love isn’t all the glorious movie tag lines or clichés we’ve grown up with or are led to believe. No my friends, love is all the messy and yes sometimes painful stuff in the middle. The rest is just the icing on loves cake.

Thanks for letting me vent all this out. I actually feel a little better. I am sorry if I hurt your feelings or made you cry. It was never my intention.

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A million no mores………

Where are you?

I see you in the trees, I hear you in the wind. Your smiles a reflection of the sun, your tears an afterthought of rain. I smell you while passing a garden and feel you in the dirt upon my hands. I know you’re in my heart, my chest feels nothing but pain.

You belonged to no one, yet you were mine. I will always have been the lucky one.

Things have settled down, people have filtered away. My house is no longer filled with the sounds of an active family, but instead a quiet, sterile silence echoes from the walls.

I have a lot of time to think. No more oxygen machine, no more pills to be taken, no more round the clock care, sheets to be changed, special meals to be made, I.V.’s to exchange or breathing treatments to administer. No more last minute pain pushes or middle of the night Kaiser Pharmacy runs. No more doctors’ appointments or shuttling to and from her second home at her dads under the wonderful care of her S-MUM. No more……. Anything.

There is also no more middle of the night laughter as she owned being high as a kite! No more rambling conversations with me acting frustrated to get her goat then tell her I was listening all along. No more stories of childhood or the time she decided she wanted to be a firefighter, all having been recited a thousand times. No more theological discussions involving what some would consider the gospel truth, then mixed in with stories of what we both called historical biblical sleight of hand. No more listening painfully to The Real Housewives of any fucking stupid city as she played it purely for background noise to quell her ever increasing anxiety. No more walks together outside or watching as she bravely and oh so blindly used her will of steel to walk on her own. No more morning breakfasts where I tried so very hard to create something flavorful and delicious to make her smile, knowing that being stuck in bed while I ran a million chores made her sad. No more arguments about who wasn’t listening to who or her telling me to slow down because her brain didn’t process as fast as it used too. No more inadvertently hurting her feelings as I needed to treat certain situations in a clinical aspect to get her to comply then working towards forgiveness and a long awaited hug and kiss which she always made me earn and rightfully so. No more watching her snuggle her children or her dogs with glee! No more watching her find joy in the simplest of things, hear her recollect every amazing moment with each and every one of her children or fill those precious moments with every worry she had about their future. No more sage advice from a woman who pulled no punches while never saying she was sorry, but then fill your face with a million kisses instead knowing you’d probably already forgiven her. No more family holidays with her smile radiating across the room. She couldn’t see, but she could sense every single minute surrounded by those she loved and the joy upon her face was the stuff stories are made from. No more hearing her at 1 am downstairs, alone, singing or laughing or talking to her iPad as she recorded things for her children in the future. No more hearing her sob, alone downstairs at 1 in the morning as her brain helped her realize what was to be a certain fate. No more morning goodbyes or walking through the door hellos, followed by a joyous “I love you”. No more hidden cards telling me how much she loved me, no more painted art or crafty paintings! No more kissing her while she slept and adjusting the covers so she was warm. No more, no more, there are a million no mores.

Saturday was the start of something.

Seeing each and every life she ever touched, listening to all the stories and remembrances, being surrounded by that much love was an amazing experience. I know she was there, I hope she was happy, I am sure she spent time in her own way touching each and every one who walked through our gate. Jacy just had a way. I fell in love with her for many reasons, but one of them was because she just had a way. She drew you in like a moth to a flame, she held you close with her warmth, compassion and heart of gold. She only ever cared about you, never herself and that my friends is an amazing quality that is not seen all that often today. She was quite simply an angel.

I can remember dropping her off for choir practice and thinking as I drove away that church seemed a little brighter once she walked into the building. I loved listening to her sing in the choir too. She always glowed. She always said that we all find our way, it is what Go has planned for us. There is no roadmap, no directions, we simply need to trust in him and we all find our way.

After Saturday, seeing everyone and watching a day of remembrance unfold exactly the way she hoped it would, I knew in my heart we will also find our way.

It will be long and painful for all of us. There will be a million new experiences for us. We will make new memories and find our way while hopefully honoring the leader of our family with each and every step.

I will miss being able to report our successes and failures to her, hearing her laugh or wanting to give us a hug. But we will find our way.

The truth of it all is I don’t know how to be anyone but Mr. Jacy and I miss more than anything hearing her voice out loud. It’s in my head, it’s in soundbites and video, but I am selfish, it is not the same.

But I can hear it, and I hear her telling me to have faith, stay strong and find a way.

She told me once that she will be waiting for me with open arms on the other side, and though it will seem like an eternity for me, for her it will be but a joyous moment in time, for she had been with me all along, in my heart and in my soul.

I loved you Jacy Franceschi, I will always love you, I will always be grateful for every single moment we spent together and apart. When it was easy it was good, when it was hard it created what marriage is supposed to be and those memories will never fade. I loved you with everything I had and I can never repay you for what you brought to my life.

I miss you so bad, but I can truly say not only was I loved, but I was loved by an angel.

You were my everything…

Day 11. I’m so sorry you had to go…

Eleven days

It’s been eleven days since we said goodbye. It wasn’t pretty, no longing stares or pointless conversation. Goodbyes are always hard, I am glad we didn’t do the whole; it’s not you, it’s me thing. That would have been pretty pointless.

The thing is, I have never been away from you this long. I have never gone a day without hearing your voice, laughing at something dumb or had you to bounce ideas off. I understand that seasons change, lives change, feelings change and with it we should learn to accept that change, embrace that change and learn to grow from its opportunity. Yet I am so confused.

I feel as though I tried really hard to be everything you needed me to be in the hope we would grow old together, raise grand kids together, and be there for each other. Best friends until the end! It was the plan right? I mean you said it was, you said you would always be there for me to dote over, to help pick me up when I was down, carry some of my load as I to carry yours, meet me in the middle of the toughest situations and walk hand in hand through this messy thing called life! You promised me that I could go first! I know it’s selfish, but after everything that has happened in my life, I just didn’t think I could bear to live through another emotional loss of such magnitude!

And yet here we are. You have left and I am alone.

I cannot get past it, I know, I know, it shouldn’t have been a shock, things hadn’t been working out for a while. But it was a shock, of the greatest magnitude!! When I think of the moment your left and trust me it occupies my every thought, I can’t catch my breath! I cannot think straight, to see you leave that way wasn’t easy by any means!!! I have never seen that look on your face! Your bright, sunny, amazing smile encompassing your olive complexion and radiant eyes has never, and mean ever looked that way before!!! It, well, it was horrific!!

Days later and all I can think of is who am I? Missing your voice, your advice, your goofy demeanor is bad enough, but let’s cut to the chase! Who the fuck am I? I have been 50% Jacy for 17 years and I really liked that, a lot! WHO THE GOD DAMN FUCK AM I? WHO AM I SUPPOSED TO BECOME? WHO AM I SUPPOSED TO TALK TO AS I FIGURE THESE THINGS OUT? YOU AREN’T FUCKING HERE SO WHAT THE BLOODY HELL??!!!

Ok I am sorry. I am really angry! So fucking angry!! I am angry at God, I am angry at Haiti, I am angry at Leukemia, Chemotherapy, experimental drugs, promises, Stanford, Kaiser, fuck I am even angry at myself buying into all this bullshit the same way you did! The only difference is you never wavered, you always felt you were going to beat this fucking thing!! I spent so many nights not sleeping, worrying for you, for your safety, for your mental well-being. I dove into the process and everything and I mean everything pointed to dark, black places that no one should go! But you, you always shone brightly, always with a kind word or positive thought. It is one of a million reasons I fell in love with you. You always knew I was a realist, a black and white kind of guy and although it bothered your unicorn and rainbows outlook at times you could always trust me for the straight answer. And I never disappointed.

I hate that I know the things I know, I hate that my profession has given me insights I never should have had, I hate that on the morning you left I knew that was the day you were leaving.

On the flip side, I am also thankful for the knowledge I have, it allowed me to care for you in ways others could not. It kept you safe and warm and nothing, I mean nothing kept me feeling closer to you than when you would tell me I was the only one you trusted with every single aspect of this shit sandwich we were handed. I was always prideful of our marriage.

I guess none of it matters now though does it? You are gone and here I sit.

Jacy, please know, that I understand completely why you had to leave. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life was lean down on that Saturday morning, kiss your cheek and whisper in your ear that we would be ok, the kids would be ok, I would make sure all of your dreams for them would come true and it was ok for you  to go. It killed me to say it, but it was the right thing to do. All I could think of after was that bullshit saying; if you love something set it free, if it comes back it is yours, if not it wasn’t meant to be. I don’t know why I thought that, because we were meant to be.

You were in enormous pain, you have been for some time. You have been struggling just to make one more day time and again. I no longer wanted you fighting for me and I know you Jacy Mirelle! That is exactly what you were doing. My heart is so torn, it aches beyond any pain I have ever felt, but saying goodbye was the right thing to do even though I know you loved me and you were never coming back. I’m trying to let the reality of it all ease things for me. I mean I know you are no longer in pain, you are in perfect form free from this world earthly struggle. But I guess I am just a selfish man who knows he had something special. You taught me about love, true love, how to love and be loved in return. How does one go forward when that much love has vanished? I am surrounded by so much love and support, yet I am achingly alone. I am trying really hard baby, I really am, but it’s just not ok that you left. I am not mad at you, I could never be, I just miss you.

I’m scared and I need a cheek snuggle really badly.

I’m really sorry you had to go, I love, love, love you..

 

Can we talk? Please???

I wrote this piece on August 4, 2018. I could not bring myself to post it back then. But as I sit here struggling with so much guilt and pain over my wife passing away this last week on October 20. I think it speaks volumes to my mental status over these last few months. I also think that if you are reading this, struggling with how you feel you may or may not be handling adversity in your life. You will see that its ok, the pain is real, the rambling mind is real, and you need to understand you are not alone. I may feel alone right now, but know I am surrounded by love. You are too. Just reach out and ask for help. Please….

Can we talk for a minute? Please?

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be one of those talks where it ends something like; it’s not you, it’s me.

Because trust me, it’s all me.

But we need to talk none the less.

You see I am having some problems with our relationship. I recognize that I haven’t been forth coming or honest about my feelings lately. That keeping things really close to the vest as it were has been my modus operandi. It has been tough for the both of us I know as I am constantly peppered with questions when seen out and about. But the thing is, I am not doing it on purpose. I am cowering in silence.

Things are rapidly changing in my life and as much as I live to talk with you through this medium it hasn’t been a priority out of fear. Couple that with a request to stop writing about a certain main subject (my wife), exhaustion on my part and a feeling of continual inadequacy in all aspects of my life and well you can see how the information clam has sealed tight.

I hope you can forgive me, but I’m having other issues as well. My brain cannot get past the continued bad luck that keeps raining upon me and my family. It never seems to end! I swear some days I am afraid to go outside, open the mail or even take a phone call out of shear panic to what’s waiting on the other end of the line. Everyday life is scaring the hell out me, I never know what rock is waiting to fall on my head, what vice is waiting to squeeze the last ounce of compassion and care from my heart, what nerve will finally be worn raw!

I lay in bed at night thinking about you and how bad I need to talk to you but when the time comes I just cannot bring myself to open the laptop and stroke a few keys! I know if I do, maybe something I say or am going through may help you, may give you strength or tell you it’s ok! As in for example; hey, see that guy has the same problem, life isn’t so hard and isolated after all!  But for some reason I just can’t do it! I have even gone as far as staring at the screen while trying to find the right words, but only my anger at this life comes through in ugly, disturbing tones. Things written that do not show a strong man able to conquer all but a weak tired man ready to climb into a cave, never to be seen from again, and then of course I end up deleting anything I have written.

My anger is off the charts! I find more days than not I am ready to blow! Some days I pray for someone to look at me the wrong way so I can finally lose my shit! Let out all this pent up aggression, depression and frustration. But thankfully it is never to be.

I will never understand how I won this lottery of spousal death twice? The first time around was relatively speaking quick, from diagnosis to passing was just under a month. I thought that was bad, I thought what the hell, how can this be? I thought life is so fucked up when it’s taken away so quickly and harshly! But what’s happening this time is 10 times worse! We have had hope, then sadness, then hope again, then more sadness then miracle hope as in a Bone Marrow Transplant and then more sadness and then a little hope and finally being told; this is as good as it’s going to get. Maybe she will pass within a year, maybe a little more, maybe a little less.

Even with all that, nothing compares to watching what all these medications in combination with GvHD are doing to the love of my life! Watching her deteriorate to the point where some days her brain is spot on and others she is almost a dementia patient. What the fuck!!! I get so freaking mad when I see her struggling and I know it comes across wrong or feels like I am taking it out on her and the kids but god damn it I am pissed!

Are you still with me? It might get a little dicey from here on out.

What fucking God would do this to a person? What God would take away a mother and wife twice from a man? What God would sit back and watch all this happen while I am supposed stand under this cloud of despair and think there is a supposed purpose to all this? Are you fucking kidding me!!

My kids hate everything! The older ones are running away, the younger ones are trapped here but for the most part staying either in their rooms or hiding behind a video game screen.

Every day is the same as we try our best to all take care of mom, while terrified to leave the house as she cannot see and struggles due to breathing issues to get from one room to the other at times! She puts on a super brave face for everyone out of fear that she is letting someone down. But in reality she is in more full body pain than any of you could ever imagine! Her ribs are broken (yea that’s right broken) from coughing all the time, her feet and legs swell up as she can no longer adequately move fluids throughout her body as I said before she is blind and don’t let her bump anything as even a pencil size eraser bump will turn into a dinner plate size bruise and sometimes those bumps will break the skin which leaves blood everywhere!! So tell me, please, what God would do that to a person??

I hate being at work, and I hate being at home! I want our life back! I want her life back! Hell I would trade places with her in a minute. But we all know how stupid that sounds because it is an impossibility!

I wake up each morning worried something is going to happen to me! Seriously, what if something happens to me? Tell me I am wrong at how scary that sounds! You can be honest, I won’t hold it against you! But think about it. You wake up every day and you are it! The sole provider, the sole parent, the sole caregiver (that she trusts) at home, and you feel as though you cannot take any more, but for some reason it just keeps fucking coming!!!!!!!!!! Just because she is sick and dying doesn’t mean the bills stop, or the debt goes away, it doesn’t mean the kids can just automatically accept that dad is now the end all be all for parenting, it doesn’t mean the ranch will just run itself! No it’s all on me! Fucking Me!!!

You know what is even funnier? Come on, guess what’s even funnier???

Through all this, I am supposed care about your emergency when I show up in my fire engine!!! Don’t get me wrong, I do, I still give it 100% when we pull in front of your house, but please forgive me if I am not as excited about your papercut, vomit, alcohol laced sickness or cancer that you thought you had but really didn’t because you were misdiagnosed during a DMV physical by a third party doctor who swore you had a pacemaker which you had no idea you needed due to a history of diabetes that runs through your entire family but missed your third cousin Billy.

Yeah……

Still here?

Sorry I know this was supposed to be a talk between you and I and it has instead turned more into a rant. I never meant to bring you any worry or discomfort, I hope you can forgive me. I am just tired, really, really tired of it all.

Deep inside, I am struggling hard. I wake up every morning and stare at her to see if she is still breathing. Somedays I am lucky and she is up, fumbling around in the kitchen making coffee, other days she looks dead to the world and I freak a little. Every day is spent in the house trying to keep up. I no longer know which way to turn.

I feel as though there is nothing positive going on in my/our lives. I have a career that has been placed on hold for 5 years now and I feel it slipping away. The horses and the ranch are barley getting by and I have other people riding our horses as I cannot even throw a leg over one. I am struggling to find joy in the little moments with our kids as those moments are few and far between plus when the times are good there is always a backhanded slap from something that goes wrong when we get home. I feel myself aging at a rapid rate and I fear death may find me soon too and that scares me the most. Eventually losing their mom then losing me not to long after. The thought of my kids having no one when this bell is finally rung is petrifying.

I have always tried to make light, be funny, show anyone that will listen that no matter what, you can get through anything. And now I feel like a hypocrite. For I have nothing positive to say, no words of wisdom, no stellar advice.

All I hear in my head is the sounds of sadness and quote from long ago.

People die every day, what are you going to do about it?

Answer: Nothing.

Thanks for taking the time to listen.

 

 

 

I am not fine…

I am not fine.

There it is, I said it. It has taken me a long time to come to this conclusion. But, I have acknowledged it, pulled it out from under the emotional rock it was hiding and verbally stated its presence.

I am not fine.

There are many reasons I am not fine, and it’s not a simple answer to the question of why? But it is a truth, a truth I have been hiding for quite some time now.

I spent this week in San Diego as a participant in a Health and Wellness for public servants seminar. The first day started with an amazing opening speaker who really inspired and justified my resilience in accepting this time away from Jacy. After that it was a lot of the same old build up, and for us fire guys a reiteration that ICS should always be used while managing any type of incident. Including a mental health crisis. After 8 hours of what was new and interesting information for most and a segment of boring refresher for us fire people. I prayed the class would only get better. It did not disappoint.

Day two found us thrown into the emotional arms of a speaker covering the essentials of support, where that support comes from and what it looks like when built properly. He carefully broke down through his own experiences where we go wrong as public service personnel when it comes to identifying the who, what where and why of our foundations for strength while working these spiritually, emotionally and mentally taxing professions.

As he stood there expounding on his failures, the recognition of a skewed priority system, the ability to deny professional help after a triggered emotional event and the wall he built around him by simply stating he was fine when asked. It hit me, hard, like a ton of bricks that everything he was saying fit me to a tee. That I to have been pronouncing my resilience nonstop and answering every question in regards to how I was doing with the five year demise of my wife as I was “fine”.

But I wasn’t fine. In fact I had been living this lie for so long I actually began to believe my own bullshit.

You see in those few moments as I wandered in and out of his lecture, with every key point fitting me perfectly I knew it had gone on long enough. But where did all this come from? How did I get this way? Why have I been able to carry this load so well for so long and still be standing?

Day three gave me the answer.

During a transition in classes on day three, having freshly been removed from an hour long course on family crisis and the emotional well-being of children in regards to perceptions related to our jobs.

I received the phone call no one wants.

My wife, the love of my life, the strongest human being I know in this world was in demise. As many of you already know Jacy has been fighting a very long hard battle with GvHD post Leukemia transplant. The GvHD has won. We quietly placed her on long term hospice four weeks ago. Affording us instant access to RN’s who would come straight to the house when needed. Also giving me a strong base to stand on as I have been the head nurse to my wife for over a year.

 

 

 

The phone call went something like this: James, Hospice is taking Jacy off the Stanford medications, she can no longer swallow, or eat and really it’s about pain management now. She has but a few days.

Of course there is much more to it than that but this is neither the time nor place to run through her complete medical chart, emotional state or my irrational state of mind.

As of late I have been referring to myself as the air traffic controller of our family, that call was the equivalent of having a plane drop from my screen. Call sign, call sign, pandemonium and panic ensue.

Yet it was also in that moment, standing on a deck just outside the convention overlooking beautiful Mission Bay trying to keep it together as 600 hundred of my fellow public servants could see me from many vantage points I not only realized 100% I met every single criteria for a public servant-no a human being, father of four, dad, a fucking husband in distress and the honest recognition I needed help. Just like that, the clarity as to how I have been able to keep going for so long hit me like a brick.

My father.

My dad could drive me crazy! His self-righteous bullshit was always something I rebelled against! But since his passing here at the house almost three years ago I have come to realize that even though I fought against him so hard for so long there are traits he taught me that I carry proudly to this day.

Son; always put one foot in front of the other, life will knock you down but you need to keep going. What else are you going to do?

Of course in his later years he did nothing but sit on his butt and blame everyone and everything for his perceived failures in life instead of cherishing what was around him. This was also a bone of contention between us because I believed the latter and it made me mad he wouldn’t follow his own advice.

But here I was, overlooking the ocean, swelled up with a myriad of uncontrollable emotions. Not more than a few hours earlier I had been talking to one of my co-workers about how tired I was after five years and several Leukemia associated battles. Trips to Stanford, scares, triumphs, disappointment, doctors’ visits to Kaiser, Jacy crying in the elevator proclaiming she wasn’t ready to die, because she felt there was so much work left to do. It all has taken a tremendous toll on us all, of course no more than what it’s done to my wife.

The only life I have known for five years is that of a single parent (I fully admire all of you single parents) doing his best to get three of my four kids where they need to be when they need to be there, run our ranch, work my job as a firefighter, and care for my wife 24 hours a day many times with little sleep. I am blessed the most amazing support structure in Jacys family and with the assistance of our Gina I don’t know how I would ever have gotten it all done, but either way, yeah I was tired.

But what struck me, what really opened my eyes at that very moment was the realization through wonderful training that week, was that I hadn’t been placing one foot in front of the other for five years, no, no my friends. I have been doing it for 18 years.

 

 

 

I never dealt with or recovered fully from the loss of my first wife. I have been doing the emotional two step in one form or another for a very, very long time, affecting my personal relationships, my children’s ability to grow as human beings and my own self-care.

So yeah I am tired, I am so fucking tired.

But in that same instant, I’m not ready!

I am not ready for any of this, I have the skills to handle it, I have a complete support network in place to handle it, and I have the contacts to some of the best professionals in the business to handle it! All of that is something I didn’t have in 2001 when Kim died. I have been praying for peace for my wife, but her mind says she isn’t ready. I have been wanting to have a moment where I don’t need to worry about anyone or anything, but I am a man who cares deeply for his family, all of his family so that is not a viable wish. But I am not ready to say goodbye.

On the flight home I stared at the ceiling, I could hear my wife’s angelic voice in my head as I replayed moments from the past. It hurt because we haven’t had a conversation that was completely lucid in quite some time. I relived many of my favorite times with her and realized how much I will miss even the tough times. She is the only woman in my life who understood I never ever meant any harm when at times my mouth wrote checks I couldn’t cash. Which means she is also the only person who could ever call me on my shit without receiving the full verbal wrath of James Franceschi! Something I am always embarrassed by when it inadvertently happens.

I don’t do alone.

What am I going to do without her? Why is or did this happen? I have been so focused on keeping her alive that now as the time dwindles away I haven’t remotely considered how I am going to function without her, her strong willed personality, her gigantic kind, giving heart, her ability to coerce me into doing things or trying things I never, ever would have done or experienced completely against my will only to have me thank her for it afterwards. That larger than life smile, how will I go on without that larger than life smile in my life? How are my children going to function? Cody and Jake have been through this, they still have no idea what’s ahead, and they are quietly struggling as well but what do I say, what do I do? What is Jess going to do in a house filled with all boys, no mom to be there for prom, homecoming, graduation, and all the girly things that need to be addressed in the way only a mom, no, only my wife can do! What about Parker, why is this happening to Parker her only child? She fought so hard to bring him into this life and now she won’t be there for him either!! She is his everything!!!

Listen, I understand I am not the only person in the world this has or is happening too. But what the hell???? Why is this happening to me twice and how in the fuck do you justify taking away quite possibly the kindest most giving person I have ever known. Why not me? I have spent my life as an asshole, isn’t that the way it’s supposed to work???

 

 

 

Jacy Mirelle Glenn Franceschi answered a call 16 years ago. She fought hard against all odds to answer that call, fulfil that vision and she has without question made me the man I am today! Something I am so, so grateful for! She fought long and hard, working night and day to create the James Franceschi that sits here typing, wondering why? Is God saying her job is done and if so couldn’t he have found a different, less painful and disturbing way to tell her?

I love, love, love my wife. What am I going to do the first morning I get up and I don’t hear; Good morning my love as I grumble across the kitchen floor and make her coffee and breakfast? That first morning the kids don’t yell goodbye mom see you after school, hope you feel better today, while she does her best to respond with: have a great day! The first time her hospital bed isn’t there, the oxygen machine isn’t running, the doorbell isn’t ringing with medication deliveries and the house is cold and empty as if she never existed? The house she created, the home she filled with warmth and love, the ranch we tried to build together???

WHAT KIND OF FUCKED UP SHIT IS THAT??? MY BEST FRIEND IS DYING SLOWLY AND THERE IS NOTHING I CAN DO ABOUT IT!!!!

I’M NOT FINE, THERE IT IS, I’M NOT FUCKING FINE!!!

To go gentle into that good night.

Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Though wise men at their end know dark is right, Because their words had forked no lightning they Do not go gentle into that good night. Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, Do not go gentle into that good night. Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light. And you, my father, there on the sad height, Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray. Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

From The Poems of Dylan Thomas

 

This poem has resonated with me since that of a young man. I have had it stuck in my head for months now trying my hardest to determine what it means to me.

It brings about stirred emotions of an unwavering inner strength, tormenting whispers of the unknown, and an inner fight that arises much like a demon awaiting a moment to reign terror upon those who doubt its power. For there are those who will challenge your age, your wisdom and use the word to chip away at all that you are, have accomplished in life, or look to become. They don’t understand this poem speaks to everyone, not just those who proudly wear the wrinkles of time.

And so with that said I write..

The assumed stands before demise.

So expected and anticipated according to annals of time that my brain is washed by hollowed expectation.

Waiting and waiting to crumble so frail. My strength gone from age’s elastration.

But I refuse to go gentle into that good night

I have too much to lose by allowing forked tongues in shaping my destiny

To live, to breathe, to gather life in a bottle and sip upon its soulful nourishment

A man whose wrinkles should bring about empathy while disparaging apathy

I am strong, I am whole, I am man, I shall move forward no matter life’s dreadful weight

A second half of life laden with baggage and yet its burden bears no consequence 

I cry for those entrapped, ones who are youthfully pointed towards, a folly of jokes and insults fall upon this wasteland created through a wrinkle of time. Burdening a man’s soul it does, with stereotypes of ancient freight.

For they too shall bare ages haunting truth and most likely through inner weakness go gently into that good night

Sickle in hand, cloaked from light.

But not I, for quiet has never been my right.

 

It feels as though lately people are dying all around me, I can no longer ignore this truth. I am starting to feel the pressure to survive at all costs. Every time I turn around another child has gone, another mother is ill, another father has crossed over to the other side. Some I learn from phone calls or social media and others because I was there, my hands unable to help. It has brought me to fully understand that I can longer hide behind disbelief, a realization rings solid that yes we all really do have an expiration date.

For years we have known this to be true; but we never think it could possibly happen to us. It can and yes it does. In the blink of an eye, this glorious gift given us from God can be taken away. Our hearts beat loudly, our minds work endlessly and yet it is all for nothing once our bodies have vanished.

Every day driving into town, there is always something that reminds me how much I love life. Our world is very complex and filled with so many wonderful things, I just find it hard to fathom that at some point in time I will no longer be here to enjoy the majesty that continually surrounds me.

I have seen and felt so many things in this short life, more than some less than others. I have cried until there were no tears left to give, laughed until my stomach felt like one giant cramp, put my fist through a solid door and thrown a wrench through a wall in shame and or anger. I have hugged another, held out a welcoming open hand and used those same hands to bring pain upon another’s wrongful deeds.  I have screamed towards the sky, lied to appease emotions, and mumbled quietly at the voices in my head, begging them to leave me alone. I have not only felt my pain, but your pain as well because of a sworn life choice. I have sat befuddled by life’s obstacles, gazing upon an open field wondering, praying, and yearning for answers to so many questions. Some days the answers come, most days they do not, and then there are days I believe obstacles have been placed in my way to keep me from myself.

In my humble opinion.

This life it was not meant to be easy, it was meant to be experienced.

You may not currently like the experience, you may not enjoy the outcome at any moment in time. But know this; this life, it is yours. It is not someone else’s, it belongs to you and you alone. It is up to you in determining how you see life’s obstacles, how you react when life’s ugliness knocks upon your door. Do you stand tall, find the answers and move forward? Do you strive to provide positivity, a ray of light and hope or do you bury your head in the sand ignoring the life around you?

Do you simply become that who goes gentle into that good night?

I have and always will choose to fight.

It’s in my nature, it is who I am..

Who are you?

 

 

Wins and losses = PTSD

fire 6

 

It is by the numbers they say, we live our lives in columns of wins and losses. Every day we, the human beings walking this gigantic greenhouse we call earth walk out the door and in the blink of an eye easily break down our existence to nothing more than wins and losses.

From the time we can understand the gibberish coming from our parent’s lips we are told to pick our battles, get along with others, speak only when spoken too, judge not lest ye be judged, and we can be anything we choose to become yet be prepared for the struggle that may lay ahead.

Every one of those tidbits of wisdom revolve around wins and losses.

It further convolutes our mental wellbeing as we grow older. For we no longer look to our parents for sage advice. These challenges be it work, relationships, sports, after hours activities, projects and dreams of our own that must be chased can all be boiled down to wins and losses! We take them on; lumps to the head, body and mind be dammed! We are adults now and can handle our own business.

We hear it all the time! WINNNING!!! Or man you are such a loser. An assumption made upon a moment, movement or emotional situation resulting in an action, deed or punishment.

Therefore our societal needs dictate we win! Nothing brings fame, fortune, happiness or simple satisfaction more than winning! When we are younger and we win at a team sport, that moment of exhilaration is breath taking, amazing, a real high produced by natural endorphins leaving us exhausted upon its retreat from our system.

But when we lose if we are truly driven individuals we strive harder for success, fighting, clawing, learning, adapting, becoming one who grows and develops into that winner or winning individual again. Why? Because we crave that sensation, we lust for that endorphin rush, we yearn to be someone or something special, not just in our own eyes or the eyes of the ones we love but in everyone’s eyes!

So no matter what we chose to do in life, thanks to the imprinting our parents and society have placed upon us (and this not a bad thing mind you, just stay with me) we are left with wins and losses, our whole life can be simplified into easily accessible columns of wins and losses.

It is what makes us as human beings strive for the very best. It is what I believe keeps us getting up every day and moving forward, no matter how difficult life can and does become.

I read a story the other day about a fire captain in southern California who took it upon himself while out driving to stop his vehicle upon a highway overpass, place the vehicle in park, walk to the security fence, scale that fence and jump to the freeway below. He met his untimely end at the front of a semi-truck. It should never have happened.

Last year according to the National Fire Protection Agency or NFPA 132 firefighters took their own lives in this great nation. One Hundred and Thirty Two firefighters woke up one morning and could no longer bear the thought of waking up another day.

We as a firefighting family are not doing a good enough job.

Those 132 human beings who sacrificed their lives for their community on a daily basis were let down by us their firefighting family. 132 lives taken, more than by injury or illness last year. Gone forever.

WE ARE LOSING

Firefighters take the wins and losses columns we are engrained with from childhood and we amplify them, placing them under a magnifying glass within our heads. Those win and loss columns mean more to us than our sports rec league basketball team, or our children’s baseball team. Winning at a football fantasy league or winning by finishing the build on your deck. Everything in life fits into these columns of success or failure and when it comes to our chosen profession they mean so much more because lives are attached within each column.

The way I see it we are failing to recognize that although we will never feel as though it is ok to lose, we do lose and we need to talk about it. We need to talk about those losses and how they affect us emotionally when we pull off the uniform. We need to quit treating these losses as if they are the elephant in the room everyone sees but no one wishes to speak about.

Imagine everyday going to work, trying hard and though you have minor wins here and there the losses over time begin to pile up. In the beginning of your career its ok, you rebound well and pretend to not keep track. But after several years those losses begin to wear you down and after a while you can no longer pretend they don’t exist. You stop waking up each morning thinking like a winner! You begin to dread that first cup of coffee where before you would grab it on the way out the door thinking today is the day for another win!

The wins are there, don’t get me wrong, but soon stopping the spread of fire through a structure quickly or rescuing a family from an overturned vehicle doesn’t equate to the loss of life you have been party too. You feel remorse for not having done the job better, or quicker because in the end people are still injured and some things just can’t be unseen! The feeling of success slowly becomes fewer and father between.

Someone once told me that each incident truly bothering me is like a rock, and I am coping by placing those rocks in an emotional back pack. The problem is no one has taught me how to unload the back pack, so I walk around with more weight than I can bear on a daily basis and someday it will be so heavy the thought of just giving up, no longer wishing to carry this backpack will enter my mind.

We wear the wins on the outside, we carry the losses in our backpack. We are no longer well balanced and what we carry around is just our work, let alone what we load onto ourselves from our personal home life. Like a rat in an unwinnable maze we become emotionally trapped.

The faces from our past begins haunting us, showing up at incidents, during our family time, holidays and worst of all in our sleep, our dreams. We transfer guilt and blame, death and loss onto those we love and we hate ourselves for every minute our psyche allows participation in this pointless mental interaction.

This Christmas when you are with family and friends look around, is there a firefighter, police officer or emergency medical worker with you? Talk with them, show them love, let them know how very grateful you are to have them in your life. They may not be reeling from stagnation within the wins and losses column, their back pack may not be full, but if they have been doing any of these glorious jobs for any amount of time they might not yet recognize its ramifications. They only need an ear, an ability to tell a story, and be allowed to feel everything is ok.

If one of these people you know shows any signs of depression, withdrawal or strange behavior, don’t be afraid to lend a hand. Don’t be afraid to tell them you love them and find the assistance they need. Be that pillar of strength they are looking for.

I don’t have all the answers, but I know this; on this Christmas Eve 2016 it is all I can think about. That somewhere out there a person such as myself is wondering if another is ok. If they need help, and is there anything that can be done to help them. We can’t keep losing, we can’t keep feeling as though we are losing and we can no longer turn a blind eye to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the emergency services field.

1 firefighter lost is one to many, 132 is simply unacceptable! I don’t have the numbers for Police or Emergency Services (ER rooms, Ambulances) but we are one large family. Let’s work hard to make 2017 the breakout year for PTSD acceptance. Build programs so our own can reach out to help our own who are struggling.

No firefighter should feel as though the only option they have is to scale a fence and jump. Leaving behind everything they ever loved, everything that fell into the win column on a daily basis.

Be thankful for what you have, for who you love and for who loves you in return. Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year..

Betty….

If you sense someone is in trouble:

Call 911

The National Suicide Prevention Line: 1-800-273-8255

Contact the 10-33 foundation for more information

www.1033foundation.org

Betty’s AKA:

Fire Engineer James Franceschi

22 years of service to the citizens of Dixon California

 

 

 

It’s time for all of us to start talking about P.T.S.D. (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

What is written below was born from a single sentence spoken to me one day after what was essentially a rough call. A group of us gathered with a well-known, well liked chaplain within our department to ensure no one either needed or didn’t need to discuss the day’s traumatic events. All was fine, we all spoke a little, shared our feelings the way we always do with a little sadness submerged inside of humor and yet; this one sentence has lingered in my head for months now, and like an aching back that needs to be stretched or an itch that you just can’t reach, I finally felt the overwhelming need to move or scratch, leading to this chaotic rant.

Driving to work at times is more difficult than you may think. I get up in the morning like everyone else does, make coffee and breakfast for my wife so she can take her medications. (My wife is suffering from GvHD or Graft vs Host Disease after a Bone Marrow Transplant) Without missing a beat my tired achy body rousts the rest of our clan from a good nights slumber. One heads out to feed animals, the other two work on breakfast, lunches and packing up homework. After a cup of coffee for myself, getting dressed and brushing teeth, I find myself making sure the entire snack drawer hasn’t been loaded into only one backpack while ensuring the teenage boy has gathered up his crap as well. I meet with the wife one last time, making sure she has taken her medications, she has enough food and supplies to last her until our oldest gets home from work and that she has a charged phone to call me in case of an emergency. Then we all hit the road, them to school and I am off to work.

We live out in the country and it is a ten mile drive to town. Some would say it’s far, I think it is just far enough. Some mornings I may point out the beauty in a sunrise, or a unique cloud formation during a storm coming over the mountain. Other mornings depending on the time of year it may be the Almond trees in blossom, Geese overhead (we live just west of the flyway) or the simple, still, eerie way fog lays upon the ground. But the reality is every turn, every stretch of roadway we travel, it is there; like a kick in the teeth or a punch to the stomach. It is always there reminding me of my life, the hidden lie we all live in regards to life and the fact that everything comes to an end in death.

I became a full-fledged probationary firefighter on June 7th, 1995. When we started we were young, brash and full of ourselves. We heard all the stories from the old timers and we couldn’t wait to step onto an engine. Through diligent hard work we successfully graduated our academy. We didn’t drop out when it got hard, we didn’t cringe or flounder through basic medical training, we thought we knew full well what we were getting into and we were damn proud to be doing it! Much like the majority of our academy class, all I ever wanted to do was help people. I have always known there was something more for me, and I still feel that way today.

When we started in station I followed the senior guys around. Dumb, ignorant with no experience what so ever, I made every effort to learn as much as I could! To listen and emulate those who paved this glorious road before me. I also went straight back to school, obtaining an E.M.T. or Emergency Medical Technician’s certification and started working on learning about the fire engineers job so I better understood what was happening at the other end of my hose line during a fire. I spent hundreds of hours soaking up firefighter skills and responsibilities, hoping to be good enough so one day the senior guys would trust me to carry out important tasks on any emergency scene. It was (the job) and still is, everything I hoped becoming a firefighter would be.

They (the old guys) really do try preparing you for every conceivable situation be it fire, vehicle accident, medical aid, haz-mat, flood, rescue etc… but there is one thing you can never be prepared for, one thing no one really wants to talk about, and that is the constant never ending death. It is not the fires, or the car accidents or even the medicals that wear down your body over time, it is the constant death that wears down your mind and even at times your resolve.

In their defense these seasoned veterans only knew from what had been passed down to them. They try, oh yes they try in their own weird humor filled way. A way we adopted as we got older, supposedly wiser with more runs under our belts. Our chief at the time warned us during our graduation ceremony with one sentence that went something like this; You can never prepare yourself for the things you will see.

How true he was, but as young kids we just laughed! You know that nervous, I am a tough bad ass laugh you usually hear right before the laughing idiot gets their teeth kicked in? Yeah that laugh. We were naïve, dumb and blinded to the realities of our world. Hell! We’d proclaim; we’ve seen death! We have watched enough horror films we knew exactly what death is, (insert chest thumping here) and yet we knew so very little. So shamefully little about death and our both personal and professional responsibility in regards to handling death.

Fast forward 21 years, back to that morning taking kids to school. Every turn on the roadway while talking to my kids a memory reminds me of an accident here, or a death over there. The father of three, ejected and if that wasn’t insult to injury enough the car rolled back over on top of him. The grandfather whose tractor flipped over on him out in that field over there and no one knew until later in the morning because well, grandpa is supposed to be out tractoring. The car that ran the stop sign at this intersection, running off the roadway and striking the culvert thus bursting into flames. Once we cross over the freeway into town, we pass a house where I held a child screaming and crying because no matter what we did, or how hard we tried his mommy died, right there in front of him.  I wonder where that now grown young man is today. That white house over there, we did compressions on a 24 year old drug overdose or two blocks over when the roommate came home to find his best friend had hung himself in the hallway. Drop the kids off at school and I drive by a house where we had the pleasure of searching and dragging the families’ dogs from a house fire. Those dogs were this couple’s world and although some would say they are just dogs, to some people those dogs may as well have been their children. We couldn’t save them, they sobbed on the front lawn as we carried out fire operations. Hey right here at the intersection where I sit at every morning is the site where we did CPR on an elderly man as his wife gently whimpered up against the wall. I can still see him lying there, I can still feel her grief. Those are just a few of the road signs as I call them that I look at every morning on the way into town. There are hundreds more, they are just not on this particular route. Oh well back to meeting with our well respected chaplain.

After every borderline call, or semi disturbing sounding response this one lone sentence, made in jest with no malice inferred what so ever kept nagging away at my inner self. This sentence came from a warm heart, a place of love and respect. And it’s because of this one lone sentence for which I have done nothing about that I feel I must honor its intent and finally respond.

The sentence you ask?

Our chaplain; “Don’t worry about Betty, if something is bothering him he will just write about it and we will read it the next day”

Simple, precise and so true. It is my way, my coping mechanism and beyond those who know me personally and those who follow my blog, a statement of fact. I have so many stories written, never to see the light of day. Locked away on my personal drive for only my eyes to re-read, re-live and suffer through quietly.

So with that being said; this one is for you Jim Wilson. Thank you for always being there for not only our department but our neighboring fire department as well. It is people such as you and your partners that make letting go of the evil demons we hold inside, the ones pulling back our tears, screaming in our heads to keep swallowing the pain just a little easier to handle.

I never realized how badly our job had begun to affect me. I become fairly used to the road signs around town and yes they were beginning to wear me down but it wasn’t until I realized I was terrified of my children going out to play, or my sons learning to drive that I knew I may have a problem. It wasn’t until I began having nightmares, losing sleep, or superimposing my children’s faces on those faces of death swirling around my head that I knew I may have a problem.It wasn’t until I noticed I had a migraine every day for two years and my body hurt all the time that I may have a problem. It wasn’t until I realized I was drinking every single night and even though my wife pointed this fact out to me, I brushed it off as; it’s just beer, it’s hot, we all drink beer, lots of beer, that I began to see I may have a real problem. It wasn’t until I found myself crying at stupid movies, commercials or spacing out, reliving some tragedy in my life be it personal or from the job that I knew I might have a problem. The rain, a wind, a smell, a moment in time surfacing from the unknown can bring about not happiness but disturbing morbid thoughts; yeah thats when I knew I may have a problem. It also wasn’t until my wife was diagnosed with Leukemia and the normally stoic, stiff upper lipped man I had become cried like a baby, uncontrollably, without any knowledge of the severity or options available that I knew I may have a problem.

So I started writing.

And I started talking, to anyone who would listen. I began by reaching out to friends in the business, and a few of my close personal friends. We (the fire service) have spent so many years suppressing these emotions, telling our young firefighters through actions or lack  thereof and not words that it’s NOT ok to feel. We seemingly must be strong all the time for if we fall apart we may become less then what we are and what we are is not heroic, or super hero like, which is what many would have you believe. No what we are is human. Death hurts, losing people hurts, seeing the worst in humanity hurts. Yes we are lucky enough to have those moments that are filled with elation. For four years in a row myself and three others were lucky enough to win the save a life award. The moments are there! But the gruesomeness of what one human can do to another or the after effects of sheer tragedy will always outweigh the good, because you can’t just erase those memories.

I like to tell stories (duh?)

When you see me I am more than happy to tell stories about our job. There is good, and there is just the plain old funny ass, you would never believe it if you hadn’t have lived it stories that go with our job! What good is having a long career if there wasn’t some wonderful memories mixed with humor? But no matter where I go, and as much as I love to share our experiences with anyone who is genuinely interested, there is one question you should never ask any of us. Ever. It is not fair, we know you don’t know why it isn’t fair. But it is not fair to us or the demons we hide deep down inside. So please be understanding and hear me out.

Please don’t ever ask this one question.

WHAT WAS MY WORST CALL EVER?

It happens all the time. We get off work and go home, we take time to assimilate back to a normal existence. Maybe that evening we get dressed up and take our spouses, significant others, boyfriends, girlfriends, friends of friends out for an evening of fun. We have a few drinks, the laughs are rolling, jokes are being told around the table through the sounds of others laughing and having a good time. And then it happens. Usually asked by a newcomer to the group or outsider as one of your inner circle would never cross such dreaded lines.

HEY MAN WHATS THE WORST CALL YOU HAVE EVER BEEN ON?

Or

HEY BRO SERIOUSLY WHAT’S THE MOST GRUESOME THING YOU HAVE EVER SEEN?

Followed by; C’mon tell me I can handle it!!

But here is the thing.

You can’t handle it, nor do I want you to handle it! I cannot even begin to tell you the worst things I have seen, or put into adequate words the most gruesome of images. They are forever trapped inside my head, seared into my brain and in what realm of reality do you even for a minute think you can handle what my hands have touched, the scenes my eyes have witnessed, the sounds that no matter the day or time inexplicably reverberate through my head like a sole hiker yelling across the Grand Canyon just to hear themselves over and over again. No these stories are not for you and pray, I mean get down on your knees and pray that you never, ever witness even a fraction of what I have witnessed in 21 years.

Oh I know, I have heard it all and it usually goes something like this; Hey man its cool I have seen the most gruesome movies of all, I watched SAW like ten times! Or my personal favorite; I have seen Faces of Death so it’s all right you can tell me. But see that’s where the problem really mucks it up, for it isn’t even whether or not you could handle hearing stories about the most gruesome thing I witnessed in my career, it’s about the fact that you want to know because in reality the way I see it, that one question you threw out with that little condescending smirk has in my eyes instantaneously become a dick measuring competition!

That’s right I said it’s a damn dick measuring competition! You don’t give a shit about what I have seen or the emotions that went along with that particular call! You don’t give two shits about the fact those calls haunt me and have changed my life forever, changed my family’s lives forever and changed the lives of those involved forever! You don’t give three shits’ about the nightmares, or night sweats, the fact I have held more dead and disfigured human beings in my career to date than any one person should ever need too!! And you know what? There are hundreds of thousands of firefighters out there in larger metropolitan areas and military personnel who have witnessed so many more than I! No what you give a shit about finding is your bravado, filling your ego by sitting there listening to some watered down version because I damn sure am not going to tell you the truth! You know why? BECAUSE YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!!!

No sir this is all about you secretly fulfilling some need to walk away afterwards with shrugging eyebrows and rolling eyes like it was no big deal, followed with under the breath monotone grumblings like; shit that ain’t nothing, man what the hell, that didn’t sound bad at all or Heck I could do that stupid job, I don’t why they make a big deal about firefighters anyways!

Don’t think for one minute I don’t know! Don’t think for one minute I haven’t heard you as you walk away, or seen that smug ass look on your face which makes me want to grab you by the throat hoping you can visualize some of what you just heard simply by looking into my eyes, but in the end you can have that look, you can walk away thinking you can do our job better and someday hopefully you come to your senses finding the need to thank someone like me, or a police officer, highway patrol officer, game warden or every single person who has ever served in the military for ensuring every morning you get to wake up with a clear conscience. That right Mr. Dick never have you struggled through a sleepless night while subconsciously transferring all the absolutely disturbing things that can be done to a human onto the faces of your children! You may care for those around you and if you have kids may even be a great dad. But your kids don’t suffer from all of father’s freakish paranoia. Worrying endlessly every moment of the day, seeing nothing but disaster around every corner and not that Chicago Fire television bullshit either! Real disturbing, disgusting and disheartening disaster. Faces of those who haunt you.

You will never walk down a street and smell burning flesh not food as you pass by a BBQ joint, remembering the guy who intentionally wrecked his car into an overpass beam where it caught on fire and he burned to death. You’ve never had to pull a guy like that out with your crew, grimacing as he came apart one piece at a time like overdone chicken. Or cringe when you see the reflection of a burning fireplace in a window wondering if anyone is home because it looks like a room and contents fire just starting. You can drive through your town oblivious to a memory of a kid run over at one intersection or the family of four that died on the edge of a freeway off ramp! Cruising the very same freeway you don’t see the fuel truck that burned or the semi-truck that crossed four lanes killing two and permanently injuring several others. You most likely also don’t see the road sign that cut a car in half taking the life of the driver and you damn sure don’t pass over the spot in lane number two on a daily basis where I picked up a boy’s face, not his head, nor his skull because those were crushed and lying in the number three lane but his fucking face! Discarded like an old Halloween mask on the first of November!

But hey this is a cool game right? Questions are fun!!!

Never, please ever, ask any of us that one simple, self serving question.

Now in defense of these most dreaded of questions for which I am venting I will say this; I love my job, I have been privileged to participate in caring for the people of this special town. It has been my honor to hold a scared mothers hand, to speak gently to a dying grandfather, to hold and care for a woman beaten by the man who supposedly loves her most, to look into the eyes of a sick veteran and tell him not to worry it’s our turn to take care of him . My life has been blessed with assisting new life brought into this world, extricating people from cars that looked as though a bomb went off inside and then staying by a patient’s side until the ambulance takes them away. Working my way through a structure on fire while it gets hotter and hotter, not knowing for sure if we are going to be pulling someone out or finding the fire first then extinguishing it, because sometimes our job requires we do many things at once. My job has so many plusses that expose a person’s true love for another human being, any human being and even when that person is combative or dislikes us for whatever reason the very same love and compassion comes forth.

It all unfortunately comes at a cost. I have learned over time this career has taken away my ability to see life with a rainbows and unicorns attitude and that really sucks because I really like both RAINBOWS AND UNICORNS!!! The innocence of life long gone from our or my ability to cope.

To those who say; well you knew what you were getting into when you joined.

I say this; you are right, to an extent. Words are one thing, a preconceived notion is another but nothing can prepare you for the reality because no matter how prepared you think you are nothing and I mean nothing can prepare you for what you will actually see, touch, taste and hear. And we (the fire service) are just a small segment of those in public service suffering, struggling to make sense of it all. 

When I see an officer, I thank him, when I see a person in uniform no matter the military branch, I thank them. They are hurting, we are all hurting and we do so in silence. It is killing us. Quite literally and that is something to be so, so very ashamed of. We need to be better, not just for ourselves but for those who love us.

For years there was no one to talk too. If you sought help you are labeled weak, if you brood about it, the answer has always been; let’s have some drinks, you’ll feel better. Joking about it is standard fare and humor is a great thing, it really does help. But humor is a mask for the ugliness hidden beneath. At some point in time you must take the mask off. Are you ready for that? To be revealed?

Thanks to the recognition of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) in not only our beloved military but our public servants as well, we have very skilled and wonderful people at our disposal, just waiting to help. These people are trained well but most of all they have been there, right where we are now. Unable to process, lacking the skill necessary to cope with both severe stressors and simple everyday life. We need to open the dialogue, to speak up and begin to heal our insides. For if our insides are dying our outsides are already gone.

From a simple sentence, came all of this, Thank you Jim.

If you know someone who needs help, please, say something, do something, they need you and just don’t know how to tell you, to share, to release their inner pain. We hold it all inside so you don’t have to see it. It is time to stop that trend. We can all share some of the burden through talking, love and understanding.

If you feel as though you have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) please reach out.

  1. Or Call: 911
  2. The National Suicide prevention line 1-800-273-8255
  3. Go to the nearest Emergency room
  4. Contact your local church
  5. Check with your employer for assistance

It is time we moved out of the shadows and into the light.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so we say goodbye..

Quietly we slipped into town. It had been a while since I last stepped foot in my hometown of Sonoma California and as we meandered through streets filled with wandering tourists my memory tried hard to visualize this once peaceful quiet place as it was many years ago. This town still holds a certain charm, a quaintness which unfortunately now feels like a false front. Gone are homes actually owned and lived in by people downtown, instead each cute little cottage or early 1900’s home is filled with one type of business or another. Gone is that small town feeling where mom and pop mercantile line the plaza. Instead the city is surrounded by winery getaway bungalows, tasting rooms, restaurants, and high end hotels catering to those with wine adventures on their mind. Oh there are a few small business breweries, diners and stores but for the most part as you drive in it no longer has that small town charm but more of a high dollar Los Gatos feel.

The traffic was horrendous and as we pulled into Duggans for dads memorial service it was evident no one held an ounce of patience for driving across this very congested portion of the city leading to downtown. Standing outside for a moment before walking in to face family and friends I did soak up the Sonoma sun and smiled, remembering how blessed I was to grow up here. Something I have never taken for granted.

Once inside mom and I placed a few pictures around, made sure everything was in its place while beginning to welcome people with open arms. Last night I had decided for me at least this was not going to be a sad event. Dad wouldn’t have wanted that, besides I have learned over time there is no reason for us to cry or be sad. The only reason we cry is for ourselves, our own misery with someone we love being gone forever. Our loved one feels no pain, carries no worry and would only want those of us left behind to smile, remembering the good not the bad.

After many, many hugs, some wonderful conversation, and several well placed jokes we came inside and began the service. Our pastor was fantastic, light, charming and funny he brought a warmth and glow to this occasion that was desperately needed. Family sat in front and when it came time to speak, my mother did her very best to relay how she felt and followed up her recollections with directions for after the service.

Next it was my turn and I have to say, I was pretty nervous. I started with a joke. Dad and I had spoken on several occasions about memorials and funerals. Our running gag was never had either one of us heard a family member walk up to the podium, thank everyone for coming then slam their fist on the table, look the audience in the eye and say: John Doe so and so was a Son of a Bitch!!!! So that’s what I did by sharing that story! Thankfully the room laughed and just like that my nervousness melted away just a little. Pulling a prepared statement from my jacket pocket I cleared my throat, steadied my vocal chords and began to read:

What I learned from watching my father.

Many things can be said about Robert Franceschi

He was a charmer when need be.

A friend for life once you worked past his often times gruff exterior.

A hard worker

He loved 49r football

He was my dad

But it’s not the image he portrayed that matters to me, instead it is what he taught me from witnessing his actions as opposed to his words. For we know as young emotionally charged youth we fight against our parents every chance we get. Yearning for freedom of our own, to make our own decisions without help from our parents so called “words or pearls of wisdom”. No it’s what I witnessed, without words through silence filled deeds and actions that resonates so very deep within my soul.

From watching my father since the moment I can recollect his life lessons rang true, teaching me…

It’s never too late to re-invent yourself – Dad struggled and worked hard every day to support his family and even when things didn’t go his way he never gave up. We were never rich, often times just barely having enough money to get new school clothes was a burden but my dad did what had to be done and if that meant going from a salesman to a barn builder, a store owner to a restaurateur then that’s what he did. Was he scared? You’re damn right he was, but he always tried and it’s because of him that I have never been afraid to try something new, reinvent myself, morphing into a new side job or purpose and I will sell my last belonging to make sure my family always has what they need.

A love of animals- My dad loved animals, he loved horses, dogs, cats, birds and ostriches. Oh he complained like hell about them, especially my mom’s dogs! But when he wasn’t complaining and no one was looking that tough guy wall came down and he would sit with a dog/cat on his lap or a bird on his shoulder. When his last horse passed away he was devastated for as he put it; Goldpiece was the only one who listened to me anyways.. I love my horses, dogs, chickens, pigs and cats. They are part of my family and whenever they hurt, I hurt. It’s because of my father’s spirit for animals that I care about them as much as I do. I couldn’t imagine life without pets and livestock roaming our property. Whether for riding, petting or putting dinner on the table they are a huge part of our lives. And yes whenever that damn SPCA commercial starts and Sara McLaughlin begins singing while sad puppy eyes stare back at you through the tv screen well I am here to say you just may find it raining only behind my glasses.

To sing whenever possible. I know right? No one can picture my father standing tall in front of a crowd singing his heart out. Well he didn’t, but what I learned was no matter how difficult a day’s become when a song comes on the radio that you love don’t be afraid to belt it out! For you see many times I witnessed his day/mood go from bad to good with nothing more than a good country song and some alone time inside the Ford truck recording studio traveling down Hwy 12. The power of song is amazing, you don’t need to know how to sing or even sing well but for those two and a half minutes you are George freaking Strait and no one can take that away from you. I drive my kid’s nuts to this day singing every song that makes me happy as it billows from our cars speakers. When I am through I always have a slight smirk upon my face.

A genuine appreciation for the automobile. Dad loved cars, all kinds, makes and models and that love trickled down to me. From the time I could walk I can remember staring at this truck, crawling around in that car and listening to my dad tell stories about not having much money so one time he painted a car with a roller and brush. When dad purchased a restored 1936 Ford and brought it home it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. With its swoopy fenders, giant bug eye headlights and sparkling chrome grill that car was to me what was right with the world. Soon after a 1941 Mercury arrived and not long after that a 1921 Model T. The two latter cars are in my garage awaiting the day they will travel the roadways again with the same regal status they once held within their time. Nothing made my dad smile more than when he drove one of his old cars.

Nothing in this life is given to you and hard work pays off. Shake a man’s hand when you see him, look him in the eye, your word is more important than anything you possess. If not for watching him work the way he did while trying his best to keep things running at home I never would have learned the patience needed to understand the old adage of “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. Yes you can risk it all by taking loans and building your place into the very best place it can be from day one. Or you can work hard, recycle materials and slowly, without debt build something from nothing, hopefully leaving some form of legacy for your children to inherit. I am working hard to teach my children those very same values.

And lastly but most importantly

Marriage isn’t easy- That’s right, marriage is in no way shape or form easy and if you believe it to be some fairytale story you are sadly mistaken. But what marriage is, is filled with mistakes, sometimes big ones! And with those mistakes also come huge successes, both of which help forge a bond between you and your significant other. Learning the ability to say you’re sorry so another doesn’t emotionally suffer and learn to accept apologies in return, forgiving all wrong doing while never holding a grudge. Giving of yourself wholly to your spouse and your family regardless of time, place or series of events. Remembering that someone you love, loves you back no matter what and with that love comes good times and bad, but it’s how we handle ourselves that create true memories lasting a lifetime. Not posed pictures hanging on a wall staged like a portrait session in the woods, but memories of moments alone, together, surrounded by smells, sounds and sights. From the moment you first met to your final kiss goodbye 55 years later. Marriage isn’t easy but done right, marriage is life fulfilling and holds rewards like no other….

I am sure there is a dozen or so more I could recite, but this is where it ends. I know he looks down upon us all, free from pain, free from his broken down body, free from stress and doubt. I pray his spirit sends a sign to my wife so she feels his comfort, knowing he is alright with her not being here to help celebrate his life. I pray he is surrounded by old friends, family and those he cherished. I pray he feels our love and rests easy knowing we are ok, for sadness knows no place when your job here on earth is done.

We celebrate who he was and the legacy he left behind.

I love you dad…

When it was over I was relieved. Sitting down and listening as my Aunt and Uncle spoke, then watching as our former neighbor stood in front and said something that rang so true of my dad. If I was ever in a fight I would want Bob right behind me. Along with; Bob always did the right thing. That indeed was my dad. To hear it from another adult male figure from my young adolescent life was indeed fulfilling. Dad always did the right thing, no matter the cost and if you ever witnessed my fathers rage then you definitely knew you wanted that man in your corner when the shit hit the fan. Not because his anger was a dangerous thing but because as stated prior, dad always did the right thing. That extended to his ability to control and corral that anger, putting it to good use when the moment arose. Usually leaving a UPS driver or two with a need for an underwear change should they be found guilty of speeding on our road.

At the end of the day we had a very nice lunch at Rossi’s, it was such a pleasure to see so many faces from our past. The ability to reconnect, tell tall tales, have a few laughs while surrounded by so many special family members and friends will keep my heart warm for a long time to come.  Its just to bad that life has engulfed us so, that we may only see each other at weddings or funerals.

Either way thanks to all those who gave up their Saturday to pay tribute to my father. I know he was looking down, smiling and wondering just who in the hell was going to pay for the whole damn thing!

God Bless you all..

Tomorrow the adventures continue as the Franceschi clan loads up and heads to Saratoga to spend the day with their mother…

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Another page….

I was asked to write my father’s obituary to which I declined. I have no answer as to why, other than for some strange reason it just didn’t feel right. Mom of course had no problem picking up the pen as it were then hammering out a short synopsis of my father’s life. After all having been married to the man for 55 years I am sure it came fast and easy.

I haven’t been able to open it.

Mom sent me the obituary in an email. Every day while checking my personal and work emails there it sat, unopened, like an unsolvable Rubik’s cube waiting for me to spin it around in hopes of unlocking its color coding on the very first try. There just hasn’t been any desire to try.

I am proud of my mother, she has handled this all with her feet firmly planted on the ground. Never once has she faltered or wavered in my presence over any decisions since her husband’s passing. She gets out almost every day visiting friends and running errands. She has handled the upcoming memorial with very little assistance from myself and is working on a full reorganization of her life. My mother is living up to the old adage; tough Old Italian woman.

We speak on the phone every day and through conversation she has discussed bits and pieces in regards to her final marital note. It is obvious mom has put time and effort into this little piece that will run in the local paper and yet for a week now, even knowing all she has done I just hadn’t been able to open it, to read it, to absorb what it means to her or anyone who knew my father. I just couldn’t do it, I would scroll past it, move it to another folder only to place it back into the main folder still unread, unopened, as if I was a cold and uncaring person. Scared of what it meant to me.

So with exactly 6 days to go until his memorial service and nothing remotely pressing on my gigantic plate of daily activities, my fingers (on their own accord) scrolled over the email and pressed the little W icon releasing information from the cloud into my server for my eyes to fixate upon and probably wonder why it had been hard for me all along.

And so I read it.

Halfway through my eyes glaze over and instantly I’m transported from my desk inside our fire station to a bench at Prestwood elementary where I sit waiting for lunch. I can smell it, feel it, I have chills upon my skin, my friends from years long gone are buzzing around me, laughing, joking, running playing, I am at ease. The fears of being a small child have enveloped my soul, scared of the bigger kids, jokester to my friends, a storyteller just trying to fit in. My little brain wondering if I will ever understand fractions while hearing my teachers telling us with effort we can achieve anything. Of course all this is happening while I daydream the day away. Yep I find myself staring at a white faced clock with black hands, the second hand slowly moving clockwise eliminating minutes from my daily school experience so I can go home and see what car dads driving home today and hopefully talk him into a game of basketball.

Lights passing overhead as the enormity of the freeway made my eyes larger than pie plates. Dad and I are on a trip to a dealership down south, he works for Kastner Pontiac/GMC and we are trading one car for a truck. I have never been to far from Sonoma in my 8 years and traveling through Sacramento onto 99 south was filled with new sights, sounds and my father singing country music on the radio. (Something I do to this day that drives my kids crazy). It was an all-night trip and I felt like a big kid! It is also where my early love for the GMC/Chevy stepside began. We ate out (something we never did) we sang, laughed and had fun. I slept most of the way home, but for that moment in time I was my dad’s friend, there were no girls (sorry mom) we were hanging out and it was an adventure. Just two men and a really cool truck.

Moving through time we are on a field trip, I cannot remember to where, but I am sitting in a bus full of students and parents. My dad is sits beside me smiling. It was one of the best memories for me as dad rarely made any of my school activities. I remember laughing, joking around and can even still feel the air blowing through the bus as a mixture of the suns golden rays and dust flows through the cabin.

Sitting at a bar while a man serves my sister and I 7up with cherries at Napa Valley Horseman’s Association. Dad was president and he would lead the Monday night monthly meetings. I remember thinking maybe that would be me one day. I can still see the lights of Napa off in the distance from this clubhouse on a hill. Soon we would be off to bed in the camper or later dad’s motorhome. It was the closest thing to camping we ever did and it was always fun sneaking out to watch our parents dance the night away after some of the meetings.

Driving dads Ford 8N tractor helping put fence around our property, mixing cement inside the rotating box scraper/drag that I guess I now own as it sits unused alongside my barn. Hearing him tell me exactly how to do it. Just the right amount of water, too much and it will be soup that takes forever to set, too little and it will crack and crumble never becoming a solid footing for these posts. Hearing him telling me just how far to back the tractor up, getting mad at me for almost smashing his hand with the bucket then forgiving me as I set my third post perfectly. I hear his voice, see him sweating and wonder why I can’t go back in time. I am talking to him but he can’t hear me. He only hears the very young boy on the tractor and not the 49 year old man trying his hardest to speak.

We are riding together, headed to test drive my possible first car. A 1957 Chevy Bel-Air. It was blue with chrome everywhere! The 57 was my favorite car next to the Chevy Stepside and as child I had built several models of this exact vehicle. When we arrived dad was the most charming man you had ever seen. He always knew just how to talk to people when it came to business of any type. They chuckled and laughed, went over the car from front to back. We jump started it as it had been sitting for a while and took it for a ride. It was everything I had ever dreamed of from the time I was 9. My dad was in love with the car, or so it seemed from the twinkle in his eye as we talked about it, how nice it was, how well it ran with a snappy little corvette motor wrapped neatly in chrome under the hood. I’m there all over again, I can even smell the interior. Several thank you’s were exchanged and my father left the owners with the old “we need to think about” line. On the way home I asked when we were going back to retrieve this heavenly piece of Detroit iron, to which he turned and with the same twinkle in his eye responded; we aren’t. The sixteen year old and 49 year old are yelling at him all over again. WHY??? That car is too fast for you, it shouldn’t be your first car. I can still hear him saying it. I was angry as hell, but he knew I would get over it. (I never really did) Dad was right though, as I wrecked my first truck sending it to the scrap yard. I had the pleasure of seeing that car while working at Aunt Josie’s restaurant as its owner would eat there once a week. It had an unmistakable license plate; 5SEVEN. That car lives in my dreams to this day.

Over the years there were times of laughter and great disappointment, times where we tested each other and times we just gave in, never acknowledging we had called a truce. As we grew older the equality of our stubbornness created larger walls between us. We talked once a week, grumbled about each other’s choices and would always part with an, I love you. But one thing is for certain, my father’s laughter, happiness and inexplicable ability to talk with people will always resonate deep within my soul. I have learned from him by witnessing both the success and failure in his life.

Reading the obituary today made it all too real for me. Yes I was there with him in his last moments, and was honored due to my position at work to actually be at his side when the ER doctor called time of death. I was able to hold his hand and cry, wishing he would squeeze back just one more time. I fully comprehend he is and always will be gone from this earth.

I just wish I hadn’t been so stubborn for I will never be able to take back all the times we butted heads or couldn’t come to an agreement on an issue, I’ll never be able to hear him tell me he is or was proud of me, never be able to apologize for the grief I gave him as a teenager. And yes I know I need to take it easy, and realize he had probably forgiven me long ago. I know, I have lived through death many, many times and it is what it is. But even after you put all that aside I think the hardest part for me is now that I have read this permanent record of decease, absorbed its significance, traveled back in time over the last several hours while sadly staring at the wall I come to the hardest part of this whole circle of life bullshit.

I no longer have a dad, and the little kid inside this aging man is crying his eyes out, holding a pillow across his face to muffle the tears wanting nothing more than his daddy to come home and play basketball with him one more time.

Just one more shot dad, it’s not dark yet I swear…….

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