Brotherhood, Where Art Thou..

Sno.7's L72 hanging with my father at a Woodinville event in 2006. Photo by author.

Well, Brother.  Glad you could join me for a cup. ..I know, it’s a little strong..the probie made it.  He’ll learn.

So I’ve been cogitatin’ on things for a few months now.  The summer came and went and if you remember, I was all fired up about not getting any good fishing in.  But little did I realize the summer had far more in store for me than fishing, recruit classes or a family vacation.  It was a crazy few months and now that all is behind me I look back at it and marvel about a few things.  I thought I might share them with you while we chew on the Joe the probie cooked up: 

Death is a constant.  It comes to us all eventually.  We who call firefighting our profession certainly have seen enough to know that there is little one can say when a life passes.  It happens.  Firefighters, among others, see it day in and day out, in varying stages, and after a time, we have seen death take all kinds of people.  Rich ones, poor ones, miserable ones, peaceful ones and seemingly very innocent ones.  Violent death and quiet death, unjust and deserved.  God the Father calls each one at the appointed hour.  Death is always among us. 

"Death is never far from the Brotherhood." The funeral for LODD FF Andy Mullen, AFD. October 2010. Photo by author.

Another constant, is Brotherhood.  Braithreachas.  Death and the Brotherhood are intertwined.  I understand this better now.  It isn’t that firefighters enjoy being in mourning, we do not thrive on the sight of caskets and purple bunting.  We do not live for the moment when the Wake begins and the cask is broken open to drink our cares away.  Rather, it’s the other way around.  We dread it.  But it is always among us, and we do not shy away.  Wisely or unwisely, many of us look it full in the face. 

My father passed away on a quiet summer evening of this year.  It wasn’t unexpected, and we had gathered around him to ease his going.  For my part, I didn’t want him to suffer and I urged him to let go.  We had enjoyed much and shared much together.  More than anything I wanted to know he was at peace.  When he was gone, I pressed ahead, reeling from the burdens on my heart, and tried to be the rock my family seemed to need.  In some ways, death was the easy part.  Knowing how to deal with others at his Memorial was harder.

And then the Brotherhood showed up.  I was beyond grateful and felt my father honored by their presence.  They are my friends, and a few of them had met my father.  They asked to wear Class A’s and my mother was pleased at this, I encouraged them to do so.  My father was not a fireman.  But he admired firemen. 

"The mark of a Puget Sound Leatherhead", the badge of Chad Berg at my father's funeral. Photo by author.

When they showed up at the church, they stood out.  I think eight or nine attended and I spent a little time clarifying for some of my father’s friends that, “No, my Dad wasn’t a fireman, these are my friends”.  The service passed, and the brethren joined the crowd at the reception and as my family and I buzzed about shaking hands and listening to those whose hearts had loved our Dad, I kept an eye out for my brothers in the uniform.   They were surrounded by the curious, those who weren’t sure why uniformed firemen had shown up for Dad’s funeral.  Someone naively asked me how so many firemen were able to afford to come down from Alaska to attend and when I explained that they were firemen from several different departments in the Puget Sound, the person looked dumbfounded. 

But then I realized, I didn’t really understand either.  I didn’t understand until I heard my good friend Berg say, “We’re here for Ben.  We didn’t want him to stand alone”..and that struck home.  Of all the gifts I have in this life, this one continues to floor me.  It humbles me.  Not so much because I don’t understand, but because to witness it, to be the subject of it, is to understand that it is beyond us, for we are mere men.  It is a blessing to be held up by brothers such as these. 

Another brother lost his wife and child in an accident some time back.  We responded to the scene.  We struggled to save his family, we sat with him while he wept, we watched over his family.   We still watch over him as he struggles through each day since.  Years later, he still needs the brotherhood.   Death is constant, and so are we.

A brother I shared the job with, his wife passed in her sleep, while she held one of her children.  Sound asleep, she slipped away to the Father.  He went off shift, went home, maybe he let out the dog.  Then slipping into the room, he looked at her and knew immediately she was gone.  So much ended for him there.  His marriage, the family as he knew it, his life as a fireman.   When it came time to take her away, he asked us to do it.  He didn’t want her to be touched by anyone else.  So the Chief, another brother and I placed her in the black bag and gently carried her away.  I have never felt so honored.  To hold my brother’s wife at that moment.  Firemen guarded her last moments with his family, watched over his family and cared for his family.

The same chief that helped carry his wife away, died from cancer only a short while later.  Over 100 firefighters marched for him at subzero temps.  His wife lives nearby the firehouse and we still go see her, she still comes to see us.  We are family.  His granddaughter still reaches out for hugs from old firemen.

While I was burying my father, other brothers showed up at my home and split my firewood.  They knew it was sometime before I would be able to get to it.  The children were sick, my wife was grieving without me there and unable to join me.  My wife is strong, but knowing they would come and care for my family in my absence meant so much to her. 

“Braithreachas Thar Gach Ni” Photo by author.

After the funeral, I went with the some of those Puget Sound brothers to a BBQ by a quiet lake.  They were enjoying brotherhood, the summer, good beer and watching their children play.  They put out a chair, welcomed me among them and let me just sit there and lay my burdens down.  We sat and talked some.  It was peaceful.  I was among the brothers and sisters, and I felt their presence like a bandage on a painful wound.  The value of such things can’t be measured. 

An older, retired fireman, sits on a porch in Maine.  We’re talkin’ long-distance and I tell him how the brothers showed up to stand by me at my father’s funeral, wearing their best.  His voice chokes over the phone and quietly he says, “That gives me hope,… that these things will not pass away.  It’s good to know that there are still men like that!”

We few, you and me.  We are the brotherhood.  It is wherever we are, whether times are good,..or bad.  And it is a constant.   But for it to be so, we must continue to do the right things.  And only you brother and sister, can do that.  It begins with each and every one of you. 

Now, ..lets teach that probie a thing or two about makin’ a cup o’ Joe!

15 Comments

  • Alan Mitchell says:

    First rate, Capt. You always find the words, not the ‘right’ words, but the perfect human words.

    I was kind of thinking in this manner after the fundraiser last night – shift firefighters, on duty offiers, off-duty firefighters and their families, off-duty officers and their families, too. Family. Brotherhood. All spending time together laughing, eatting, remembering, getting our heads shaved (LOL). It’s real… life.

    Even as an ‘outsider looking in’ (since I’m not active right now), I still have many friends in the fire service and this year I’ve made a few more, including the brother who lost his wife & child. My family, my brotherhood has grown and I thank you for reminding us all who we are, what we are, and that we are… brothers. Bráithreachas thar gach ní

  • Larry Glover says:

    We will always be there for you Brother. (Even though we live on opposite ends of the country.) You and your family, Brother’s I’ve never met (yet), ya’ll will always be in my prayers. Tip of the leather to you. Take care of the family and go teach the Probie how to make some joe. God Bless and Stay Safe!

    Larry

  • Mom says:

    Well said “Little Brother”. I am speechless. Your Dad would have been overwhelmed. Thank you, and be sure you let “the brothers” know how much their presence and support meant to us, your family. If any of your guys want a good cup of coffee and a piece of pie, tell them to let me know. By “your guys” I mean, of course the locals!!!

  • Steve Adams says:

    Very nice Ben. As I sit here watching it snow, and reading “Brotherhood, where art thou..” I got to thinking of the many brothers that have passed over the years… In my case a lot of brothers… and a lot of years. And thinking how wonderful it would have been had there had been someone there like you, able to assemble into words the thoughts that surrounded those passings – a tribute if you will… to the living, and the dead.

    I know that this must have been difficult for you to write, but admire you for doing it, and am grateful to you for saying what needs to be said. I know there are many who will read those words and be comforted to know that wherever they are when their time comes, they will not be alone.

    Steve

    • Steve,

      I appreciate your comments. It was difficult to write, in fact, I was shocked that it was legible when I was done. Nagging thoughts that I wanted to air out. I am ready to move on. Thanks again!

  • Jon Garland says:

    KTF brother

  • “We few, you and me. We are the brotherhood. It is wherever we are, whether times are good,..or bad. And it is a constant. But for it to be so, we must continue to do the right things. And only you brother and sister, can do that. It begins with each and every one of you.”

    Profound words brother. Thanks for sharing them with us.

    • Hey Brother, its a blessing to have someone listen. Braithreachas Thar Gach Ni!

    • Brother Jason,

      Thanks for commenting. To be a symbol, banging in the wind does no good. It has taken me some time to realize that I have something to say, and the shocker is that people listen. You don’t do so bad yourself, man. I enjoy your blog a great deal! I don’t surf around a lot and a few times you’ve tapped something in that I have been able to use for discussion with the crew and I even used the Durham video to point out how it is “supposed” to be. Great stuff! PTB-RFB!

  • Wee Gillan says:

    Ben
    Thanks as always, I am spreading the impact of your words on me throughout my dept and people are responding. Thank you, as always proud to be your “Wee” Brother….
    Jenn and I cant wait to see you and yours next year…..

    Stay safe and all the best..Tony

    • Thanks Gillan, you are an inspiration to me as well! Really looking forward to seeing you and Jenn up here. Congrats on the Blackwell Award! You earned it! And again on making the Truck!

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