I wrote this piece a while ago and posted it on another website. We recently attended the annual formal dinner for our local fire brigade, where my husband is a volunteer and part of the management team. A friend of mine, who welcomed everyone to the dinner, read this out. I was so nervous that everyone would think I was terrible for writing it, but I was really overwhelmed with the positive response. So many partners of volunteers feel the same, and many volunteers hadn't thought of this side of it. I wanted to share this with you all...
Dinner is on the stove. The toddler is at my feet, loudly reminding me that her evening grumpiness has arrived. She is hungry and tired, as are her parents. We have a plan for our evenings, a routine that works every night: dinner, bath, story, bed. Amongst that comes the cleaning of dinner dishes, packing up of toys and, finally, a glass of wine as my husband and I collapse on the couch after a long day.
This is a familiar scene to parents everywhere.
Just as I am serving the dinner that I have begrudgingly cooked, refusing to give in to the urge to call for takeaway, a beeping sound comes from where my husband is standing. I close my eyes, take a deep breath and remind myself to stay calm. ‘Bye’, I say to my husband. ‘Take care’. I hear the door slam and watch him through the window, as he races to his car and drives away.
Once he is gone, I allow myself to stop for a moment. In the midst of the evening chaos, my eyes well up, I swear to myself and wish he could stay home to help. Sometimes it is difficult to be okay with having to drop everything. Our toddler, having watched her dad race out the door, now turns her attention back to me. I pull myself together and continue with the routine.
This is life as the partner of an emergency services volunteer.
Sometimes I feel that our world revolves around his sense of duty. As though we are waiting on a knife’s edge, our plans can change at a moment’s notice if the pager begins its incessant high-pitched call. I dread hearing that sound and I loathe the rush that follows it, the plans for the day or evening ruined.
Sometimes I am angry at the expectations, the need for me to happily go along with him running out the door at any time.
During an emergency, I must hold the fort, be the only one responsible for our child. All the decisions rest on my shoulders, with no partner to share the load. The responsibility of keeping our family safe, ensuring all other family members are informed of his wellbeing and keeping our house and precious belongings in one piece – it is all up to me.
As the partner of an emergency services volunteer, I sometimes tire of attending formal events and listening to the same obligatory speeches at each one. I cringe each time a speaker refers to the volunteers putting their lives on the line to help others. As someone who loves one of those volunteers, albeit a faceless and necessarily selfless one to the person speaking so formally, I do not wish to be reminded of this fact.
In these speeches, they usually also thank the volunteers’ partners. I always wonder if they truly understand what it means to be one of these people. To have your plans put on hold, to ask your partner if they are free that weekend and often hear the response, ‘I said I’d make myself available in case there is a call’ or ‘I have to do some fundraising’. Again.
I did not choose to be part of this organisation. I have never had any say in the impact it has on our lives. And, good and bad, it does play a huge part in our existence. We have made so many good friends and had some amazing times thanks to this wonderful service. But it can be tough.
Throughout the year, all these thoughts and feelings come to me countless times.
The feeling that overrides them all is pride and I have an overwhelming sense of respect for my husband. I chose to be with a person who wants to help others, be a part of his community and live his life doing something worthwhile that truly makes a difference in people’s lives.
Some view emergency services volunteering as an heroic act, others wonder how or why they do it. Everyone appreciates their efforts. A few question how the volunteers’ partners deal with it. It is not always easy and I know I am not constantly supportive. Sometimes the needs of our family need to be put first, and for that I will not apologise. Most of the time, it comes down to understanding that I am with someone who needs to do this.