What Saved Me
Just after I received the call from my friend at dispatch, informing me that there had been a burn over and the Granite Mountain Hotshots were missing, I walked to my barn and I fed my horses. Through my tears and my fear, I chucked hay into troughs. I had tried calling Eric, but my calls went to voicemail. Duane and Marvel picked me up and drove me to Prescott Middle School, where the Prescott Fire Department and Granite Mountain families were gathering. I got home very late that night, crawled into my bed and fell asleep. I awoke the next morning and I lay in bed, my eyes squeezed shut, sobbing into my pillow. I rose from bed, put on Eric's green flip flops and went out to feed my dogs and horses. For the next few weeks, all the local families sat in meetings, and we were told horrific things that we needed to know, we were asked to get dental records, we were asked to identify tattoos. Every day I rose from bed, the weight and the gravity of the situation overwhelmed and exhausted me, but I walked to the barn and fed my horses and dogs. Every night when I returned home, I did the same. The cycle of animal care. They needed me to continue showing up, and I needed to continue showing up. To have something in my life that was normal. Feeding animals, ordering hay from the feed store, that was normal. That made me normal.
Eric's horse died not long ago. He was old and his life was well lived. One of our dogs has died, too. One thing I have learned is that the world does not stop to allow the bereaved to catch up. We have to keep trying. We have to keep going to the barn and feeding horses. We have to keep holding on to what makes us feel normal.
The Trauma We Carry
Raising children inside trauma and loss is super hard and dynamic. I have been raising my step children inside the loss of the Granite Mountain Hotshots for nearly five years. Their dad is a first responder who was on the Yarnell Hill Fire, who has struggled with the loss of our 19, too.
At first, the children were too young to really understand my loss. But they had already gone through their own. The loss of their parent’s marriage was really hard for them and my husband (boyfriend at the time) was grieving that loss, too. When he and I found ourselves in a relationship, we brought all of our sadness, pain, and grief with us. It was so very messy, as you can imagine.
As the children grew, we realized that we had to begin talking openly about the Granite Mountain Hotshots and Eric. They had witnessed me crying a lot, had seen their dad and me talking through some heavy stuff, and it was time to begin letting them into the loss. Only the Brave was in production and he and I were traveling back and forth to Santa Fe, and the kids were asking questions, trying to figure out our lives. It was a confusing time for me, seeing all the actors bring our loved ones to life, it was both overwhelming and beautiful. Watching Jennifer Connelly lay the white horse down just minutes after she and I met for the first time, seeing myself in her. There was so much for me to sort through. None of that was easy. And I didn’t know how to talk about any of it with folks who were not in my closest circle. I had to fragment my life. I was closed off and hiding out at home when in Prescott, shut in and full of sorrow. And then traveling to Santa Fe and watching Eric come alive through Josh. All the while trying to figure out how to be present for two amazing, young, super fun kids.
Though the kids knew I had been married to a man named Eric, they were too young to understand death. I took them to the cemetery and we walked around the memorial. I introduced them to all of our fallen 19. Our oldest child was struck by seeing my image on Eric’s head stone. It brought it to life, it made it real. All the tears I had shed suddenly made sense. As we got back in the car and began driving away, my children said goodbye to Eric and promised him we would come back soon. It was an amazing moment, full of so much love and connection.
In our world, in our family, Eric is very present. My children think of him as their other dad and he brings so much comfort to them both. Our youngest wants to be a first responder and is in awe of Eric and hotshots and smokejumpers. Drawings of tankers cover our fridge. The kids talk about him, and ask me questions. There is no fragmentation, it all runs together. My husband asks me questions, too. He wants to know everything about Eric and I want to share him with my family. It’s easier and way less painful when my life flows together.
I still really can’t talk about the movie, or about the people in the movie. I can write about it in small pieces like this. I can share parts of that time with others, but there are layers to sort through. I am so grateful the movie was made. Our kids have seen it. Our oldest cried so hard when it was over, so afraid of what it all meant for our family. So sad for me. Our youngest has seen it to almost the end. The ending would be too hard right now. They live it with me every day. Eventually we will watch it to the end, as a family. My husband and I cry every time we see it. In fact, the first time we saw the movie all the way through, he was sobbing next to me, with his arm around my shoulders. He feels so bad for me, for all the families for having to endure such tragedy. Just a few days ago, he told me that once again. Having his support is everything to me. Being able to talk about Eric, to continue loving him openly is so healing. Between the drawings of tankers on the fridge are photographs of Eric and I wear both of my wedding bands on my ring finger. Both my husbands are extraordinary humans. I love them both so very much.
As our children grow and mature, I see compassion emanating from them. It’s true and centered. Both our kids are strong in who they are, they have self confidence. They love our family, they want to be with us. There are no questions off the table. I see who they are and I see resilience. As a family, we have learned how to exist with loss, how grief is not a period of time, but a byproduct of love, how important it is to live whole, not fragmented, and how valuable it is to share feelings, to exist how we are. Our kids bring me so much joy, and hearing their giggles fills me up. Through them I have learned how to slow down, how to be present, how mistakes are really okay as long as we learn from them. Loss is inevitable, it’s part of the human experience. My loss has made me stronger. My loss has made me kinder. I have learned that it’s okay not to be okay. I have learned not to cover up my pain, but to expose it to the light. I have learned that loving is the best remedy.
2019 Events Attended
IAFF Memorial Colorado Springs
Past 2019 Events
June 1st Yarnell Memorial Run
June 28th Tribute to First Responders hosted by the Heights Church. Tickets to launch soon on our website.
June 1-7 Colorado Wildfire and Incident Management Academy
June 30th 6 year anniversary of Yarnell Hill Fire
July 5, 6 and 7 Eric Marsh Foundation Fire Family Retreat in Prescott, AZ.
April Hotshot Up! Ventura, CA
April Milwaukee Honor Guard Clinic
April FDIC Indianapolis, IN
April US Hotshots Association Reno, NV
March 9-15th Arizona Wildfire and Incident Management Academy at EmbryRiddle
January Colorado Wildfire and Incident Management Academy Colorado Springs, CO
Whiskey Row Marathon Prescott 2019
FDIC Indianapolis 2019
FDIC Indianapolis 2019
Colorado Wildfire and Incident Management Academy 2019
Camp Fire 2018
Ferguson Fire 2018