My husband Josh and I met in July of 2011. We had both recently returned to the area where we grew up. I was unemployed, fresh out of graduate school and he was in the middle of paramedic school. We met through an internet dating site. He always told me that he was afraid to reach out to me because he thought that I was out of his league. I am forever grateful that he did. On our first date we met for brunch at a new restaurant at 11AM and didn’t leave until we realized that there wasn’t anybody left in the restaurant. That was it for us. He told me that he fell in love with me that day. I was a little more resistant and made it about four dates before hopelessly falling for him.
Josh was such a hard worker. He was going to class, completing his rotations, completing his monthly requirements for the Army National Guard and still working full time in the emergency room. I got tired just thinking about his schedule. He lived on Monster, late night trips to the gym and an immense desire to succeed. Somewhere in the midst of it all he found the time to test for multiple fire departments. He placed in the top 5 and frequently at number one for most of the tests. I was always so proud of him every time he sent me a picture of the results lists. That was my man, working his ass off to achieve his dream. By January he had graduated paramedic school with honors and accepted a position as a firefighter/paramedic. Just when I thought his life might calm down a little, fire academy started. He was up early to get to the academy and after returning home spent the night studying. He was determined to learn and memorize everything. It didn’t matter that he had been a firefighter in Idaho for eight years; he wanted to make sure that he was up to date on all of the latest information. As fire academy was wrapping up about eight months into our relationship we were faced with a critical decision. He needed to move an hour away in order to be closer to his new department. My job at the time was already an hour in the opposite direction. He asked me to move with him. I knew that we would not last long if we tried to do long distance so I said yes. That moment I knew I was in it for the long haul. I finished out the spring athletic season with the schools I was working for and began the search for employment all over again. I eventually found a position that I continue to hold today and we settled into a comfortable townhouse. Josh’s first year at the fire department wasn’t always easy but it was rewarding. He loved his job and being able to make a difference in the lives of his patients and even his coworkers. He quickly got involved in extracurricular activities with the department. He played a major role in the Fill the Boot campaign every year and helped out at open houses and “touch a truck” events. He was always willing to cover shifts for his coworkers, often working holidays for them so they could spend time with their young children. I was so proud to visit him at the fire department and my heart just swelled up when they would have to leave on a call and I got to watch them drive off, lights flashing to go help someone in need.
After a year of living together, we decided to build our “forever” home. We weren’t even engaged when we committed to this project. People kept warning us that building a home was very stressful and caused a lot of couples to fight. We had no problems. It helped that I’m very easygoing and my husband had an amazing eye for what would look good, but I don’t think we argued about anything. We lived less than five minutes from where we chose to build. It was so much fun to drive over and see the progress that was being made. He was so happy, like a kid at Christmas, every time something new happened. That’s all I ever wanted was to see him happy.
We got engaged in April of 2013, two months before moving into our new home. We were on vacation in Florida and he kept telling me that we were going to go get my first tattoo, that he had found a place and made an appointment for me. Where we ended up was on a private sailboat cruise at sunset. There were dolphins swimming by and everything. Can you believe that actually happened? He told me that he had known since he met me that he wanted to spend his life with me and we made it official that night with the most beautiful ring I have ever seen. In fact, I think my first words when I actually looked at it were, “Oh my gosh that’s huge!” We returned from our trip and settled into our new home together shortly after.
Throughout his four years at the fire department Josh always held a second job as well. He worked in the emergency room for two hospitals and was also a continuing education specialist for a while. These jobs kept him busy on the days that he was off shift but any day in the spring through fall that he had completely free he spent fishing. That man was a fishing connoisseur. I frequently tagged along when I was not working just to get to spend some more time with him. Watching him out there was fascinating. Put a fishing pole in his hand and show him some water and he will be completely in his element. He would always point out these fish swimming in the water and I swear it’s like he was born with some sort of fish spotting radar because I never saw anything. But they were there; I have the pictures to prove it. He would frequently try to get me to fish with him but for every twenty fish he caught, I would come up with a handful of seaweed. It just isn’t in the cards for me, I guess!
We finally got married on September 5, 2015. It was extraordinarily hot that day, but the ceremony went perfectly. I was so excited for him to see how everything turned out. Everything that I did and every decision that I made was for him. He was my entire world and I was so happy to be able to share that with all of our family and friends. We returned to Florida for our honeymoon, searching for shark teeth, trying frog legs and sailing on that sailboat once again. We were so happy just to be together, I had no idea what was going to happen.
Fast forward to December 4, 2015. I knew that something was going on, Josh was making and receiving a lot more phone calls than usual. Eventually he came inside and sat down at the kitchen table. He said, “I need to tell you something. I have been struggling with my prescription pain medication.” I was floored. I had known this man for four and a half years and I had NO idea. But in true Emily fashion, the first words out of my mouth were, “Okay, what can I do to help? What do we need to do?” He had been talking to his union representative and gotten the phone number for an inpatient substance abuse treatment facility. That was a Friday. I went to work that following Monday and when I came home I found out that he would be checking himself in the next day at 6 PM and that he would be in the facility for 30-45 days. Wait, what? My naïve brain thought he’d be gone for two weeks and come back clean and participate in an outpatient program. I knew I could go two weeks without him, I did it every summer when he had military training. A whole month or more? I wasn’t so sure about that. But I put on my brave face and we went out for our “last meal” at one of our favorite restaurants. We clung to each other that night, neither of us knowing what to expect. I had no idea how afraid he was, though. I wish I had known so that I could have been more encouraging. I went to work the next day, December 8th, knowing that I would be leaving early to drop my husband off at rehab, but not being able to tell a single soul. I think, besides the staff at the treatment facility, a total of maybe 5 people knew where Josh was while he was in rehab. I tried so hard to keep it together when the intake staff brought me back to say goodbye. I still struggle with my emotions when I think about that moment. Driving away from that facility knowing that I couldn’t talk to him any time I wanted, I’d have no idea what he was doing, how we was doing or anything was extremely difficult. I wasn’t even guaranteed to see him during visiting hours that upcoming weekend because he needed to get through detox first. Thankfully, he made it through detox and into a unit dedicated to firefighters, emergency medical personnel and veterans fairly quickly. I could tell he was afraid and sad when I would talk to him on the phone, even though he tried to tell me otherwise. I was told about a family program that the treatment center hosts on Saturdays and Sundays to help the families of their clients to learn about addiction and to understand their role in the dependent person’s life. I cried through probably half of that first session that I attended, but I came out of it feeling much more comfortable and understanding of what my husband was up against. Josh was resistant at first, but once he began to embrace the program and truly open up and participate his whole demeanor changed. I still have voicemails saved from when he was in treatment and you can just hear the change in his voice throughout the days. Just as he was starting to see the light at the end of his very long tunnel, the insurance company decided that he should be done with treatment. I am so thankful for outside donations that were made to the facility that were able to be used, in addition to money in his health savings account, to keep him there for the full extent of his treatment. I can’t even imagine how things would have turned out had he had to leave after only two weeks (ironic, since I initially thought that was how long he would be gone). Josh was able to work through a lot of unsettling events in his life that contributed to his dependence and was able, with the help of his amazing counselor, to open up with me and come clean about some of his history that he had hidden from me. I was able to break him out for a couple of hours on Christmas Eve and the man that I was with that day was almost unrecognizable. I guess I didn’t realize just how bad things had gotten until I was reintroduced to who my husband really was underneath the disease. I didn’t think I could possibly love my husband any more than I already did, but that night I fell even deeper for him. Unfortunately for me, but necessary for him, I had to bring him back. But that night I felt a renewed sense of hope for our future. Josh was released from inpatient treatment somewhere around January 9 and had an appointment with the outpatient center closer to our home the following Monday. After the intake appointment for outpatient treatment, we tried to figure out how he was going to be able to attend his sessions and return to work at the fire department and for us to go on a second honeymoon vacation in Mexico with his best friend and his family. Little did we know that that Friday would be his last day with the fire department and the first day of the worst nine months of our lives.
As the details of what my husband was dealing with are not necessary for this blog, I will simply outline what we were facing. Josh formally resigned from the fire department and found himself facing criminal charges from two separate hospitals for crimes he was alleged to have committed. He also ran into some issues with the Army National Guard that were graciously resolved prior to his passing. Despite the negative events, he was actively pursuing a degree in a rewarding, new career field while successfully working his way up the employment chain in that field. He was very distraught by all of the negativity that came after actively choosing to focus on regaining his health and sobriety, but he never stopped trying to better himself.
On September 9th my entire world came crashing down. Josh had been throwing up all day at work and on the way home. He asked me to feel if he had a fever, but I thought he felt normal. He was able to eat a couple of breadsticks and was excited that he seemed to be keeping them down. We talked a little bit about the new house we were going to be moving to on the 20th and then he went upstairs to take a bath. He collapsed on the bathroom floor and by the time I was able to unlock the door and get to him, his lips had turned blue. Instinct took over and I started doing CPR until he got a little color back in his face. I found his phone and called for help. Never in my life did I imagine that it would be my house that had the flashing lights out front and a ton of paramedics inside. I knew enough about what was going on and what they were doing to know that the outlook wasn’t great. After what seemed like forever, they boarded him and brought him to the hospital. I grabbed some clothes for him to wear since I know he hated hospital gowns and some socks for his feet and headed to the hospital after them. I cried in the waiting room and was brought back to a private area while I awaited news and for my father and his father to arrive. Well, it really is like it happens on TV. The doctor comes in and says, “I’m afraid that I don’t have good news. We weren’t able to save him.” I was alone, which in some ways I’m grateful for. The burden of hearing the news like that is mine alone. The last sentence in the book of our life together. At 29 years old I am now a widow. I’m still not really used to that word. My husband was 33 when he died and right now all they can tell us was that he had an enlarged heart.
One of the things that I loved so much about him was his enormous heart and his overwhelming generosity, even to people that he didn’t like very much. All he ever wanted to do was help other people, ease their troubles in any way that he was able. That very trait that I found so endearing may have very well been a contributing factor to his demise. Oh, the irony.