Being the spouse of a first responder is a point of pride. While I don’t consider it to define a large part of my identity, it impacts a large portion of my life. It means I bear a lot of responsibilities, alone for 48 to 72 hours a week.

I think my partner is very appreciated by the community he serves, but I’m not so sure we talk enough about the hard work that goes into loving and sharing a life with a first responder, so let me share our life with you.

Being the partner of a first responder goes a little something like this:

It’s a shared calendar full of shift schedules so you can let your family know if you can attend that special dinner, baptism, shower, birthday, holiday, etc. Mostly, they understand that you don’t have a standard Monday to Friday 9-5 schedule, but a lot of times they don’t.

Meals are peanut butter and jelly or takeout because you just got off of a long day of work, but dinner, homework, baths and bedtime fall squarely on your tired shoulders.

It’s a big problem or stress that you want to talk through, but it will have to wait for a night when you’re both together.

It’s a standing appointment with an empty bed to collapse into during tours.

It’s a lonely silence in your still home after bedtime begins.

It’s a sinking feeling of dread you just can’t shake when you haven’t gotten a text back in a few hours.

It’s a shared series that can’t be touched until you’re both together because no matter how badly you’re dying to watch, you promised you’d wait.

It’s a toddler wandering around the house calling for their vacant parent and the desperate distraction techniques that I need to come up with that follow.

It’s a specific emergency plan that gives you ample time to prepare and evacuate alone because a state of emergency means you have to leave your partner behind to help others in need.

It’s birthdays, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and 4th of July celebrations at a station, surrounded by your second family, the people who bear your shared burdens in quiet and loving ways.

It’s stupid fights and short tempers because 24 hours is a long time to be at work, waiting for an alarm or call at any moment.

It’s smiling and attentively listening and laughing to stories after a shift ends while the coffee brews and sun rises before you go to work, and feel like you are both ships passing in the night.

It’s experiencing the pride that beams from your heart when the love of your life saves the love of someone else’s life with bravery, quick thinking, CPR, or first aid.

It’s being a shoulder to nuzzle and a warm embrace when your partner lived a stranger’s worst day alongside them and absorbed their grief.

It’s smelly equipment bags and uniforms drenched in sweat, bodily fluids, ash and mud.

It’s a thankfulness to love someone who loves you and your children with the same boundless selflessness they take to their job.

At the end of every day, it’s falling asleep knowing your partner joyfully lives to serve others as a first responder, and the sacrifices you make alongside them are truly small drops in the sea of goodness they bring to your community.

To all of the partners of first responders holding down the fort on all of those solo days and nights, I see your sacrifices. They aren’t invisible and you never truly bear those burdens alone, because we are in this together. When you’re running on empty or feeling that pit of loneliness, raise that coffee or beverage of choice up and know that I’m toasting mine to you.