Imagining My Partner’s Death Gave Me Peace of Mind

I want to be blindsided by tragedy, not living with every muscle tensed

Emily Kingsley
Human Parts
Published in
7 min readFeb 5, 2020

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A photo of three firefighters’ shadows illuminated by the orange-red of fires in the background. One of them has a hose.
Photo: Cedric Favero/Getty Images

TThe first time I borrowed someone else’s grief was six years ago in the emergency room at Mass General Hospital in Boston. My husband was sitting on a gurney in blood-spattered clothes with a silver bowl of ice on his lap. In the bowl was his left index finger, which he had accidentally amputated while working with tools in our basement.

A young, handsome doctor came in and explained that depending on our insurance, he could just stitch up the nub and send us home, or he could do a complicated 10-hour microsurgery in an attempt to reattach the finger.

We explained that my husband’s job as a full-time firefighter had excellent health benefits, so moments later they were stripping him down and prepping for surgery.

While we waited, one of the nurses mentioned two names and asked us if we had known them. They were the names of two Boston firefighters who had been killed while fighting a fire only days before.

We didn’t know them, but their smiling faces had been scrolling across the news channels of every TV in the hospital. With close-cropped hair and the big goofy smiles of strong, confident, men, they looked like they were cast from the same mold as my husband and the other firefighters at his station.

When I had arrived at the hospital earlier that day, I cried about my husband’s finger amputation. When we first met, we worked together on a boat and I loved watching him confidently steer the ship, set sail, clean fish, and point out stars with his strong, beautiful hands.

He was always so careful, so sure of himself. It didn’t seem fair that a stupid shop accident would leave him marred for life.

Later that evening, I cried again. This time though, it wasn’t for him. While my living, breathing husband was in surgery, I learned that one of the firefighters who had been killed was married with three young children. His wedding band had been found in the ashes of the fire and returned to his wife.

While I sat at the hospital, flipping through People magazine and texting my in-laws about picking up our daughter at daycare…

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Emily Kingsley
Human Parts

Always polishing the flip side of the coin. Live updates from the middle class. e.kingsleywhalen@gmail.com. She/her.