Chapter 3 continued…

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No Surprises: navigating tragedy with faith, family and the FDNY

Chapter 3  Manhattan, Meetings and Memorials (first draft)


Through the years, one of the discussions Bruce and I had was about funerals especially in light of being a Christian and the possibility of a line of duty death. We both agreed that if we truly believed what we said we believed then when one of us died it better be different. If we believed in eternal life than our life and death should reflect that belief. We disagreed on line of duty funerals. I felt the presence of the city officials and all of pomp and circumstance really had nothing to do with the deceased and/or their family. I felt it was impersonal and intrusive. Once after a rather heated discussion on that matter I had told Bruce “I don’t want the mayor at your funeral. He doesn’t even know you.”

Bruce responded, “That’s your problem because I won’t be there. I’ll be dead.”

In the past week or so, I experienced the power and strength of the “brotherhood” and even though I didn’t understand it I wanted to respect it. I wanted to do what Bruce as a firefighter would have wanted but I also wanted to do what was right for our family. My pastor, family and friends all had input about the service but the main voice I listened to was my own, Emily’s and Meghan’s. We decided a Saturday would be best – Saturday September 29. The location won’t be our home church as I didn’t want the girls remembering Daddy’s service every Sunday. Maranatha Church of the Nazarene in Paramus, New Jersey was more centrally located. Bruce and I were married at Maranatha when it was in New Milford before the move to the bigger location. Emily was the first baby dedicated in the new building so Maranatha offered a sense of home without being our home church.

People were resuming their normal lives. We were slowly putting one foot in front of the other. Still living in the immediate – what needs to be accomplished today. Most days Emily and Meghan went to school. My home church set up a schedule for meals and an information source on the church website. Carol organized postponing the start of classes at the studio. I contacted the YWCA Childcare Center and Wyckoff Christian Preschool, where I also taught, to postpone starting until the first week of October. Christine and I tried to figure out what needed to be done for the service and life in general.

Squad 41 was calling twice a day. Firefighters were still arriving on my doorstep. One afternoon the Captain from Squad 41 and a few of the firefighters came to the house. We all set round the kitchen table, drank coffee and they offered the assurance that they were doing their best to find “the guys.” Two firefighter friends, both named Jim, came one evening and shared stories which brought laughter from my girls. A welcomed sound.

Pastor Steve suggested a worship folder for the Memorial service that would include the order of service, Bruce’s obituary, photos and messages from the girls and I to Bruce. We wanted the service to celebrate Bruce’s life and bring glory to God. We carefully choose the songs and readings. The girls and I discussed who we would like to participate.  Bruce’s mom pastor was invited to participate as well as other pastors and friends. Mom Van Hine supplied some childhood photos. We sorted through albums and boxes to find photos to tell Bruce’s life story not only as a firefighter but as a hiker, tree guy and most importantly as a son, brother, husband, father and friend.

Instead of a guest book for people to register their attendance, we included a printed postcard with our address on one side and a place to share a memory or thought on the other. A basket to leave the postcards in is a good idea. What am I going to wear? What are the girls going to wear? Should we have a bag piper? What about a reception afterwards?  Cheesecake and coffee? Do I really have to do this?

Read any good books lately?



I love books. I think I have a book gene. Bookstores are one of my favorite places. Libraries also rank high on my list of great places to be. The first time both of my daughters were in school full time and I didn’t have to work I went to the library by myself. I know that is sad but it was exciting to me. My Dad had an extensive library with books on many different topics. Many of his books had post-it notes attached to the pages. His soft covered books had sentences or entire paragraphs underlined in pencil with notes written in the margins. Sorting through his books when he died was a huge undertaking but my sister and I did it. More than once in our frustration we commented we were never going to buy another book. Of course that didn’t happen. I mean how could it?

I read real books but I also read e-books. I enjoy highlighting paragraphs using the various colors or looking up the definition of a word with a tap of my finger. I haven’t mastered finding things after I underlined them but I think that is my lack of me being techno savvy.

The little bookmark icon in e-books is helpful and cute. I have used store receipts, clothing tags and even a tissue when I can’t find a bookmark for a print book. Folding the corner over isn’t something I do. My favorite bookmark is one that belonged to my Dad. I actually gave it to him. It is currently marking my place in my guilty pleasure book by James Patterson – The People vs Alex Cross.  There is nothing worst than when your bookmark falls out. Well, dropping your book in the bathtub or leaving it somewhere isn’t great either. Really not good if it is a library book.

Over the past few years, I have talked about writing a book. Since last fall I stopped talking and started writing. Below is a brief summary of my work in progress:

Once a month, my firefighter husband and I sat down with our calendars to coordinate life. We negotiated, adjusted and agreed on our schedules. Each month, I ended that conversation with “No Surprises, let me know if it isn’t going to work but no surprises.” Most mornings I reminded Bruce and our daughters of the plan. Then one day it all changed.

No Surprises is the story of my husband’s line of duty death and my journey as I navigate a national tragedy with faith, family and the FDNY. The book is set within the framework of The Pile, The Pit and The Plaza – the names of the World Trade Center since September 11, 2001. The WTC and I traveled together on remarkable journey which I believe offers a context for many of life’s experiences. First there is the incident. The incident that sets your life in a direction you never expected –  a diagnose, an accident, words spoken in haste, job lost, betrayal, death of a loved one, a terrorist attack. The event that shakes you to the core. In the aftermath there is a massive pile. A pile of things that need to be dealt with – options for treatments, decisions about the everyday, paperwork to be completed, plans to be canceled or rearranged, funerals to be planned, keepsakes to be shared, memories to be cherished. Where do you start? The immediate replaces the important or maybe the important replaces the immediate. Eventually maybe after days or months or even years the pile is gone, and you recognize there is a pit. A void left by what was taken, a hole left by finally sorting through the pile. Now what? How do you fill the hole to make it whole? How do you move forward now that the pile is gone? How do you move from the pit to the plaza?

Blog posts have been few and far between because of my work in progress but I hope to share sections of the work in progress and other thoughts right here so stay tuned.

So to answer my own question, read any good books lately?


  • Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
  • Judas by Amos Oz


How about you?