Long life, well lived

 It didn’t take long for the first call of the day. The tones went off 10 minutes after we relieved the night crew.

“Rescue 1 and Engine 13, Respond to New York Avenue for a report of a man not breathing.”

“Rescue 1 on the way.”

We turned the corner and approached a single-family home. A boy sat on the curb outside, motionless. Our eyes met, and then I walked past him and into his house to find his grandfather, dead in bed.

“Rescue 1 to fire alarm, DOA, time check.”

“0722 Rescue 1.”

“Roger, have a police sergeant respond.”

“At 0723 hrs.”

I hated that I had become so mechanical. Being invited into a sacred space — peaceful, respectful and final — had become business as usual. A quick check for signs of life, a radio dispatch or two, and back in service.

People live their lives in relative obscurity. They raise families, work, love, fight and die. My own life is of no real importance to anybody but me and people who know me, and that list is far from lengthy. The best I can hope for, that any of us can hope for, is a good life, long and well-lived, that comes to an undramatic end, preferably at home with people who care nearby.

“Where is everyone?” I asked myself and my partner Brian.

“Looks like there’s nobody home but that kid.”


The morning’s events quickly came into focus: A single mom was off to work. Her dad was responsible for getting her son off to school. Only this morning, everything changed.

The boy was still sitting on the curb, only now I saw more than just a kid waiting for the bus. He had found his grandfather dead, and tried to wake him, and ended up calling 911. I sat next to him on the curb and waited for the police to come.

“You OK?”

“He’s dead, isn’t he?”


“I knew it.”

He hugged his knees then, and stared at the pavement at our feet. For a moment the urge to wrap my arm around him and bring him close was overwhelming. I wish I had.

I didn’t. Instead, I sat next to him, on the curb, and the moment passed. His school bus drove past us: a man in uniform and a boy in pajamas staring at the ground, both silent, lost in our thoughts.

A car sped toward us, and then stopped in front of the house. The driver’s door flew open. My little friend jumped to his feet, ran to his mother and wrapped his arms around her waist. He cried then, as only a 7-year-old child can, without reservation, without guile, without anything but pure grief.

The two of them walked into the house together. A few minutes later, I followed them in, and waited for the police to come to help them with the arrangements.

The boy’s mother remained strong, and comforted her child.

Her own father was dead in the bedroom. His job was done, and — judging by the way mother and son handled things — done well.

Michael Morse (mmorsepfd@aol.com), a monthly contributor, is a retired Providence firefighter and an author.



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