It’s getting late and I am tired. My husband’s shift ended a couple hours ago and I expected him long before now. With the children home all day, I’ve counted down for the moment I get a break, or at least acknowledgement from someone who doesn’t call me Mommy. My frustration builds as the time multiplies and by the time the front door opens, I’ve already had our argument a thousand times in my mind: “What have you been doing?” or perhaps “You knew the kids were home today, how could you be so inconsiderate?“ maybe even a “Don’t you even care how difficult my days can be?”
But as he walks in I see his face is troubled and I swallow the words half formed in my mouth. Instead I ask, “How was your day?” The world is weighed so heavily on his shoulders that as he sinks into the couch I worry the frame may break. As the children crawl and chatter over him he tells me about his day. There was an attempted suicide and his failed effort to reverse what was done. Followed by another attempt, half successful, leaving a body alive, a brain dead and a face half missing. He must call far away relatives to offer terrible choices: permanent life support or organ donation. Finally he sees a family waiting for simple test results for their ill child. “They had waited a long time and I didn’t want them to be lost in the shift change, so I stayed till the results came back. By that time the hospital was nearly ready to take the man up for organ harvest so I stayed with him and, as I was leaving, his grieving sister called desperate she had made the wrong choice. I comforted her the best I could.”
As I listen to his day I remember something his colleague once told me, “I never say I’m having a bad day. I’ve seen thousands of truly bad days and to call mine bad would be disrespectful.” I see a glimpse of those bad days now reflected in my husband’s tired eyes. I can’t even begin to understand the memories my husband owns: the child he spent an fruitless extra hour trying to revive only to face notifying her still hopeful mother, telling a young father of three his wife’s stroke has left him a widow, child abuse leading to 3rd degree burns. My husband sees bad days every day. He sees some of the worst humanity has to offer: suicides, assaults, attempted murders, child abuse. He also sees everyone’s worst nightmares: severed limbs, car accidents, strokes, psychological breaks, sudden and unexpected deaths mixed with long mourned ones. All this is a part of my husband’s existence.
I can imagine him, despite a long and difficult day, consoling a stranger over the phone; the image of her brother’s wounds still fresh in his mind. I see him reluctant to leave the man alone his last minutes of life and willing to go the extra mile for a family frustrated with a long wait and unaware its reason. I see him hugging our children tighter and longer than normal, patient despite his exhaustion. He tells me he is sorry to come home so late, but I know that’s a lie. He doesn’t regret his actions today. As I see him, compassionate and kind despite the constant barrage of tragedy, I suddenly realize I’m not sorry for it either.