Firefighters Fulfill Forest Surveyor’s ‘Spiritual Need’ for Nature
Russ Chastain 07.02.19
Before Edward Reis passed away after becoming redridden with debilitating multiple sclerosis, firefighters took him for one last “walk” in the woods he so dearly loved.
Reis was described as a “former forest surveyor” who “lived for the outdoors.” Sounds a lot like a bunch of us, don’t you think? Unfortunately, he was on his way out of this life and was in hospice care and could no longer get outdoors to recharge his soul through nature.
(If this story is familiar to you, forgive me. It happened in 2014 but it’s a heartwarming story that loses nothing by being retold now.)
The hospice chaplain, Curt Huber, knew Reis dreamed of getting back outside and he hatched a plan to get him there. On their second visit together, Huber learned that Reis felt closest to God whenever he was in a forest.
‘I could just see his spirit kind of light up as soon as we started talking being outside, and in the forest, in particular, and I had just the thought right at that moment that, “Gosh, it would be good if we could get him outside,”‘ Huber recalled.
Believing that being in the great outdoors was a “spiritual need” for Reis, Huber went to work.
Huber contacted the chaplain at the Snohomish Fire District 1 and they got other people involved in the discussion. Two weeks later, a fire department medical unit was at the adult home to pick up Reis and, along with a fire truck, take him to the Meadowdale Beach Park in Edmonds.
Once there, seven members of the fire department — accompanied by [hospice nurse Leigh] Gardner and Huber — took Reis on a nearly three hour tour of the park. Wheeling him on his gurney, they took him on trail after trail, stopping so he could listen to a running brook or gaze at a verdant vista.
‘…we would stop every so often and he would just sit and listen,’ Gardner said of the March 26 excursion. ‘And you know I went over to him and I said, “Are you happy?” He’s like, “I’m so happy.”‘
Gardner said the firefighters would periodically go off and get a piece of cedar and bring it to Reis’s gurney, holding it near his face so he could inhale the fragrance of the forest.
‘He was just smiling the whole time. He was saying he was so happy,’ Gardner said. ‘He was incredibly grateful to us.’
Less than three weeks later, Edward Reis died. But he and his love for the outdoors — along with the folks who helped make one of his final wishes come true — are not forgotten.
The act of kindness was also therapeutic for the firefighters who participated, because they’d recently been working to recover bodies after a deadly mudslide in Oso, Washington claimed more than 40 lives. They, too, needed an injection of human love and kindness. Firefighter Shane Cooper had this to say:
We saw a lot of bad things up there in Oso, and this was a time to just watch somebody at the end of their life enjoy what they could. It felt good inside to help him and to watch his face. The payment was in his expression when he was out there.
Reis couldn’t speak much, but was able to form words to describe the moss on trees and birds in the woods.
That made it all worthwhile. It was a good trek. That’s a highlight of my career. I’ve been here for 25 years and that’ll stay one of the highlights.
Cooper explained that firefighters had received special permission for the excursion, had charged nothing, and that their duty area was covered by another fire station while they were attending to Mr. Reis’s spiritual need for nature.
It feels good to share such a positive story for a change. Now I think I’ll go outside, just because I can.