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Fallen firefighter's widow looks back on past year

Jennifer Osler's husband Ryan, an 18-year veteran firefighter, was on his way to a fire when his truck rolled over


By Christian Martinez
Ventura County Star

VENTURA COUNTY, Calif. — It had been a summer full of wildfires in California, with dozens of incidents burning thousands of acres throughout the state.

In the early morning hours of Sept. 21, 2016, Ventura County Fire Department Engineer Ryan Osler, 38, departed from Moorpark along with a fellow firefighter. They were on their way to battle the Canyon Fire, which had already burned more than 10,000 acres in five days near Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The two firefighters traveled through the early morning fog in a water tender truck.

One of them, Osler, would not return.

"I was on my way to work ... and saw I had a missed call," said Osler's widow, Jennifer Osler.

She said she listened to a voicemail from Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen and called him back.

"I didn't think anything of it," she said this week.

Lorenzen informed her that her husband had been assigned to the Canyon Fire. At first, she thought her husband had been injured.

"The only words I picked up on, that I can remember after that (were) that he was killed," she said.

"I don't remember anything after that. Everything is so hazy."

A vehicle crash occurred around 6:20 a.m. that Wednesday. As the water tender traveled west on Highway 246, it struck a curb near a roundabout at Purisima Road and turned onto its side.

The driver pulled himself from the vehicle and was taken to a Lompoc-area hospital. Osler, an 18-year veteran firefighter, was pronounced dead at the scene.

An unwelcome anniversary

Jennifer Osler recalled these events Wednesday on the eve of the first anniversary of her husband's death. She spoke at Los Angeles County Fire Department Station No. 108, blocks from her home in Santa Clarita.

The days leading up to the anniversary have weighed heavily on her mind.

"September 1st hit, and I remember thinking, 'Am I always going to hate this month?'" she said.

"As we've been getting down to the last couple weeks leading up to the one year, the kids and I have been paying attention to this time last year."

The last 48 hours, in particular, have been difficult for the woman who met her husband more than 20 years ago when they were still in high school.

Despite the emotional challenges that have beset the family -- including daughter Amanda, 13, and son Brandon, 12 -- she said she remains committed to confronting, not avoiding, them.

"I make sure we face it head-on," she said. "I don't want to hide from it, because it's impossible to hide from it."

Last week, the family traveled to Colorado Springs for a memorial service of the International Association of Firefighters and attended one Thursday at Ryan Osler's station in Moorpark. The family also plans to attend services in Sacramento and Maryland.

No hiding from grief

"I try to avoid the distractions and the not thinking about it," she said. "That way, we're not hiding from anything."

She said her methods for dealing with her husband's death, although partly instinctual, were informed by a grief-recovery course she had completed less than a year before the events of last September.

"I had all these tools, just to have, obviously not knowing what was going to be happening," she said.

"Of course, I want to protect my kids. I don't want them to hurt; I wish I could take this away," she said. "But, at the same time, I had these things that I had learned: how to let them cope with it, to recognize when we need to talk about things ...

"When the moments come, the emotions come. We just have it out and have those moments. The three of us tend to feel better afterward when we get the emotion out rather than run away from it."

In the present

She said she tries to keep her husband present in the household and tries to avoid making him a taboo topic, sometimes to the chagrin of her children.

"There is no past tense of him," she said. "Ryan and I had rules; those are still the rules."

She recalled her son's promotion from elementary school to middle school, at which point he received his first cellphone.

However, she and her husband had established that the device would be a flip-phone. The boy thought the rules would be different since his dad's not here, she said.

"He opened up a flip-phone," she said, laughing.

The children have also not curtailed their activities.

Brandon, after wanting to avoid baseball for a time after his father's death, has since rejoined a travel baseball team.

"We're back into it," Jennifer Osler said.

Amanda, a high school student, is involved in theater and loving it.

"She's my artist and my singer and my performer," Jennifer Osler said.

A greater faith

Jennifer Osler, while cutting back slightly on work, has stayed involved in her church.

"My faith has reached a level I didn't even know existed," she said.

"I absolutely believe that I would have lost my mind a long time ago if it wasn't for my personal faith and relationship with God."

She also said her experiences could help others going through similar events.

"Our tears are not wasted. I tell my daughter, 'There's going to be another little girl who's going to need you, who's not going to have someone to talk to, but you will understand,'" she said.

She tells that to her son and herself, too, she said.

"It's very easy for me to lock myself in my closet and not come out," she said. "That was definitely my first reaction when everyone was at my house."

However, she said she has been able to turn her grief and experiences into support for other women.

"There are so many positive things that come out of bad things," she said. "When I focus on that, it makes me want to put myself out there more."

Copyright 2017 Ventura County Star

 

Tomorrow 😓 it's been a year ..thinking of you Jennifer❤️

Posted by Susan Beth Krowpman on Tuesday, September 19, 2017

 

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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