Searching for a "new normal"

I’m going to give this a try with no promises on the outcome so bare with me.

It’s been just over two weeks since I lost my brother (Jackson) and I’m still struggling. His Birthday would have been on the 10th. In the last post I made, I said his death was “unexpected to say the least” but it was much more than that … it was devastating.

What I didn’t tell you was that Jack took his own life… he committed suicide.  He killed himself and took a huge part of me with him.

He left me with guilt, anger, remorse, regret and more questions than I’ll ever know the answer to. My days and nights are now consumed with a search for those answers and I feel as if I’m wondering aimlessly in some far away land…. I have been and remain LOST.

I’m going to share this story (or as much as I can and I know I’ll ramble) for a couple of reasons. First, I think (and hope) there are some lessons here for us all. The second is more selfish in that I think it may be therapeutic for me. It’s difficult for me to “talk” about these things, so I don’t. It’s much easier to type them here. I need to get it out… or at least some of it. I may not even hit the “publish” button but if I do,  maybe this will help me find what or who I’m searching for. Maybe it will help me find my “new normal”.

Part of my anger is that of all the total strangers I’ve helped over my career, I couldn’t (didn’t) help my own brother. Someone so close. My flesh and blood. Someone I seen or spoke to almost every day. Someone I loved more than he ever knew. How could I not help him??? He was right there! I’m supposed to be good at it … finding and helping others.

Jackson’s life was a struggle from early childhood and I think he looked at it as a failure (or at least a disappointment). He never really “held” a steady job. He didn’t have money in the bank, a lavish home or a fancy car.  He struggled day by day to make ends meet and the battle took an early toll on his mind and body. I never knew what his actual “goal” in life was.

I think he thought that dad and I (as well as others) held some sort of expectations for him that he was never able to (or couldn’t) meet.  He couldn’t have been more wrong. Although i would have loved to see Jackson prosper (and even become a fireman), what I wanted more than ever was for him to simply NOT have to struggle in life. I wanted him to realize what he DID have … to be happy with his accomplishments and achievements. He had many and I wish I had told him my feelings.

Jackson had lost some ground again here recently. It seemed as if every time he would make a step forward, something would push him 3 more back. His wife kicked him out of their home a few months ago and he was forced to move in with dad at the age of nearly 42. I wont pass judgement or cast blame on his wife … Jackson was fighting many demons. I wish they could have worked through them.

Their separation meant that he would have to face his first Christmas alone. Alone in that he would not get to spend it with his children. He wouldn’t get to shake em out of bed to see if Santa had arrived (even though they are now teen aged). He wouldn’t be there to see them walk into the living room on Christmas morning. To see them open the packages he’d broken his back to get knowing it would be worth the smile on their faces. That was one of our “good” childhood memories and a tradition we’ve both carried throughout our adult lives.

I spoke to him several times on Christmas. I “spoke” to him but we didn’t “talk”…. not like we always have. We had argued in the days before and both of us are hard headed…. neither wanting to admit that the other was right. I didn’t tell him I loved him that morning … I wont get a second chance.

There are so many “what if’s”. So many I “should have” and “could have” dones. Looking back, I seen it. I knew he was hurting. I knew he was hurting but … he was my brother … he was dad’s son… he was a Wines…. he was JACK WINES and we are a firefighting family! This was not our first rodeo.

Our dysfunctional lives had become somewhat like a “bread and butter” fire…. “routine” so to speak (or so we thought). He’d seen troubles (we all had … Jackson, more than his fair share). He knew rough roads and had weathered them all… it’s what we did.  I was sure that he was tough enough to take it and move on so there was no need to talk about it. Somewhere over the years, I had forgotten what a fragile soul he was. I had forgotten how to talk to and comfort my little brother. I think the little fella was just tired of fighting and he gave up.  

When and where did I become so unaware of those closest to me? Where did I go so wrong? When did I pull that curtain or build that facade? How did I not see it?

Picture my dad as the Chief and me the Captain of our family. Our careers taught us to absorb the things we’ve seen, done and experienced and not talk about or dwell on it…. we passed that on to Jackson. It was a “tough love” if you will. Had we have only known ( well … I knew … I just couldn’t “see it”).

What examples are we as firefighters (Officers or not) setting today (on and off the job)? Keep in mind that being a firefighter also means being human … men and women. We should lead by and set the example…. after all, we are the people everyone else looks to for help.

My life has revolved around “the job”. It’s what I was taught and all I’ve known. A lot of times (most times actually), my Fire Department family came first because my home family “understood”. They were or should have been as strong and tough as me (or so I thought). They (the home family), could and would “do without” certain things knowing that I was somewhere else because that’s where I thought I was needed most. Today I know I’m not near as smart or tough as I thought I was and that I was more often than not in the wrong place. I wasn’t the son, husband, father or brother I should have been and again, I wont get a second chance.

Knock down those walls …. destroy the facades. Stop being (or trying to be) that tough burly fireman and start showing that we too are human. Open up to your members … to you families. Encourage them to open up to you as well. It’s ok to share and to show feelings and emotions…. the job overwhelms us with them and we can only store so much.

I’ve cried a river of tears these past two weeks. Rhett and Kevin have been by my side and seen a part of me that not many others have. In one of our conversations, I told Rhett that I was worried about seeing visitors. Every time someone came by or even called, I couldn’t help but break down. If I made it to the greeting, I would see the tears in their eyes or they would start to cry and it sat me off. I didn’t want the boys to see me like that.

Of course Rhett asked all the right questions…. to see me like what?  HUMAN? To see that I had emotion? That I felt pain? We share the good times, why can’t we share the bad? Help them help you get through this he said. How can we be Brothers and Sisters if we never let each other “in”?

They were crying because they seen or felt my pain. It hurt them to see or know that (and how much) I was hurting. It’s very humbling and I hope I grow worthy. I wanted to hide or shield them from it … from my pain and theirs. As a Captain, and brother; it’s my duty to shield them from harm … to protect them.

They were going to feel my pain, going to cry and suffer with and for me (as well as my family) either alone or in my embrace. If they loved and cared about me THAT much (so much that they wanted to SHARE in my pain and suffering), why would I let them go through it alone? Why would I go it alone knowing that they were there to help carry the load? I wish I could have been there for Jackson and vow, that if ever possible; to never be out of place again. We’ve taken many visitors and cried many a tear together since that day. I’m thankful for each.

Like me, many of you may not be good at it (opening up, sharing, talking) but we do have resources to help us along. I have Rhett, Kevin, Dave, the Brotherhood and many more close and personal friends. I’ll include some links to the more “formal” ones at the bottom of the post but just understand that we have to stop coming home (or reporting for duty) so “hardened” that we’re blind to the issues right under our own roof. How can we continue to help those whom we are sworn to protect and serve when we can’t help ourselves or our own?

As for me, I will never be the same but know that I must find a “new normal” and continue moving forward…. I can and will.

I’ll continue more on this post in the next day or so but, until I do; I’d like to once again THANK everyone who reached out with thought, prayer, e-mails, comments, visits, flowers etc over these past two weeks. I will start working on “thank you” cards tomorrow. Just know that each of you were heard, felt and appreciated … you’re why I’m able to post this today and for that, I’m eternally grateful.

If ANY of you ever need someone to talk to …. an ear … some direction … whatever, I may not be the best but I’m always available. Don’t fall into the traps I did.

You, or the person you’re thinking of may NOT be “alright”. You or they my NOT be able to handle the situation and it MAY be worse than you thought. REACH OUT before it’s too late …. open up and share with those you love (on and off the job). We have options. Don’t settle for, expect or make those we love come looking for help … GREET THEM WITH IT.

Here are the links I mentioned ….



  • Thank you for sharing your story with us Captain Wines. Your remarks about family and being with your brothers and sisters at the fd being “ok” because it was expected hit home for me. As firefighters we become programmed to turn off emotion when in reality we care far more than most and those things become buried within. On occasion a tragedy such as this will remind us just how human we are. You could blame yourself if you want to but the reality is it wasn’t your choice and you know that you would have even given your own life to fix his. I can’t say that I have experienced what you are going through in your family but I can say that there is someone in mine that is struggling mightily. I want so much to help this person but first they must decide to help themselves. It sounds like for you that your family is close enough that there was definitely an Avenue for help there. No words on their own can heal such a wound. Time will help and good friends and family will get you through. In the meantime be who you always have been…. A really good brother and father and son. What you did here takes big brass ones if you know what I mean. I’d definitely like to meet you sir I can tell you are one heck of a great person. Until then keep your chin up and do something each day to honor your brother.

    • Chris, reach out to that family member NOW. If they wont take or accept it, go around them and contact someone who can and will step in. Do it now Brother … if ya need help or direction you can call me at 540-597-8068

      • Thank you. Everyone is trying. He is young and shouldn’t be going through this. I will reach out to him as soon as he gets out of the hospital.

  • I have been thinking about you a lot.
    What you have said is so very important. I think a lot of us get caught up in helping everyone ELSE. One of my sons recently came to me and basically asked that I try to help him with his problems with the same care that I use with patients on EMS calls, since that seems to be something I’m comfortable doing. It surprised me at first, but he’s right.
    Your comments reinforce the same things- to treat our own first, to take care of our families as well as we’d take care of strangers. Seems so obvious and simple, and yet… so easy not to recognize.
    I hope you are able to find some peace as life goes on. People who are hurting often cover it up so very well.
    My condolences for your loss.

  • Jana Heck

    Captain Wines,
    I am so sorry you are now among the ranks of those of us who have lost someone dear to us to suicide. We are the survivors who go on because life demands it but it feels as if the death of our loved one is a life sentence of what ifs, whys, and if onlys. There will come a peace with the realization and acceptance that we will never have all of the answers until we meet our loved one in heaven and then, it will no longer matter. We struggle to understand how this could have possibly happened but the truth is we will never understand. And thank you, Jesus that we won’t. For if we did, it would mean we were in that same place of unimaginable pain and hopelessness our loved one experienced in his last days on this earth.
    Mental illness is a gnarly beast-a taboo of society. It remains hidden behind closed door because of the image it casts upon those who suffer with it and those who love them. Mental illness is real and as deadly to those such as your brother and my David as cancer is to a terminal patient. God has a tender heart for those who suffer in silence. He knows of their struggles, He knows their plans. But I also know that even through David’s suicide, Jesus was standing there beside him, waiting to walk David home with the love and peace only He can provide. I believe your brother was greeted by Jesus, as well. He is free from the chains of this world; it’s the family he left behind who must pick up the pieces.
    It has been five years since David died and there are still plenty of pieces remaining to pick up. There are still questions and guilt. There are still tears that sting as much as the day he died. But there is also hope that I can use David’s life and death to make a difference for someone. Slowly, David’s suicide has begun to have less control over us – it has become different…not better or easier…just different (that “new normal” you referred to). It is forever a part of who we are. Not a day passes that my kids and I don’t have some aspect of David’s absence to face but we face it knowing that he no longer suffers the way he did for years upon years on this earth. We face it by looking at his pictures, telling stories that make us smile and laugh and ones that make us cry. It is a defining moment in our timeline – life before he died and life after he died. There is something about losing a precious one to suicide that only a survivor can understand. My heart hurts for your family. I am so very, very sorry for your loss. We are surrounding your family in prayers for peace and strength for the emotional path on which life has placed your family. Hold on, for you all are survivors.
    Jana, Alexia, Jacob, and Evan Heck

  • Sharppointy1

    Willie, I’m fading fast so I’ll write more tomorrow. Just know that I share being a survivor of a family suicide. My mother killed herself 18 years ago. I so well remember the early anger, rage, the burning questions that wouldn’t let me sleep. I’ll get ahold of you and share more when I’m more coherent.
    Thank you for sharing with us the real source of your pain. By sharing what you’re going through losing Jack you may help a FF brother or sister step back off the ledge, and step back towards life.
    Talk soon. Hugs and prayers for peace. He loved you, he knew you loved him. Hold onto that.

  • Ruby Annette Childress

    Sending prayers to you and your family.

  • Dear Willie, we have never met, but I am a wife of a FF, and I have helped coordinate a team here for CISM. I take what you werite very seriously, and I am so sorry for your loss. I am also the survivor of my best friends suicide when I was ony 24, I am 47 yrs old now. I felt nuch of the same type of pain…My God??? We had just spoke 2 dyas earlier…How could I have Not known??Why didnt she tell me she was in that kind of pain??? Now, sadly I believe SHE was trying to protect me. Through my healing journey I have become a Licensed counselor, and write articles as well. I have had the priviledge for writing for Peggy Sweeney’s alliance newsletter. I find writing better than talking to really express myself. I am praying for YOU, and all of your family. If YOU need to talk, pls contact me, I am willing to listen, and support. You can reach me, it is Mary Moonen, I am at

    • Thank you Mary. The support I have received is unbelievable. Well …. actually it’s not considering we’re talking about the Brotherhood and the Fire Service here. My family is countless and I know that they all stand ready to help and support me and my family in any way possible. I thank you for the offer of contact and assume but would like to ask if the offer extends to all my readers / followers. There are obviously many of them and Im sure there are several out there like you and me. If you could, either post another comment opening your contact up to any and everyone in need or simply remove it from your previous comment so you wont be flooded with contacts. I have saved the information for personal use and will certainly contact you if needed. Thanks again for all you do … it’s comforting to know that I’m not on this journey alone.

  • Willie,
    I met you at the Carolina Brotherhood Bash in Raleigh, NC last August. Thanks for taking the time and the effort to share this with the “Brothers” as well as their families. I know it is painful and yet hopefully therapeutic. When you get right down to it – We are All we Have here on Earth other than our God. I am speaking of both of our families – blood and fire. If you do not mind, I plan on sharing your posts with my High School Fire Academy Recruits. They need to learn and know how this job can effect and how we should care for each other. Thanks for the Links and the message. Love Ya Brother!!

    • You’re welcome Chief and THANK YOU. Share away and let me know if I can help

  • Chief 62

    Brother Wines, your Canadian friend whom you met at FDIC last year posed so regally in your kilt, a picture I have on my desk of us to remind me of you daily. I am truly sorry for your loss and the circumstances surrounding Jack leaving the earth. We are so very much connected you and I in so many ways one would never imagine. As firefighters we learn early on in our service careers to isolate and compartmentalize tradgedy and misery. It is one of the only things I truly dislike about our calling, real men are not supposed to cry, have feelings, exibit human reaction to sadness, pain and suffering. It is okay to do so, you don’t need permission,your a terrific human being and there are those around you Brother whom love you and care about you. I am most happy you have chosen to share what you have with the readership,in a very difficult time in your life. In doing so you have done a great service to all the brothers/sisters of our profession. I thank you Sir sincerely.

    I have faced what you have first hand in the immediate family as well as two in our extended family as an Officer. Working thru the grieving process with relatives and close friends was a wonderful gift from those whom supported us and shared the experience. I asked the very same questions, it was there right in front of me why didn’t I see it, we of all people. Not that easy my friend, we have all the additional barrier walls erected the normal human being doesn’t have by virtue of the job. It is far from a crutch to lean on never the less we cope, assess, and carry out daily duties differently and process what we see and don’t see from another perspective. In our very busy lives making sense out of others chaotic situations sometimes leaves us challenged in our own, their is always another day, sadly sometimes there isn’t. In reflecting on your brother Jack, remind yourself daily you loved him and meant the best for him, that sometimes someone is in so much internal pain they only see one way out. It is obvious to all of us how much Jack meant to you and the extended Wines family by what you have shared. While the journey ahead never gets easier take solace in the knowledge your baring of your soul may help another soul teetering on the brink. Love and Hugs from the North side. Jack

    • I don’t have the words Brother …Thank you

  • Ashley B

    As I consider you and your family my family as well, we love you all, Bo. You remain a strong man that many admire. May you find your peace in due time… God bless you.

  • Sharppointy1

    Dear Willie
    As I mentioned above, my mother suicided, and in the early days after her death I was ful of anger and rage – at her for hurting those who loved her, and at God for allowing her to suffer the way she had for many years. I screamed at God why did she have to hurt so badly that all she wanted was to be gone?
    I understand your statement of all the strangers I;ve helped, how come I couldn’t help my brother?
    One of the things I’ve learned in 36+ years of nursing, the last 4 of which in a psych hospital, is that there are questions that have no answers. And it’s not up to us to struggle to find the answers. Maybe some day, with some time and some healing the answers will come. But more often there is a silence. Some things we don’t get to learn on the plane of existence.
    What I can share with you was that this immediate raw burning pain will ease. The more people you talk to, the more you relieve the pain and pressure in your heart. Spend some time with your grandson, do some fun things. You don’t have to stop living because Jack did. Do things to help you have equilibrium. I salute you in reaching out to fellow firefighters and to your public. De mystifying suicide is one way we can let people know that suicide is not the answer, and at the same time that the survivors can live through the agony and move on to be better people.
    For you, it’s already starting. You have opened up dialogue with fellow firefighters about suicide, acknowledging the elephant in the room. Sharing your story will touch someone just the right way and they’ll really hear you. You may save lives by sharing what happened with Jack and with you.
    For me, I work with suicidal people every day. I let them know that their suicide will oly tgransfer all their pain onto those who love them (you’re feeling this right now). I tell them that their survivors will be angry and may even hate them for taking the easy way out. I remind people suicide isn’t glamorous or poetic or beautiful. It’s the ultimate F*ck You to those who loved ther person who died. We are left with the millions of questions and no way to get answers. Fortunately, I have learned I don’t have to have the answers and there are no answers for some things.
    I think your spot in the public eye, but more importantly in the Roanoke fire fighting family will provide you with the chances to touch and help many people. But right now is your time to take in the love that’s flowing your way. Right now is the time to be kind to yourself, get extra rest, eat well. You are healing from probably one of the worst psychic wounds we can suffer and it takes energy.
    So let us help you stand up. Remember the good things about Jack. Talk with othrs who have been where you are.
    I’m praying for your comfort. Let all of us help you and you can help othrs in turn.
    Big Hug

    • Barb … thank you so much! I wish I had the words but as of yet, I still dont. I know and hope you understand that. Im struggling with so much right now that Im not sure where I’ll end up. What I do know is that Im going to keep digging… pushing forward … searching for those answers knowing that I may never find them. I’ve had some comfort. A lot actually. These comments, e-mails etc are a huge part of that. Im not ready to share what Im looking for yet. My mom and dad have found it ….. I need to know it for myself before sharing it with others. I hope it’s real and true and that I do get there but until then, my search will continue. As alone as I feel, I know Im surrounded by many who care about and love me. Know that Im not alright, but that I know that I will be and must make this journey alone. Love to you and all those who have offered their comfort

  • Betty Blount

    Bo, I read your well written article. You should not feel guilty for not doing anything or saying something. Everyone who has lost someone regardless of how, feel we should have said or done more. Remember the memories and the good time you had with Jack, those cannot be taken from you. Kenneth and I will treasure you and Donna as dear friends. We send our love and prayers.

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  • Alicia

    My heart breaks for you and your family. Sending prayers of comfort and peace to you.

  • Capt

    My thoughts and prayer to you brother!! Life is fragile and some things we are not meant to understand but we learn from them and use them for better things! Hope you are back in your “boots” soon!

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