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 ….
- samatters.com – Understanding Stress – Part 2
- Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance
- Fire Critic; Suicide: Saving our Brothers after the call
- IronFiremen; Some sad news, a little more emotion and a day at Lucky #13 ….