Melt Down

It’s been one month since my brother (Jack) choose to take his own life on December 30th.

I wrote about some of the effects it had on me over the past few weeks in two posts… read “Searching for a new normal” and “A Firefighter’s Boots”.

Writing those posts proved to be very therapeutic for me. The support I received following the “Boot” post was nothing short of amazing. Thanks to a simple idea and photo from a good friend and fellow Firefighter, Nate Camfiord;  pictures of firefighter’s boots from all over the world began to fill my mail boxes. It was very humbling and I can’t say THANK YOU enough.

I had decided to return to duty on the following Sunday (Jan. 20th) but, due to Departmental policy; wasn’t able to. It’s a good thing though because I wasn’t ready … I’m not 100% sure that I am now but I’m trying.

I got released for duty last week but decided to go ahead and take some previously scheduled vacation time.

I had scheduled these dates back at vacation sign-ups to travel to Florida with Zach Green and my MN8 FoxFire family  but, after Jack’s death; I told Zach that I would not be able to make the trip.

He understood, said it wasn’t a problem and for me not to worry. In a later conversation, he made me a great offer. He said “come to Florida anyway” … not to work but to “get away” for a bit. A change of scenery. Some time to “clear my mind” and rest. It was something I felt I needed but didn’t want to leave my dad. Well guess what …. dad went too.

We left the cold and snow behind to find sunny skies and 80 degree temperatures in Daytona. That’s the 1st “melt down” I’ve encountered lately.

I ended up putting my boots and Bunker Kilt on to help Zach and the team at Fire-Rescue East 2013. I just couldn’t lay by the beach / pool all day knowing they were working their butts off due to being short staffed.

I was glad I did. I met some great folks down there. He had some fantastic conversations. There were plenty of hand shakes, hugs, kisses. Some of us even cried together. It was very emotional for me but again … something I needed.

I got home and decided to attend another function I had cancelled following Jack’s death. The Lexington Fire Department (Va) is where dad began his service in the Fire Department and I had been invited to speak at their annual awards banquet and dinner (a huge honor for me).

Like Zach, Chief Ty Dickerson understood back when I told him I didn’t think I could make it. The worst part about it was that he didn’t have time to get a replacement. He too told me  “don’t worry about it”.

Well, I made the dinner and I spoke. I’m not even sure what I said but I got up there. There were so many things I wanted to say. So many topics. So much that needed (and needs) to be said and I missed em all. Everyone came up afterwards to shake my hand and thank me for the speech.  Some called it motivational and empowering. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought.

My mind has been going in a hundred different directions, at a hundred miles an hour and, most of the time these past 30 days; I’m not even sure I knew where I was.

I can’t think straight. I still feel like I’ve been kicked in the gut. My stomach is in a knot and I can hardly eat.

All the talks, my writing, putting my boots on and getting back “out there” wasn’t the cure….


Don’t get me wrong when I say it’s not the cure because IT IS HELPING. Opening up, talking and sharing my grief is what has been the most therapeutic. It’s also the part I feared the most.

I’ve never been good at it and it’s always been “taboo” in the Fire Service anyway. It’s time for all of that to CHANGE. We (firefighters) are HUMAN. We have feelings and we  can “hurt”. That’s the part we need to learn … that it’s “ok” . It’s “ok” to have and show emotion. We need to learn how to deal with emotion and stress in a more healthy manner. After (or while) I learn, I’ll share it with you.

Last night, I had a melt down … a big one.

My mom and sister were staying with me here at the house. We, along with my daughter and wife; were having a discussion. We were talking about Jack’s death and many of the surrounding issues. I became very emotional and they (my emotions) began to pour out of me. I say “they” because there are several  …. one of them being anger.

Yes, feeling ANGER is one of the “stages” of the grieving process and I have plenty of it.

Regretfully, I let it out last night… I couldn’t stop it … I wish I had.

I’ve been talking to folks about some of my fears and other feelings but I haven’t shared my anger with anyone yet. I’ve been hiding it and that was a mistake. It should have come out in a different setting. In a different manner.

I’m sure they felt my anger was directed toward them … IT WASN’T.

It’s Jack I’m mad at … at Jack and myself and for many reasons.

Feeling anger is just one of the steps (stages or phases) of the grieving process. Depending on who you talk to, there are 5 to 7. The most important thing to keep in mind is that we all grieve differently and there is no prescribed order to the process.   “Our grief is as individual as our lives”.

From what I’ve learned, the stages are as follows …

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance
  • Pain and Guilt
  • Reconstruction

You can learn more about the “Stages of Grief ” at the following web sites ….,   Recover from The Sweeney Alliance, Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance, North American Firefighter Veteran Network

Everything I’ve done to this point are just small steps on my way to recovery … to my “new normal”. I will NEVER be “the same” again but I will learn to be happy. I’ll learn to survive and function without my little brother but it’s gonna take some time. I know that.

Tomorrow morning, I will report for full duty. It’s going to be a difficult tour for me but, my brothers and sisters will be there to help me along and they wont let me fall. In return, I’ll be there for them. They’re grieving too and together, we’re gonna get through this.

THANKS AGAIN for all the support (calls, comments, e-mails etc)!

Stay SAFE and in House!

Captain Wines