We all know that everyone deals with grief differently. In the fire service, we all deal with more than our share of tragic events. Many cope by detaching from the ‘reality’ of the event. We treat the event as a daily occurrence on the job, equating it to someone with an ‘office job’ completing a report. We pride ourselves in our ability to do it all, which also means handling it all.
Maintaining that hard surface at work day after day helps it set firm. Which means it doesn’t lighten up when we get home. Our families get a little bit less from us. That hard shell that protects us from the daily tragedies also covers over the excitement and pride we show as well. We still feel those things, because let’s be honest – we feel all of it, good and bad. We just don’t show it anymore. We assume our kids know how proud we are of them, but they might not really understand just how much. We assume our spouses know how much we love them, but they might not see it. And let's face it, sometimes we forget to tell them.
Responding to a tragic call as a crew reduces the burden a little. Your brothers and sisters carry that load with you. If it’s a crew you’re close to, sometimes being with each other lightens the load. Often times a shared look is all you need to communicate support for each other when you’re feeling overwhelmed; and knowing you’re not alone sometimes is enough.
When you encounter a personal tragedy it’s much harder. You’re going through this one on your own. Your brothers and sisters don’t know what you’re experiencing because they weren’t there with you. And you resist reaching out because you don’t want to appear weak – you can handle it. Your family can’t provide the support because you’re trying to hold them up, you’re the strong one.
Acknowledging that things impact us on a personal level, would somehow imply that we’re not the big, tough firefighters that everyone expects. The problem is that even though we’re firefighters, we’re human. It’s time for us to acknowledge that fact.
When you see a brother or sister struggling – reach out to them. When you hear that they are dealing with a loss or dealing with other issues, step up. Be there for them, whether they’re ready to lean in on you or not. If they’re not ready, then be present. Don’t pry, don’t pump them for information. Just let them know that you are there when they are ready, and physically be there. Don’t just say it and walk away.