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We’ve got to do better than this.

It is with a heavy heart that I find myself mourning another brother as I write this blog post. A brother who was the epitome of dedication and passion, and who was loved by all who had the fortune to know him, or be the target of his shameless wit and humor. He loved the fire service, he loved teaching, but something went off the tracks, something pushed this amazing man across a line of no return and at the moment we are only left with questions of why.

 

We’ve got to do better than this.

 

I have been here before - sitting, wondering, second-guessing my every conversation, wondering what I could have missed. For those who know me best, you know that I lost my lieutenant to suicide in 2008. We did not see this coming – I’m not sure anybody who has lost a loved one to suicide does. But like my fallen brother from this past week, my lieutenant was the life of every gathering and took great pleasure in bringing smiles and laughter to others. He did this to the very last day and he hid his pain well. Could I (we) have stopped his suicide? I don’t know; he was determined to do it, but I sure would have liked to try! But out of his tragedy came my desire to help prevent others from dealing with the same pain and loss. To use my gift as an artist to perhaps say things that an article or speaker cannot convey through the written or spoken word. To say the hard things that need to be said, but many won’t say out load - to make a difference!

 

Editorial illustrations are my voice. I don’t have many life-skills, but drawing seems to be something I have some proficiency at, so I use this to start the conversations that need to be had. You see my work and it can bring a smile or laugh, a nod of agreement, a snort of defiance, or an anger induced tantrum - all are good. But what you never get to see behind my creative curtain are the hours of torment when I feel I must draw an illustration like this one. An illustration drawn out of frustration, pain, heartbreak, and outrage; an illustration that I hope and pray will kick start a movement to do more to prevent savable lives from ending way too early.

 

We’ve got to do better than this.

 

We rightfully regale the fallen with honor and remember what they meant to our lives and to the lives of so many others, but what about the days and weeks to follow? Where will the outpouring of sympathy and well wishes lead if we are just sitting in the back row waiting for the next time we receive that horrible gut wrenching news? I’m not naive enough to believe we will prevent every firefighter, EMT, police officer, or soldier suicide - some are just determined to ease their pain. But I do believe that there are lives to be saved if only we are willing to engage and are watchful enough to throw them a lifeline. To be mindful of changes not only in the firehouse, but in their home lives, too. To ask questions. To be genuinely engaged.

 

We’ve got to do better than this.

 

I strongly believe there must be a change in the macho attitude that we have created for ourselves. I’m as guilty as most for feeding this monster of ego and manliness, and have kept physical and emotional pain locked away so nobody can perceive it as weakness. I wrap myself in an imagined knight’s armor of invincibility and silently pray to God that I never have that armor cracked. Knowing all to well that my armor is as fragile as an eggshell. My guess is I’m not alone in this false perception, and that many of the good people we’ve lost held onto this illusion until the very end. Why? Who are we impressing? If we are lost and disoriented, tangled in wire, or trapped under debris, do we not call a Mayday for help? Please, if you’re in need of mental rescue, call a Mayday - we will come for you!

 

We’ve got to do better than this.

 

Saving our mental health must become as important as saving our physical self! We train constantly on RIT, but where’s the RIT when brothers and sisters are dealing with psychological pain or injury? I’m not talking about psychiatry; I’m talking about being trained to recognize the symptoms and behaviors of pre-suicidal actions and words. Training that may help us prevent a life-shattering event and be able to lead someone to professional assistance. Why isn’t this training mandatory for every firefighter? Are we not worth it?

 

We MUST do better than this.

 

One more is too many! We have made great strides over the past decade to recognize and treat first responder mental illness, but clearly more needs to be done. I am just an artist, but this artist will use his pen to help bring awareness and the conversation to every tailboard and to every kitchen table that I can! I’ve done plenty, but I MUST do more - we all must do more!

 

STAY FIRE UP, and be there for each other - we’re family!

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Click here to see more of my work or order prints, go to:
 
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