by Peggy Sweeney
The Sweeney Alliance
It is not unusual or abnormal for people in the emergency response community to experience many different emotions and feelings in their day-to-day lives. The traumatic calls they respond to are, at times, overwhelming. Research shows that many of these professionals experience nightmares, depression, substance abuse, or strained relationships with family members or friends as a result of recurring trauma and the grief it causes.
Grief touches our lives following many different types of loss. At times, it may shake the foundation of our very existence causing us to question our spiritual beliefs. Grief releases many emotions we would rather not feel: deep pain, overwhelming sadness, emptiness, guilt, anger, or a sense of failure. Everyone responds to grief differently. No two people will react to a shared grief experience the same way.
One of the most grief-provoking situations faced by firefighters and other emergency responders is the death of an infant or young patient. Your reactions to this experience can leave you with a deep sense of sadness. You may be angry if the child was a victim of abuse, suicide, or homicide. At times, you may question your ability as a rescuer or medical caregiver.
Many factors determine your personal reactions and feelings regarding the death of a child including your previous experiences with loss. For example, if you are a bereaved parent, you will identify with the emotional pain felt by the child’s parents more fully than colleagues who have not had this experience.
The lessons you learned as a child for coping with emotions and feelings will affect your responses as well. If you were taught to suppress your feelings or were discouraged from talking about emotionally charged issues, you will probably have difficulty sharing your thoughts and feelings with others as an adult. This may explain why so many emergency response personnel are reluctant to participate in a critical incident debriefing.
Grieving is necessary to heal the mind and spirit. Grief involves the whole person—the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual self. There is no set of rules that, followed consecutively, will erase the grief. You cannot deal with one emotion or feeling and then move on to the next. You cannot deal with anger or sorrow for a few days and check it off of your list. Rather, you will flow back and forth between some of the same—or previously unacknowledged—emotions and feelings until, after many months or even years, you come to the end of your grief journey. The intensity and duration of your individual grief process correlates to the degree of loss; the more emotionally involved you are with the person or event, the deeper your feelings.
It is important to remember that your responses to grief, both professional and personal, are normal, natural, and not a sign of weakness. Following the death of a young patient, your feelings may be similar to the grief that you felt after a family member or close friend died. Do not be ashamed of these feelings. Celebrate the goodness that is you and the many lives you have touched. Grief is the price you pay for being a dedicated and caring professional.
Copyright Peggy Sweeney.
About the Photo: Evansville (IN) firefighter, Captain Don Spindler, rushes 5 year old Chase Powers to a waiting ambulance after he and other firefighters performed CPR on the boy after rescuing him from his burning home. Chase died at the hospital the following day. Copyright The Evansville Courier & Press / Photograph by Denny Simmons
About the Author: Peggy Sweeney is founder and president of the Sweeney Alliance, a mortician and bereavement educator, and a member of the Comfort (TX) Volunteer Fire Department. She is certified in Bereavement Trauma and Emergency Crisis Response by the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. For more than twenty years, Peggy has conducted numerous workshops for the public in general. In addition, she hosts two monthly support groups in Kerrville, TX: for parents who have had a child die (Halo of Love) as well as bereaved spouses/partners (Comfort and Conversation).
In 1997, Peggy wrote the Grieving Behind the Badge training program and taught this program in the United States and Canada to help the men and women who serve their communities as firefighters/EMS, law enforcement and correctional officers, and emergency dispatch personnel. Then and now, Peggy strongly believes that their needs to understand and cope with recurring traumatic events and the emotional challenges of their professions are not being met. Peggy has devoted her time and effort to make a positive change in their lives and reduce the number of suicides which are becoming all too common. If you would like additional information about the Grieving Behind the Badge training, please contact Peggy through e-mail at email@example.com.
by Tim Trickey
Advanced Emergency Medical Care Attendant [Paramedic]
Editor’s Note: Tim wrote this article for our Grieving Behind the Badge newsletter to help emergency responders cope with tragic calls, but most importantly, to share how he copes with depression and post traumatic stress disorder. Read more
by Nick Rutter
UK Fire & Rescue Service Chaplains’ Association of the United Kingdom and Islands (FRSCA)
The UK Fire & Rescue Service Chaplains’ Association of the United Kingdom and Islands (FRSCA) has grown dramatically in the last three years; supporting and developing pastoral care for one of the UK’s front-line emergency services. Read more