Remembering Tim Casey: Your Work on Earth is Done


by Peggy Sweeney
The Sweeney Alliance

I know your life
On earth was troubled
And only you could know the pain
You weren’t afraid to face the devil
You were no stranger to the rain

Oh, how we cried the day you left us
We gathered round your grave to grieve
~ Go Rest On the Mountain lyrics, Vince Gill

Tim-CaseyAlthough Tim Casey and I had never met in person, we had a long-standing friendship through emails and phone calls. Several years ago, I received his first email. He had attached an article he wrote about his struggles as a firefighter; the nightmares, his addiction to alcohol, and his suicide attempt. He wanted to share his story in an effort to touch one firefighter, officer or other first responder who was struggling with these same demons. He felt it was his duty as someone in recovery to tell them “help is available”.

Thank you, Tim, for your friendship and your efforts to help your brothers and sisters. May you find peace, at last, on that mountain.

Tim took his own life during the summer of 2015.

I am furthering Tim’s commitment to helping others by sharing excerpts from his article along with my thoughts and resources for YOU, the first responder who questions if life is worth living. You may be looking for someone, any one, who will help you because you realize you cannot do it alone.

“Who takes care of us? Our families? They try, I know mine did. But the average or normal person cannot share our experience, they can’t imagine what we do or see.

“As a firefighter/paramedic for more than 30 years, I can safely say I have pretty much seen it all. I have seen death in every incarnation and life as well. We on the front lines are not invited politely to join in the fray of life; no, we are thrust into chaos on a daily basis, it’s our job”. ~ excerpt from Slow Death of a Firefighter, Timothy O. Casey

The “job”. To those of us in emergency services or public safety it is not just a job. Some may say it was  a calling, they were destined (or put on this earth) to choose this profession. For some, it can be a generational career, following in the footsteps of family members. For others, like myself, it was a very unlikely choice, a path I never thought I would ever find myself traveling down. I’m sure each of you has your own personal reasons for becoming a police officer, medic, firefighter, emergency dispatcher, or a corrections officer. Most of us got caught up in studying hard to pass our licensing tests, being the best at the job, and basking in the good feelings and adrenalin rushes of a winning call.

“Who takes care of us? Our families? They try, I know mine did. But the average or normal person cannot share our experience, they can’t imagine what we do or see.

“I know many days I felt like a human garbage collector, picking up the waste of society. People although fascinated with the gruesome, macabre, or terrifying only see it from a distance. We hold it in our hands and get it on the soles of our boots”. ~ excerpt from Slow Death of a Firefighter, Timothy O. Casey

The realities and demands of the job have set in. We soon realize that life outside of the classroom pales in comparison to the real world. The laughs we shared holding C-Spine for our fellow classmate while we knelt in the back of an imaginary car wreck, or the pretend blood or the compound fracture we had to deal with in class is nothing like the real events in the field. Doing chest compressions on a dummy is good training until it is someone in cardiac arrest and your adrenalin is pumping, and the sweat is in your eyes, and you pray you can save them. Every one of us still remembers our first “kiddie call”. My motto was to train and train and train as if my life, or that of another human being, depended on my skills.

“I was haunted by the calls where I was powerless, where all my training and knowledge were useless, where the patient still died in spite of my best effort. Those people visited me on my days off. They came to me in my sleep. Only the situation changed”. ~ excerpt from Slow Death of a Firefighter, Timothy O. Casey

For many first responders, things go well in the beginning of their career. They are the well-trained medic or officer or firefighter who answers the call, tackles whatever is before him or her skillfully, and, even on a call that went less than what the outcome had been hoped for, returns to the patrol car or rig, completes the necessary paperwork, and waits for the next dispatch.

Then the day comes when the call goes out, the tasks are completed. But for some reason, you realize that you are not as calm and comfortable as you usually are while restocking the rig or sitting in your patrol car. You’re replaying the call over and over again  in your mind. Could you have done something different to produce a much better outcome? You tell yourself that no one in their right mind would ever want to see the images you saw that are now seared in your mind. You berate yourself because you walked away from the mother on scene whose child had just died. You didn’t have the right words to comfort her. You weren’t equipped to handle her grief pain, her screams, or her questions of “why?”. You had no class at the academy for that. You feel guilty and angry with yourself because you think you failed at your job.

“For me personally, I decided to treat my condition, my discomfort with alcohol. The ease and comfort that came from a bottle was a welcome house guest. I could turn off the noise, shut out the visions and thoughts with at first a few beers and in the end gallons. I became accustomed to passing out instead of falling asleep. I became use to coming to, instead of waking up. For years that got me through it, and then it stopped working. Now what?” ~ excerpt from Slow Death of a Firefighter, Timothy O. Casey

It has been months or years into your job. You find that you are unable to control the nightmares of children crying, the sound of glass crunching under your boots, the smell of blood and puke. The constant anxiety, the fear of being in a crowd, or your spouse’s relentless nagging that you “aren’t the same person I married“. Your children compete for your attention, but you don’t have the patience to give them what they need. Your time. You have occasional bouts of anger and resentment towards those around you who seem to handle the same job with no aftereffects.

Without someone you trust to confide in about these feelings, the nightmares, or the resentment for the job, you find another avenue to cope with all the unpleasantness in your life. Maybe you chose copious amounts of alcohol or street drugs, gambling, hours upon hours of online video games or porn. Your sexual exploits during work hours are becoming commonplace. You find yourself repeating again and again your new catchphrase: life sucks and nobody gives a fu** about me.

“I could seek treatment; lord knows it was offered on a regular basis. Every time we had some particularly horrendous event the good old Stress Debriefing Team came around to offer us help. My problem was this. I saw that most of my co-workers appeared unaffected, they were dealing with it, even joking about it. Was I some kind of weakling, why was I so disturbed on the inside when those around me remained intact? If I sought help and the others learned of it, would I be considered less than?” ~ excerpt from Slow Death of a Firefighter, Timothy O. Casey

I know that many, many of you are reading this  and thinking to yourself THAT’S ME! That’s how I feel! That’s what I’m dealing with. I’m tired of the day-to-day calls and the blood and the guts and the nightmares. I’m tired of fighting. With my family. My department. My friends. What do I do NOW?

“If you hear anything here, know this, you are NOT ALONE in feeling the way you might be feeling. My story might sound specific to my career as a firefighter, but it isn’t. 

“We all have experiences that can be overwhelming, insurmountable, and feel hopeless. So what the hell, give the people who can help you a chance, all you have to lose is everything”. ~ excerpt from Slow Death of a Firefighter, Timothy O. Casey

Step #1 Read Tim’s words again and again and believe them. YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

Step #2 Reach out to one of the resources below and ask for help.

Step #3 Please feel free to email me, Peggy Sweeney, if you have questions or someone to talk with.

Resources

Sober Coach Don  561.282.8685   email Don@sobercoachdon.com
Don Prince ~ Nationally Certified Recovery Coach & Advanced Clinical Intervention Professional

Warriors Heart  830.355.2889
Warriors Heart is the only fully dedicated healing center for MIL, LEO and 1st Responders. Heal with dignity and respect.

Badge of Life – email  Andy O’Hara  – psychological survival for police officer

Badge of Life Canada – email Bill Rusk – volunteer peers, trauma and PTSD survivors and/or front line professionals

West Coast Post Trauma Retreat – (415) 721-9789 – educational treatment programs to promote recovery from stress and critical incidents experienced by first responders and their families

On-Site Academy (978) 874-0177 – residential treatment and training center for critical incident stress management. They serve emergency service workers

Emergency Ministries – email Chaplain Skip Strauss – Chaplaincy service to EMS, Fire, Law Enforcement and Dispatch agencies – both on-scene and “behind scene” with an emphasis on Critical Incident Stress assistance.

Federation of Fire Chaplains – bringing together persons interested in providing an effective Chaplain Service: to give aid, comfort and help to firefighters and their families; to work toward the betterment of all areas of the fire and emergency service.

International Conference of Police Chaplains – 850-654-9736 – Serving all law enforcement chaplains 

Go rest high on that mountain
Son, your work on earth is done
Go to heaven a shoutin’
Love for the Father and Son
~ Go Rest On the Mountain lyrics, Vince Gill

Read Tim’s article, Slow Death of a Firefighter, in its entirety.

Peggy JUN 2013 BA tookAbout the Author: Peggy Sweeney is a mortician, bereavement educator and founder and executive director of The Sweeney Alliance She has developed and taught countless workshops for coping with grief and trauma including the Grieving Behind the Badge program for emergency response professionals. She has written numerous award-winning articles. Peggy is a former EMT-B and member of the Comfort (TX) Volunteer Fire Department. Contact Peggy at peggy@sweeneyalliance.org.

At a Loss for Words: When Some Dies by Suicide
For first responder departments and their families coping with grief following the death of a loved one is difficult. Taking one’s own life is often viewed by some as morally wrong and unforgivable, and leaves those who grieve with many unanswered questions. Bereavement educator and former firefighter and EMT, Peggy Sweeney is personally familiar with grief following the suicide death of a much-loved family member. Her workshop will provide general grief information, the steps to deal with personal trauma, and resources to heal from this tragic death.
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