Suicide brings up a lot of emotions in me, many I can't even name or describe through the general turmoil of my thoughts. Ultimately, the person who dies leaves everyone else to sort through the wreckage for meaning and the strength to go on. The recent suicide of a co-worker has brought on memories and questions.
TP started at the north station as an EMT-Basic, working on a transfer truck with a woman who was full of laughter and emotion. He often appeared shocked by the openness many of us brought to the station, sharing details of lives, loves, disappointments and desires. I attributed this to his younger age and general inexperience, never thinking about the type of broader experiences that might make a man reluctant to share, hesitant to open his heart. Over time, he became accustomed to the rest of us and began to join in our laughter and the general teasing that goes on in the station, if not our sharing.
He shared only a very small portion of his outside life with us, frequently deflecting questions about his family, his life or goals. He would often answer something non-committal, "Whatever you say," or just "Sure." It took me a very long time to learn that he lived a couple towns over in an apartment, no family or roommates. When he moved into a new place, it was months until I figured it out based on the few clues which came up in conversation. The one thing everyone knew was his dedication to EMS. He completed his EMT-Intermediate and was excited to do more for his patients and the services he worked for. He worked for pretty much every company or municipality in the area at one point or another, frequently for a hundred hours or more a week. If you needed a shift off, TP was always available for more work.
We noticed a change in him when he was dating more seriously. Instead of 90 hours a week, he'd cut back to 70. He took a fair amount of ribbing and pointed questioning about which woman was equal to all the fine company he had at the station. A girlfriend, or maybe two, came and went, the only noticeable change being the number of hours you could find him at the station. He began training for the 2008 EMS Memorial Bike Ride, riding to work, losing weight and generally living a healthy lifestyle. He asked for, and received, donations from his co-workers, some of us learning for the first time about this organized effort to recognize line of duty deaths for EMS workers as distinct from the Fire service. He returned a changed man. I didn't realize the extent of the change at first, but he was more focused on his profession and improving his skills. Station gossip went from substantial issues to petty complaints, a sure sign of improvement. Eventually, we found out that he also returned with a new woman in his life and he seemed quite happy for at least 8 or 9 months.
Two weeks ago, he seemed to shut down. With his history of withholding personal details, I didn't directly ask what was going on but tried to show concern. Every "How are you doing?" was met with a "Fine," or some other answer to turn us away. The station environment being what it is, we eventually got around to teasing him about his girlfriend, with someone piping in "What's wrong, did your woman dump you?" He got up and left the room. Several of us followed up with him that night and in the following couple of days to express our concern for him. He still turned us away. The next week, he seemed to be feeling better. Not quite back to his normal self, but able to smile a little and willing to interact again at the station and back to working a ridiculous number of hours. And then, he was gone.
His sudden death leaves a hole in our station. We all feel it, friends or not, and we grieve his loss. I'm working through my own emotions about the scenario, to order and organize my thoughts and feelings, to place this shocking event in a larger context, but it is not easy work. Services are being held Friday, I'm hoping a larger gathering of colleagues and friends will help me recover.