On Being Involved: The Last Day Before I got Help
‘On Being Involved’ is a collection of essays written by the men and women we’ve come to know in our work. We’ve personally asked each writer to share their perspectives, in their own words, detailing a specific part of their own experiences.
So Pat contacted me and asked me about THE LAST DAY BEFORE I GOT HELP. I sat and thought a while about that... The last day before I got help, I thought…was there a last day? Did I get help? Did I really get help? Honestly I really don’t know... I sometimes feel I just learned to cope. I don’t remember getting “HELP,” whatever that is supposed to be. And then life goes on… I was no longer part of the team... You hear police officers, military, professional athletes, speak of this often… What they miss is the camaraderies and I was no different. So for me, it’s not that I got help… I just made myself part of “The Team” again that made me feel good about myself and have what I felt was self-worth. That was important to me.
Well let me first start off by saying that incident, traumatic event or whatever you want to call it is something I will never personally get over, but learn to live with daily. The incident I went through stays with me and, good and bad, has made me who I am today because of what happened.
My name is John Dempsey. I was patrol Sergeant the night I was an “Officer Involved.” I was a police officer for 13 years with the Riverdale Police department, in the south side of Chicago, the suburb of Riverdale where I was raised. The night Wally (William ‘Wally’ Rolniak) was killed, I was Sgt On duty. It seems like an eternity since that terrible night but one I can replay over and over again.
I feel everyone has different experiences with trauma, and I can only speak of my journey. So specifically, I did not get “Help,’ or specifically clinical, professional, licensed help on an ongoing, continuous basis.
After the incident, I remember going through a two day funeral service, followed by the burial. This was overwhelming, and truly a blur. After that, I recall getting flowers from the department, and literally throwing them away. I was upset because approximately a week had passed by since Wally was buried, and hadn’t really heard from the department on what I was to do next. A few more weeks had now passed and I still hadn’t “GOTTEN HELP.” So I decided to contact a police chaplain named Father Lazar from St. James Parrish in Highland Indiana. I went to speak to him about a month after the incident, hoping for some direction. Father Lazar provided comfort and support, and called a therapist friend for me to see the following day. Hoping to get help, and direction to heal, I told about what happened. I was met with shock of what I shared. We met a few more times but not consistent or frequent so I decided I was done, and would get through this on my own.
A few years passed, and there was a constant struggle to deal with this event on a daily basis… Even though I had joined a bagpipe band, I was still searching… Then I decided to take a chance, join the band that had played for Wally’s Funeral. They practiced at the Chicago Police Academy, where I had attended... The Bagpipes and Drums of the Emerald Society Chicago Police. The connections were already there. The day was January 17, 2013. 9 years later was the last day before I got Help!
Police Officer, Illinois
John Dempsey is a retired police officer, now the Director of the Lake County Juvenile Center in Indiana. John has been awarded the Medal of Valor and is still a proud member of the Bagpipes and Drums of the Emerald Society Chicago Police, Honoring Our Fallen.