Taking The Cape Off

How to Lead Through Mental Illness, Unimaginable Grief and Loss

Non-Fiction - Grief/Hardship
342 Pages
Reviewed on 04/26/2021
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Author Biography

PATRICK J. KENNY has been a member of the fire service for over 38 years, and before retiring in January 2021, served as the Fire Chief in Hinsdale and Western Springs, Illinois. He has been a Chief Officer for over 25 years and a speaker in multiple countries on Mayday for Mental Health® for more than a decade. He is the international best-selling author of TAKING THE CAPE OFF: How to Lead Through Mental Illness, Unimaginable Grief and Loss and has articles published in the areas of mental health, leadership, fire safety, and fire code challenges. He was awarded the Fire Chief of the Year in 2004 by the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association. He was awarded the Fire Engineering/International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI) George D. Post Instructor of the Year Award for 2020.
My son, Sean, died by suicide at the age of 20 after a 15-year battle with mental illness. I began speaking about his journey in 2009. In 2015, my wife Eileen and I added a slide to the presentation comparing brain cancer to mental illness to reflect mental illness is a physical illness, not a character deficiency. Ten years later, my wife Eileen passed from brain cancer. The day before she died, she made me promise to write the story of Sean's journey. I kept my promise.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Tammy Ruggles for Readers' Favorite

Taking The Cape Off: How to Lead Through Mental Illness, Unimaginable Grief and Loss by Patrick J. Kenny is a powerful self-help book for leaders who need help navigating the dark waters of grief and loss. Fire Chief Pat Kenny had his identity wrapped up in being a leader. He was strong, a protector, and felt he could handle anything life dealt him. But when his son Sean took his own life after years of fighting mental illness, his position as leader of a fire department became clouded. He was a failure in his own eyes. This book is more than a memoir of loss; it's a guide for others--perhaps you're one of them--who need help moving through the darkness and into the light. The book is designed for leaders, but anyone can benefit.

Kenny honestly and bravely shares his personal journey and shows leaders how they can use professionals and their own faith to confront the social stigma surrounding mental illness in a variety of settings, from community, to home, to work, and elsewhere. Communication is a key component to being a leader, and the author shows you how to improve communication skills when dealing with a personal crisis. Kenny also covers how to maintain a healthy connection to your lost loved one's memory, how to be more affective, and how to serve others. I admire the openness that the author uses and his thorough approach to the subject matter. Mental health is still a taboo topic in some circles. It's easier for some to talk about it than others, but the fact that Kenny was bold enough to expose his private life, thoughts, and process is a testament to his leadership skills and helping attitude. You don't have to be the head of a fire department to learn from this book. Taking The Cape Off by Patrick J. Kenny is for anyone who needs to hear that it's okay to take your cape off and accept help.

Jamie Michele

Taking the Cape Off: How to Lead Through Mental Illness, Unimaginable Grief and Loss by Patrick J. Kenny is a non-fiction motivational guide with the intent to lend insight and assist in navigating through life's most grievous periods. Broken down into forty chapters, Kenny sets the book up with his own personal backstory and funnels the information provided into five separate parts: Dealing with Mental Illness, Suicide, Grief and Loss, Leading without a Cape, “Signs” and Feeling the Presence of the Deceased, and Moving Forward. Kenny employs his faith in God throughout the work and every lesson provided is comprised first of a deeply personal story to underscore how the lesson was learned by him, and concluding with a bullet point closing called Lessons Learned for reference.

This is a difficult book to review because Patrick J. Kenny actually had to first go through enormous losses, one after the other, to write a book like Taking the Cape Off. For the most part, I found that the narrative reads primarily as a memoir that has been structured into a self-help book, which works well in this instance given the gravity of the subject. As a reader who has also experienced similar losses, there is the very real emotional feeling that nobody else could possibly know what we're going through and how we feel. Comfort only comes with trust, and trust takes time. Kenny gives us time by sharing pieces of himself in a way that is authentic and natural. I most appreciated the section on the afterlife, messages from beyond, and moments that cannot possibly be coincidental and take a vast amount of courage to share. Imagining a hopeful event in a section that reads, “Mom, do you have thirteen days left in you?” seems impossible, but when Kenny's wife Eileen is able to communicate with Sean, the son lost to suicide previously, it is just such a special moment. It is moments like these that make the sum of the book as a whole truly important to read.

Mamta Madhavan

Taking the Cape Off: How to Lead Through Mental Illness, Unimaginable Grief and Loss by Patrick J Kenny is a heartrending memoir that chronicles the trauma, pain, and helplessness of a father watching his son struggling with mental illness for most of his life. Mental illness is a serious issue that affects millions around the globe, and the author speaks about his experience of losing his son Sean who died by suicide at the age of twenty. Being a firefighter, the author speaks about how he failed to protect his son Sean, and the pain that still hurts him, his wife, and two sons. Losing his wife to glioblastoma again showed him how his 'cape' could not protect his family, and he decided to act on his wife Eileen's wish to spread Sean's message that mental illness is indeed a physical illness. The book gives hope and support to all those who are undergoing and have undergone pain by embracing and acknowledging their pain.

Taking the Cape Off reaches out to readers who are dealing with the mental illness of a loved one directly or indirectly or who have lost a loved one to suicide. Patrick J Kenny's words will help readers take their capes off without any guilt, and deal with the stigma associated with mental illness in a better way. The book is honest and raw, and early signs of depression and the lessons learned are quite helpful to readers to understand the illness. What helps readers connect with the author's words is his conversational style of writing and his honesty when it comes to sharing his story. The hardships and heartaches faced by the author will leave readers teary-eyed as these expose his pain, anguish, and innermost feelings. Reading this book will help readers dealing with their demons.

K.C. Finn

Taking the Cape Off: How to Lead Through Mental Illness, Unimaginable Grief and Loss is a work of non-fiction in the grief and hardship genre. It is suitable for the general reading audience and was penned by author Patrick J. Kenny. This book follows the author’s journey to process the loss of his son to mental illness, and the lessons he learned in his personal development as he prepared to return to his leadership role within the fire department. The work addresses the delicate balance of the grief process of a parent who has lost their child, living with mental health issues, and leading a group with a mindful approach to their wellbeing.

Author Patrick J. Kenny has delivered a book to help people, especially those in leadership roles, to learn how to address and support those that struggle with their mental health. One of the things that I enjoyed the most about this guide is how Kenny connects his own experiences with his faith, and how his faith helped guide him through a difficult period in his life. Taking the Cape Off is a book about hope and moving forward, and how we can help those around us do this when they are struggling. I found the book to be accessible, practical, and felt the message was raw and real. This book is about how each one of us can survive and thrive in the face of suffering, and everything Kenny discussed was backed by evidence or his own experience. I would not hesitate to recommend Taking the Cape Off to those wishing to develop their understanding of mental health, and those looking to support someone who is in need.

Jose Cornelio

Taking the Cape Off: How to Lead Through Mental Illness, Unimaginable Grief and Loss by Patrick J. Kenny is a book that discusses a very sensitive topic — navigating grief and the debilitating feeling of guilt after knowing that we haven’t been strong enough to stop a loved one from dying. The Chief of Fire Department, Patrick J. Kenny, is supposed to protect life, but he failed to stop his own son, Sean, from committing suicide after a long battle with mental illness. The author and father sank into a place of darkness and despair, feeling powerless because of that painful experience. In this book, he describes the steps he took to bounce back, experience healing, and continue to face life with hope. He offers invaluable advice on how to deal with mental illness in the workplace and at home, the place of faith in the process, and how to effectively use professional resources that are available.

This is a book I needed to read many years ago when I lost my brother and had years of harboring guilt at not being there for him when he needed me the most. Patrick J. Kenny writes about the emotions and trauma that readers experience when dealing with loss and illness, and he does so in a captivating manner, providing a path to healing, maintaining a beautiful and strong relationship with those we have lost, and showing readers how to see the light through the darkness of the painful experience. He writes in a voice that is filled with compassion and speaks directly to the hearts of readers. Taking the Cape Off is a timely gift to humanity, especially at this time when people are going through the strain of Covid-19. This author’s voice is a guiding light through the darkness of loss and trauma.