At my first cop funeral, it was clear that cops do it differently. Grief is not usually expressed with endless hours of blubbering, but rather, it is intermixed with laughter and socializing.
We want to be together, in the same place. That's probably why when there is a local loss, the nearest FOP hall is opened 24 hours. There is food brought by many. There is plenty of liquid refreshment of all varieties.
I'm not sure what the chemistry is. I just know that we feel better when we're together - talking, telling war stories, talking about the incident that took our brother, whatever. The critical component is being together. We feel a void when we're away from the group at such times.
Many times a spouse feels left out because we've turned to one another for the emotional support we need. "You wouldn't understand," has been one of my offerings, or "I can't explain it," is another. Fellow cops know at a visceral level what you're feeling, no explanation needed.
I have never taken my wife to a cop funeral or to Police Week. It would be like her taking me to a knitting convention. Maybe it's because the experience would make the risk of coppery all too real in her head. I'm not sure. She doesn't want to go, anyway.
Cops who have lost someone recently from among their own ranks are often shell-shocked, awestruck, and overcome by the enormity of it all. They need the same kind of time from you that you'd give to guys in a neighboring agency who had lost one of their own.
Others can talk about supporting them and understand what they are going through. You really can and do. Will you be the most important person to someone at Police Week this year? Only God knows.
THE GANG'S ALL HERE
Time spent at the FOP beer tent where we can ooh and aah over thousands of police treasures while consuming that golden beverage is invaluable. Hanging with your buddies in that environment is an experience like no other. It's the best of everything: gadgets/gizmos, buddies and refreshment.
I have made friends there that I 're-meet' every year. We email and stay in touch through the year, but, there's nothing like the annual get together to rekindle those relationships. And, each year there are more. It's like you have been life-long friends at the very moment you meet.
There are thousands of coppers at the beer tent, Kelly's or the Irish Channel. Every one of them is family. There are no angry words. You invite people to get in line ahead of you (except at the porta-john). It is a crowd that is accommodating and caring. It causes me to feel secure and relaxed.
THE TOTAL EXPERIENCE
By the end of the week, I am ready to go home. I am both drained and recharged physically, mentally and emotionally. I can't quite compare it to any other experience. I feel totally cleansed.
My attitude has been repaired and reinvigorated. I see the big picture once again and realize that life is not ruled by some piss-ant supervisor. It's something like spending three days at the funeral home when a close loved-one passes. We often lament that there are some people we only see at weddings and funerals. So too it is with some people we only see at Police Week.
The days in D.C. allow us to be encapsulated in an atmosphere of cop love (dare I use that term) where the outside world cannot affect us. With some 25,000 coppers around us, there are moments when we can lower our guard from yellow to white. We are among family; it is the most safe we will be all year long.
The Memorial is your place and it is filled with your people. Like links in a chain, a $10 lottery winning, or 6 rounds center mass it is not any one of them that takes precedence. EVERY ONE MATTERS.
There is a letter that I found taped to the Wall a few years ago. Every time I speak or write about the experience of Police Week, I share this letter. It expresses the essence of the experience. It was written in pencil on a sheet of loose-leaf notebook paper.