It’s Sunday night and we are going about our nighttime rituals as we get ready for bed. Mike works 12-hour shifts which rotate every two weeks, thus resulting in 3 day weekends every other week. Being self-employed, I have a flexible schedule so I work long days Monday through Thursday so we can enjoy those weekends off together.
We had just topped off three great days of golf around the Chicagoland area with an Improv class at our local comedy theater taught by one of the founders of the famed Second City. It was a weekend full of belly splitting laughter, heart-to-heart conversations, making plans for the future, and taking full advantage of the outdoors as the weather was in the mid-eighties with extremely low humidity (a rare day for August in Chicago). We finished the weekend happy, satisfied, refreshed, and ready to start our work week.
And then it happened. In an instant my mood changed from calm, content, happy, to a pit in my stomach of wrenching dread. Unexpected, and just a moment in time and then gone, but it was there. All it took was watching Mike walk down the hallway connecting our bedroom to the main living area for my happiness to disappear. I don’t think what I saw happens in most homes, but is probably very common in most LEO homes. What I saw was Mike carrying his bulletproof vest and in that moment the truth of his job struck me like a kidney punch: There are people out there who are more than willing, and who maybe even want, to kill him.
When Althea first showed me the opening paragraphs of this article, at that point a seedling of an idea, my initial reaction was… shock. Not that she had such fears – she’s always been very open about how this job impacts her as a wife, the anxieties that arise from it, and how her close association as a writer for, and counselor and trainer of, cops has brought her into even closer intimacy with the dangers – but at how deeply the fear can go and how quickly it can surface.
September now has a enduring solemnity attached to it, and September 2011 even more as we commemorated the ten year anniversary of 9/11. It was a remembrance of loss and sacrifice and how our world has been altered in the decade since. The themes of the sacrifice of that day – all the officers who responded to the calla and paid the ultimate sacrifice - and the changes it wrought resonate deeply with law enforcers. Every May cops gather, locally and at the seats of state governments and in Washington DC, to honor those who have paid the ultimate price to protect society from crime. And every year, in communities large and small all across the country, officers are honored for their duty and sacrifice to protect their communities. We honor those who gave and continue to give, and rightfully so, but it seems it’s high time we honor those who gave, and continue to give, to their communities and country usually without ever pinning on a badge.
Ask yourself: What must it be like to watch your husband or wife, father or daughter, go out day-after-day, never knowing if this is the day they won’t come home? Wondering if answering the ringing doorbell will reveal a grim-faced Chief and Chaplain on the other side, here to deliver the most feared news of all? What is it like living with the knowledge it is your job – your duty – to seek, find, and capture the predators most people wisely flee? How does the spouse, the parent, the child reconcile the pride and fear so often connected with loving a cop?
The short answer is, it hurts and the hurt becomes a companion. Not everyone can be live with such a companion; our profession is littered with broken relationships, many stemming from the pain of fear being too much. But for those who bear it with courage and dignity, their willing acceptance of the pain is their gift to you. Accept it graciously.