When I first became a police wife, one of the realities I needed to confront was that every time Mike left for his shift, there was no guarantee he would return home at the end of his watch. The reality of being a patrol officer is he could be killed and all it takes is a traffic stop gone wrong to have the police chaplain, chief of police, and the police social worker walk up my driveway saying the words no police spouse ever wants to hear: your husband died a courageous man.
Now for some of you who love an officer this has already become a reality and my heart and my prayers go out to you. I cannot imagine the pain you endure or what it was like to put your life back together after you made the ultimate sacrifice of the one you love; to give your spouse, significant other, partner, to the greater good of society. To all of you who have lost someone in the line of duty, know that there are many who pray for you every day and that their legacy lives on through those who go out each day to protect and serve.
For those of us who continue to have a loved one out on the street it has become increasingly hard to kiss them good-bye as they leave the house to start their day. January 2011 has been a brutal month. At the time of writing this article, 15 law enforcement officers have died already this year. Two died in an automobile accident, 10 by direct gunfire, 1 by accidental gunfire, 1 by heart attack and another one struck by vehicle. This has been one of the bloodiest Januaries in history, as reported by Chris Cosgriff in his blog on The Officer Down Memorial Page, because of the number of officers killed by gunfire. For those of us who follow the newsfeeds, we have been seeing what seems to be a rising trend in officers being ambushed, even with one ambush this past month brazenly happening in a police station.
With this new rise in violence against law enforcement we began to get posts on our fan page and in our email boxes with questions and statements from those who love someone with the badge: How do we cope? I find myself crying all day, how do I let him go to work? I'm scared, and I don't know what to do. We were even contacted by the administrators from a forum for police wives (PoliceWives.org) who asked us to write an article because they are experiencing an increased feeling of helplessness from their members as the violence seems constant and unusually brutal.
Our response to those who love someone who carries a badge is:
One of my favorite movie quotes to use with women is from A League of Their Own: There's no crying in baseball!! as stated by a drunken coach (played by Tom Hanks) of a women's professional baseball team during WWII. This statement really had more to do with that time in history than it did with a woman crying because her coach yelled at her. It was a time when the world was at war and the US was fighting in Africa, Europe, the Pacific, and Asia. It was a very bloody time in our history, and families were kissing their men good-bye as they left with honor to fight for democracy’s survival against vicious dictators. So there was no time to be emotional. It was a time to do. Women were strong as they headed off to do work that would have before be deemed suitable only for men, such as the heavy manufacturing necessary to support the war effort. These women built the ships that carried their men to war, and the planes and weapons that drove our enemies back. So part of our job in this time in history is to be strong for the one who protects and serves as the war on cops battles on. They need our strength, not our tears.
Provide a Refuge at Home
There is no arguing LEOs have stressful jobs. It can be a stress that comes from going from one hot call to another, seeing tragedy, boredom, and most likely the one true stress that exists in all agencies: the administrative bullcrap (another word really wanted to appear here, but this was substituted). One of our jobs, as the one who loves the person who carries the badge, is to be a peaceful, supportive force in their life. Officers endure a lot of criticism from the public, other officers, administrators, and the government. When they come home to us, we need to provide an environment that is drama free and supportive so they have a chance to clear their mind. When an LEO has distractions from home, it can compromise their safety if their mind is too cluttered. So do your best to provide them with a supportive, loving home so that they can be refreshed when their watch begins.
Talk About Tactics
In law enforcement the common salutation is Be Safe. In our household be safe has always been followed by And Have Fun. However, as we watched events in our backyard unfold with five Chicago cops last year being ambushed and killed, I added And remember every one out there has the potential to kill you. As grim as it may sound, it is important for our officers to remember this in everything they do because complacency kills and I need Mike to be on top of his skills. So I talk tactics with him. I want him to be survival-oriented and for him to be ready to fight for his life, no matter the circumstance, since his number one job is to come home at the end of the day.
I will ask him, Have you been doing your visual exercises that if someone were to shoot you, do you know how you would fight to stop the other guy and stay alive? Do you feel confident in your tactical skills and in your physical ability? Is there any equipment you need to be safer? I do not enjoy this conversation. I bench my emotions as we have this discussion, for they are out of control, but I would much rather have difficult survival discussions than to have him hurt or killed in the line of duty. I can suck it up for the greater good.
One of the ways I have come to terms with the reality that Mike has a dangerous job is to make the most of our life together. We have always made fun a priority. We know that laughter balances out the harsh realities of the world and makes our relationship stronger and more meaningful. We have a strong bond because we choose to seek out experiences in life that build friendship, intimacy, and memories. We value our off time and use it wisely. We also know that life is short, there is no guarantee either one of us is going to be around tomorrow, so we will responsibly enjoy what we have today. Having fun keeps us sane and balanced. It is also the most important piece of advice we have for you today. Enjoy one another each and every day.
There is so much that could be said on how to cope during this time many are feeling the loss of our brothers and sisters in blue. We all know they were husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters. We all know they left a family for the greater good of a society who may never appreciate the sacrifice that was made. However, we need to continue on by taking advantage of each day, supporting the ones we love, and by being strong.