“Going to be late. Had a shooting homicide and I was first on scene...”
This was the text I woke up to on Wednesday morning. My first thought? Crap, now I have to figure out a different way to get to my EMS conference today. We share a vehicle and I had planned on using the truck once he got home from his graveyard shift. Then I remembered, Never mind! The trucks in the garage. I drove it yesterday and he got a ride in to work. Once I had confirmed that being an LEOW was not once again going to inconvenience my schedule, I started to think about what he said and the absurdity of my response. Now I don’t say absurd because it was wrong. In fact, the absurdity comes from how right it was because of my husband’s calling.
First on scene
Not, “On my way. I’ll pick up milk.” Or, “Had a tough meeting today. Tell you about it tonight.” But, “Had a shooting homicide and I was first on scene…..” While I was sleeping along with millions of other people in our community, he was rushing in where gunfire just occurred. Where a young man, barely a legal adult had been murdered. He was assuring safety and then rendering aid to a stranger in a strange environment. His senses would be taking it all in. The sight of blood. The screaming family. The smell of gunpowder. His back-up would be there soon, but for several minutes he was alone. The only evidence that protection and safety had come. I spent some time while I was getting ready to really think about what that must feel like for him. Even though, I’m also a first responder, I know that when I enter a scene it has been made safe by people like my husband. I truly can’t imagine what it’s like for him or any of his brothers and sisters in blue. It was at this point that I flipped into LEOW mode.
The heart behind the heart behind the badge
I’m stealing this phrase from another LEOW because it is so beautiful and so accurate. Those of us who love and support an officer have an important and heavy job. We hold our LEOs up mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Sometimes we even do it physically like the time my husband crumpled into my arms in full gear after a devastating loss. And we do this often without any idea what we are doing. Although there are more and more guides, like the original tome Ellen Kirschman’s I Love a Cop and recently released Ammo + Grace the devotional by Cote Anne, it is still disconcerting and hard to face the weight of holding up the man or woman who holds up the community. Even though I study this stuff, I still don’t have all the answers. Not even close. It’s also a lot different between researching cold statistics and feeling the weight of Kevlar crumpled into your lap. The one thing I knew was that doing nothing wasn’t an option. I couldn’t just ignore what my husband had just told me literally and the underlying effect beneath the statement.
I’m here for you
Even though I was out the door in under an hour so I knew I wouldn’t see him in person until that evening, I refused to respond, OK, see you tonight. I thought about his need to just talk about what had happened. Even if to him it didn’t seem like a big deal. For LEOs, it’s just another day at the office. But in reality, seeing someone die violently then having to control the scene, IS NOT NORMAL. Sharing even just the facts with someone else helps an officer process. So, I made it a point to tell my LEO that if he wanted to talk before he went to bed, I would make myself available. He took me up on the offer and called me on my way to the conference. He shared his experience of the scene which humorously sounded like he was dictating a police report. I listened, asked appropriate fact-based questions and replied empathetically. I didn’t make a big deal out of it, but in my mind I thought about the potential impact and responded in supportive ways. I just let him process the scene however he needed to. After we hung up, I took a moment to be grateful that he feels safe enough to talk to me and that I’ve been made strong enough to hear what he has to say.
Later in the day, I was still thinking about him. He works a lot of overtime like many of our LEOs. We would only have a few hours together once I got home before he had to go back in to the station. But, we did have those few hours. So, I text him telling him he was on my mind (even though I was surrounded by firemen) and that I wanted us to take some time that evening to just focus on each other. I also offered to pick up dinner. I knew he was still sleeping so I didn’t expect a response right away. Several hours later, I got, “That sounds wonderful…..(heart)(heart)(heart).
I know I can’t take away all the awful things that he sees. I know I can’t keep him safe when there are so many people out there that want to hurt him. What I do know is through our relationship I can build him a safe place to weather all those storms. The most important thing: I never want to lose my gratitude that he chooses to dock his ship in the harbor I provide. Here's to continued blessings for all LEOWs providing safe landings to our LEOs.