This past week our department (California Highway Patrol) said goodbye to Motor Officer Lucas Chellew after he died from a crash on duty. At the funeral, there were many there who were devastated by his loss–those who knew him and served alongside him. There were others who didn’t know him but were affected deeply because they had experienced other losses, and this was a painful reminder. I saw many tears that day from those in full Class A uniforms. Some say cops don’t cry–but that is wrong. Cops cry whether or not their tears are visible.
Those of us who love our officers share that grief. We may be family of the fallen, or close friends. We are experiencing our own feelings of loss. But even if we aren’t, the grief is a very present reality, because we feel our loved one’s pain. It may bring up fear, or confusion as our officers pull away in the emotion. It is in these times that we struggle to know how to help, what normal grieving looks like, and then worry creeps in.
The following section is from my book, A Marriage in Progress. This part is for officers. I will address how loved ones can support their officers after a LODD in another post.
“The thunder rumbled and the room lit up. She sighed heavily, leaning over to see that her husband was not in bed. And then she remembered where he was. Sadness. Anger. Grief.
She pulled herself from under the covers. She couldn’t sleep anyway. Between the physical storm that presently ripped through the sky, and the storm that had crashed in on their world just a few hours earlier, there was no peace in slumber. There was no peace anywhere. She and her husband were reeling from the loss of a Blue Line brother, and extended family member.
The days that followed were confusing, her husband dealing with not only a personal loss but also a professional one. Emotions alternated between shock, anger, and sadness. They went through the motions with arrangements, and protocol, and the overwhelming presence of uniforms, all with their children in tow. It was devastating.
“I don’t know what to do,” confided Kristin about her husband. “He’s all business. He’s short with the kids. I know he’s hurting, but he won’t allow himself to grieve.”
When you lose a brother or sister in the line of duty, give yourself permission to grieve. Here are a few ideas to work out the grief:
Talk it out with your spouse or another close friend. Tell stories. Admit you miss them. Get angry at injustice. Whatever the stage of grief you’re in, sharing these feelings does two things: It takes away the power to rule your thoughts, and brings you closer to those who listen. Grief is something to be shared.
Incorporate a characteristic, a quote, or something your loved one stood for in your own life. “Let’s roll!” became a household phrase after Todd Beamer said this before he died on Flight 93 on September 11, 2001.
Pay tribute. Freeways named after the fallen, bike rides to DC in the fallen’s name, a lapel pin or ribbon, scholarship funds, a trip–the list goes on and on.
Go to Police Week in Washington DC. Attend the vigil. Get a name etching from the Law Enforcement Memorial Wall. Leave a note. Sit at the wall awhile. It’s worth the time and money.
Be patient with the emotion. As time passes, processed grief will subside. Sometimes feelings of loss will rise up here and there even years later. This is normal.”
(Page 194-195 of A Marriage in Progress–Tactical Support for Law Enforcement Relationships)
I would add the following:
Grief is natural, normal, and should be expected. It comes on strong in the beginning, and this is the hard part. Allow yourself to talk about it–it helps. Restrained grief will come back again and again until it’s dealt with. It sucks, it hurts, but it will get better.
Grief happens in different ways for different people.
Isolation is an enemy–some time away by yourself is natural. But those who are closest to you are your greatest allies. Don’t push them away.