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How To Love Your Cop
How To Love Your Cop

When Grief Comes

CryingInTheRainThe 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 stumbled to her computer and that’s when she saw my message. Emotion bubbled up inside, and she replied, “There is no chapter in a book that prepared me for this…”

My mind went back to many years ago when I got a phone call. I just returned from a weekend away and was on cloud nine. But then I heard the words, “Cammie was in a plane crash… and died…”

My body was thrown to the floor like I’d been punched in the stomach. Pain gripped me from the inside out and hurled itself through my veins, and then out of my mouth in an incomprehensible scream.

Cammie was my best friend.

The next few days were a blur. I somehow showed up on the family’s doorstep one dark night. We watched the news together after barely talking. The story blared from the set, and they showed footage of the plane. Her sister started screaming, the reality of horror setting in. We consoled her, and cried with her. It was all too much for me.

I then went to a friend’s home who did not know Cammie. I stayed there for hours, crying, reminiscing, talking, and being silent. The guys in the house did nothing but listen. They didn’t know what to say, but that was fine. Their silence was sacred to me. And my healing began.

I learned this past year in chaplaincy training that there is a name for this: ministry of presence. We can provide comfort just by being present.

When the shock and grief hits head on like a Mack truck, there are no words. The body is reeling from shock and numb with pain, the mind is a jumbled mess of questions and rationalizations and disbelief, and the spirit is injured. The survivor simply can’t hear anything.

They don’t want to hear you’re sorry. Everybody says that.

They don’t need to hear the upside view of things. At this moment there is no bright perspective – their lives have been forever changed. They will resent your minimizing of their loss.

They don’t need someone to force them to eat. The body shuts down the need for food in the initial stages of shock and grief. They will eat eventually. Hand them a bottle of cold water instead.

They don’t need advice. Solutions will present themselves soon enough. Let the grief have its moments.

They don’t need you to pass judgment on how they grieve. Every person grieves differently.

They do need someone who will allow them to talk without interruption, cry as softly or loudly as need be, be silent and quiet as thoughts untangle, and to offer a comforting touch or hug if appropriate.

They do want to hear short positive memories or compliments of the person lost when appropriate.

They will appreciate happy photos of the deceased.

Then, after the funeral and burial have passed and the world moves on, they will appreciate your acknowledgement that you are still thinking about them, they are not alone, and they are not forgotten. Cards are best sent a month or two after the death. Flowers at Christmas in memory of the loss, or a tribute of some kind, or a phone call – it’s never too late to reach out to the survivor.

On the third of every month, my daughter (who lost a close friend on Super Bowl Sunday of this year) will come in and announce how long it’s been since Morgan died. We share a moment eye to eye, and I am silent to allow her to comment. Sometimes I give her a hug. Sometimes she’s quiet, sometimes she sheds a tear.

It’s all good.

Grief, in all its anguish, is a normal, natural part of life. It is not something to avoid, but to make time to embrace and work through unhurried. Our loved ones who pass away are worth it.

August 20th, 2013

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SPEAK 2012

My, how 2012 has unfolded.

At this time last year I had a book in hand and a trip overseas planned. I had a dream – but would not have guessed the places I was to go, and the people I would meet. It’s been a wild ride, but one that I cherish and that I treasure.

A few highlights:

In February: I went on a trip to the Philippines with CODE 3 International to bring the Courageous movie to over 5000 Philippine National Police officers. That was incredible.

In April: I had a huge book signing in my hometown, Chico, California. Lost count of how many came. I met some wonderful girls who told me of the needs there. In November, I went back for a conference that several of them put together, and now I hear there are new relationships that have formed, and there are tentative plans to do another in the area, and talk of doing it statewide.

In May: I traveled to Washington DC for Police Week with CODE 3 International. What an incredible week. Thousands of police officers and their families. Made connections and sold many books. I also entered into contract with a client to write a second book.

In August: I loved speaking to the San Diego Wives Club and going to dinner with the leadership. They are a truly lovely group of women. I still get all warm and fuzzy when I think of them.

In July and October: I visited Texas, Kentucky and Tennessee for interviews with Army service members for my next book.

In between these significant events, I have connected with several of you over the course of the year, networking, helping, mentoring, listening, and working together on projects. I love what I do because of you.

This year I’ve had a theme word that I kept in mind all year long. It was SPEAK. When I chose it last year as the theme of 2012, it was just about self-explanatory. I’d just come out with a book and had speaking engagements on the horizon. But then in August, a precious girl spoke up after I’d spoken in San Diego. “What if we do the things you’re suggesting, but our LEO still holds onto the remote?” This was a response to cops who veg on the couch in the coming down phase of hypervigilance. I had talked about this phenomenon, and we agreed it was difficult on a marriage. Without thinking, I blurted out – “You stand in front of the TV!”

This brought on a whole new meaning to my theme word, and I incorporated my theme more deeply in my marriage and role as a mom. To speak is to be courageous. To be in touch with our relationships. To dare to realize that there are areas that need improvement and then communicate this with our spouse and children. We can initiate change if we find our voice.

In the course of the year, I’ve also discovered that to speak wisely, it is also imperative to listen. In the interview process of this next book, Selfish Prayer, I flew to different parts of the country to ask questions of soldiers who were in Afghanistan. Because I don’t have a military background, I had to listen quite intently, learning as I went. I had to decipher the language of the Army, medical terminology, and listen to the personalities of the men involved so that I could accurately and creatively tell their story. And then as I translated it all to paper, I realized I had listened well, but still had much to learn of their experience.

I’ve learned much through this year about communication. To SPEAK is to dare to suppose I have something to offer the world. But in this I also learned that humble confidence is key to SPEAKING WELL. Whether it’s before an audience of a thousand, or one.

I have a new word for 2013. It is FEARLESS.

More on that tomorrow…

December 31st, 2012

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Sorry, No Lamb Chops Today!

Yesterday we buried Officer Kenyon Youngstrom and paid tribute to who he was as an officer, a family man, and a man of faith. We heard from several CHP officers, some of whom shed tears while they spoke, and I offered Kleenex to still others who were affected. Many of the officers present did not even know Kenyon. I didn’t.

And I ask myself,

Why do some people hate cops so much?

Why does a man see a young officer on the side of the road tending to a dead deer, pull over, and come out shooting? Where does that rage come from?

A few days prior, a fellow LEO wife had her husband’s uniform hanging in her car, and decided to stop at 7-11 on her way home from the dry cleaners. Four scumbags nearby commented rather loudly, “That guy should’ve taken out more cops before he got gunned down in cold blood.” Where does that come from? It sends shivers down my spine. (And it’s a reminder to all of us LEOWs to put the dry cleaning in the trunk).

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit. Asking God about it. And then …

Across the world, Muslim extremists are tearing our embassies apart, and killed our Ambassador to Libya and three others, including two Marines. It makes my blood boil.

Where does that come from? Why do some people hate America so much?

I drove myself to the funeral yesterday – in my blue Prius. My car didn’t look like the others that were parked on every flat surface a half mile radius around the church. And I watched cops arrive from every direction. They are intimidating. Chiseled faces, helmets and caps, sunglasses, shiny badges, lights flickering, weapons around their waists. Because I’m sorta into this kinda thing, I got this warm feeling inside. Wow. But what about others who got caught in the traffic jam? Did the same view that gives me warm fuzzies give them a sense of dread? I’d be willing to bet yes.

There are three different kinds of people in this world. There are sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs.*

The sheep are the biggest group – they live quiet lives meal to meal, don’t care about much that doesn’t affect their world, and just want to be safe and happy.

The wolves want to prey on the sheep. Devour them. Satiate their thirst for blood and death. Most predators don’t care if it gets messy.

And then there are the sheepdogs that make up only 2% of the population. They’re a little confusing. They look like predators on the outside (cute, yes, but look at their sharp teeth), but their motivation – their job – is to keep the sheep safe. They stand in the way of danger and say to the wolves that they will not feast on the sheep. They stand in the way of danger, and say to the wolves – YOU WILL NOT EAT. And how do you think those wolves feel about that? Probably strong enough to randomly pull over on the side of the road and kill him.

I also see our country as a sheepdog. We’re big, we’re powerful. We have beautiful brass shiny things, and chiseled jaws, a very cool flag and weapons around our waist. We are intimidating. And for decades we’ve said to wolves throughout history, YOU WILL NOT EAT. And how do you think those wolves feel about that? Strong enough to hijack planes and turn them into bombs. Strong enough to shoot our US Ambassador and drag his dead body through the streets.

Do you think the sheep are happy the sheepdogs are around? You’d think so. And some are. But sometimes those sheepdogs get a little bossy. Sometimes the sheepdogs have to get after the sheep because they’re doing something stupid that could jeopardize their safety. And because of that, sheep aren’t always grateful. Instead, they’re irritated.

Sometimes sheepdogs die protecting the sheep. Not gladly, but willingly. And those of us who commit to our sheepdogs understand the risks. But we love them anyway.

Because they’re people. Humans who tear up when it’s safe to do so. They love, and laugh, and feel deeply and play, but they are still sheepdogs at the core of their being. And when they put on the uniform, they tell wolves, NO LAMBCHOPS TODAY.

There are some that reason that if there were no sheepdogs, there would be no wolves. If we lay our weapons down, if we just learn to understand, be nice, try not to offend, then the wolves will go away. But if our cops cease to exist, or if America ceases to exist, it doesn’t mean the wolves will go prancing into the sunset with nothing to do.

It means they will devour the sheep.

*This idea comes courtesy of LtCol. Dave Grossman, awesome speaker and author of On Combat and On Killing.

September 14th, 2012

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More Than a Uniform

I love uniforms.

Those pressed creases and shiny metal pins that shine in the sunlight. The mixed scent of leather and sweat. The creak of freshly polished shoes and the swish of the gunbelt as they head for duty. These senses bring comfort.

But those shiny pins represent a name, an oath, a determination. And that leather represents protection and that sweat reminds me there is a sacrifice. And those shoes carry that officer into some dark places. To protect you and me.

As May is here and departments across the nation are honoring those who’ve offered the ultimate sacrifice, I, too, want to pay tribute to not only those who have given all, but also to those who have sworn to protect, sworn to serve, and may still face the loss of their lives.

A simple thank you doesn’t seem enough…

They’re more than uniforms:

“To be a cop is to be many different occupations all at once. He/she has to be an athlete, a soldier, a scientist, a researcher, a paramedic, a NASCAR driver, a gun expert and marksman, a counselor, a chemist, a diplomat, a wrestler, a runner, a mechanic, a writer, and a lawyer. He must have a mother’s intuition, the nose of a bloodhound, the patience of a farmer, the compassion of Mother Teresa, and the tenacity of a 2-year-old. He must make peace out of chaos, comfort the anguished, discern criminal behavior from stupidity, and make split second decisions that may have life-altering consequences. He’s expected to be polite when verbally abused, keep people safe in dangerous situations, respect those who disrespect him, and understand the intentions of those who are misbehaving. He must constantly confront evil, and remain unsullied. He must be quick to respond, though sometimes the calls stack up. He must be able to speak police shorthand on radios that may be difficult to hear, especially when in heavy or fast-moving traffic. He is constantly second guessed on his actions, criticized for his demeanor, mocked for his diet and feared for his authority. He’s a threat, a target, a punisher, yet is a rescuer, a protector, and in some cases, a savior.

“Given these considerations, society’s expectations on our law enforcement are just short of impossible. But day to day, they report for duty, not knowing what the shift will offer. They put on their badges and try to do the best they can to fulfill the expectations of those they serve.” A CHiP on my Shoulder, pp. 76-77

Men and women of law enforcement, for all you are, we salute you.

For all you do, we respect you.

And for your willingness to serve and sacrifice, we thank you.

May 2nd, 2012

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