Blue Families Left Behind
When an officer dies, their agency will face turmoil. It’s devastating and can upset morale. There may be feelings of guilt, anger, sadness and loss. Department members may consider they have lost a part of the family, but what happens to the actual family that is left behind? Initial intentions are to help and support, but this support abruptly fades after the fallen officer is laid to rest and many of the fallen officer’s family are forgotten and life at each department goes on as usual while the families are left to fend for themselves.
Why Are Blue Families Left Behind?
When an officer signs up to serve their communities they create a bond with their brothers and sisters in blue. Many speak of their “Brotherhood” and “Blue family” and spouses tend to believe that, should their loved one make the ultimate sacrifice and pass away either in the line of duty or to duty related injuries or illness or to PTSD and take their own lives, that their “Blue Family” and the departments will take care of them and their children.
Sadly, that is not the case with many situations. Departments and unions step up and may promise the survivors the world at the time they are notified of their spouses passing, but many times they fall short in the end. After a death a beautiful service will be given with many officers in attendance, but once the fallen officer is buried and the spotlight goes away, oftentimes so does the support of each police department.
The phone calls and invites to events stop, communication stops, it’s almost like the family were never part of the so called “Blue Family” in the first place. Health benefits are cut within days of the officer’s passing, many times the last paycheck doesn’t get processed correctly. The benefits that are due don’t happen overnight; it can take months for those benefits to appear. Many of the spouses have children at home which can add to the stress with no income coming in.
Southern California Spouse
An officer for a small agency in Orange County agency passed away two years ago leaving a wife and three boys all under 11-years-old behind. The death was off duty, but caused by a duty related cardiac event.
The immediate response was support for the family. This quickly faded. Rumors of the officer’s cause of death not only were spread in the agency, but in neighboring agencies as well. Things were said that were hurtful and untrue. Relationships were damaged as was the reputation of the deceased officer, yet the department still goes on as his widow and children struggle with grief and loss. At a time when she thought there would be love and support, there were rumors and abandonment; only to seek solace in very few who still care.
Northern California Spouse
On November 7, 2018, an officer in a Northern California agency killed himself. Police suicides are currently the leading cause of police officers deaths. The department took a stance that the suicide should not be discussed. The officers who knew the family have disconnected and support has ceased for the officer’s wife and two children. In a recent event involving the family, a nonprofit, LEO-Only, sponsored the fallen officer’s children to go shopping for Christmas. The officer’s department and chief were notified and invited to provide support for the family. No one showed up.
In addition to the abandonment, spouses of the deceased officers are often left with trying to figure out the benefits that they are entitled. They may be provided information by the department or the city personnel department, however in a time of grief this information can often be overwhelming. In addition to trying to maneuver the complicated paperwork for benefits, there may be an immediate financial impact such as funeral expenses. In many cases, the medical insurance for the survivors is immediacy cut off. Often the department will take an emotional response and tell the spouse all will be taken care of, only to find out that there is no magic pot of gold. Benefits will not be immediate.
East Coast Spouse
A wife of a deceased officer on the East coast has been faced with a major financial impact after the death of her husband who served 27 years in law enforcement before he died of a sudden heart attack. Although he was eligible for retirement, which would include medical coverage for his family, upon his death the coverage was discontinued. The City administrators cited that although the officer could have retired with the benefits, he died, therefore, the coverage was ended. Had he retired before his death, his family would be covered.
Moreover, his surviving wife has stage four cancer and no longer has the means to support her medical treatment.
Losing the Support System
Losing your spouse is hard enough but also losing your friends and the support system you’ve had with your PD family is devastating on top of that. It’s almost like you lose a huge part of your family. And then the spouse may start to feel like, What is the matter with me? What have I done to cause them to abandon me? This is the last thing they need when they are grieving the loss of their spouse.
It is more important than ever that departments reassess their response to an officer’s death. Line of duty deaths tend to have a more department involved response. However, police suicide and deaths related to work place illness are on the rise. As a result, such deaths should be handled with a high level of dignity and support for those who are left behind.
Kristen Sweaza is the spouse of a 29 year law enforcement veteran. She has started an organization called Blue_Wives_Matter. The purpose is to provide immediate and long term support for spouses and families of officers who have passed away regardless of cause of death. She can be followed on her Instagram or Facebook at Blue_Wives_Matter or email her at bluewivesmatt[email protected]