The Forgotten Fallen
The most beautiful time of the year? I’m not so sure anymore, after having experienced my own losses last year and truly knowing what grief is, I now see the pain holidays can bring.
I’ve heard about the giant of a man whose broad shoulders carried the fresh cut tree home with his family, his broad shoulders were carried home by eight of his friends to his final resting place.
Did you know about the husband who enters a party with his children and the smiles turn to confusion? He just wants to have a normal holiday like the rest of the guests, but they don’t know how to let him.
What about the family tree that no longer holds the ornaments carefully collected through the years because the kids simply aren’t ready yet? And the widow who sits alone, wondering if she will ever love again, if she will ever realize her dream of having children, staring at the empty spot where the tree once sat.
Why do they feel such despair? Where have their loved ones gone? They are the forgotten fallen, they are the ones who have died by their own hand, they are the ones we are afraid to see.
We see the cancer, accidents, heart attacks, shootings and all other methods of death. We raise money, honor our heroes and rally round their families. It’s easy, we understand these deaths, we can somehow bring our minds to accept these deaths and feel compassion.
Suicide. What is it? Why can’t we understand it? Why can’t we love and assist this type of death? As you read this, a family is preparing to pack their belongings in January. Their breadwinner killed himself in his police car, the family received no honors, no benefits, no fundraiser. This will be their last Christmas in their home. Because we don’t understand, we are afraid to look.
Another officer holds her gun in her hand, as you are reading this, she isn’t sure she can go on; she isn’t sure she can go back. Put it down get help and go back to her life or, pull the trigger and go on to a place they may be better? Does she ask for help and risk her identity, livelihood and the respect of those around her? Doesn’t she know that all is not lost?
Where are we in all this? An officer killed himself in November, his partner blames herself for not knowing how much he was suffering. Another officer killed himself after 18 years of service, he didn’t receive a funeral with honors because the chief “does not want to condone nor appear to glamorize suicide.” A fundraiser for a family with four children has raised $600 of the $10,000 goal to assist with the funeral. Another officer wants to be brave but he’s still afraid.
This is the most wonderful time of the year.
We’re trying to change the narrative, we want to hear you say Watch Your 12 or I’ve Got Your 12 as often as you say Watch Your 6. We want you not only to watch your back, we want you to watch your head, heart and mind. Watch the head, heart and mind of those around you.
In the season of belief in miracles, give one. Believe in yourself, those around you and in your ability to heal.
If you are Chief or part of the command staff, give the gift that is the most needed of all. Give the gift of understanding, acceptance and tolerance. Allow your officers to be human while you help them keep their humanity. Let them seek what is necessary to survive without penalizing them. Remember where you came from. Open the snow globe under your tree, shake it and see the years as they pass by; remember every incident that formed you, the mistakes you made and the ways in which you wish you had help. Take all of that and form the future of your department, make it better than the one you had. Allow them to benefit from the things you have buried all along. Call the widow and her children, bring them gifts, take the widow/widower out for dinner, ask the parents if they need anything.
Most importantly talk to them about the loved ones they lost to suicide. They are not to be forgotten. Stigma tries to take their “hero” status away, don’t let it. Remember them for the years of service they gave, the same sacrifice you have all given.
Still unsure? Still afraid? Ask yourself how you’d want your family to be treated in your absence, regardless of how you left. When you or a colleague are struggling, remember that you are not alone. Finally, find the courage to bring back the most wonderful time of the year to those we have forgotten.
Karen Solomon is the co-founder of Blue H.E.L.P., a national speaker, author, columnist and advocate. Her books Hearts Beneath the Badge and The Price They Pay are used in citizen’s academies throughout the country and endorsed by law enforcement leadership. Married to a police officer for sixteen years, Karen understands today’s challenges and puts her knowledge to work on behalf of the entire profession. Karen has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Eckerd College. She’s a member of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), the International Public Safety Association (IPSA), and the Public Safety Writers Association.