Too Many Funerals

My father was a police officer for 33 years. He retired back in 1973. I can always remember him going out after dinner to a wake. As a result, it seemed only natural that someone should attend so many wakes. At least it did to me.

When I became a sworn officer, I learned that each day at roll call part of the notifications were obituaries of those officers, active and retired, who passed away. If we had any connection to the officer, we would attend. The department is always good about allowing you to go to the wake while on duty.

Our department chaplains hold what is called the St. Jude service at the wake. It is usually a prayer and short sermon given by the chaplain in front of the casket while all the sworn members either active duty or retired stand gather around the front as a show of support and respect for the fallen officer. The same service is held for spouses as well.

I know this sign of respect helps the family members. This service was held for both my mother and father and it comforted me.

I remember training a recruit, about twenty years ago and I told him we were going to a wake. Consequently, he was a little surprised. He told me he had never been to one before, not even a funeral. All I could tell him was that was about to change. He was unsure how to act at a wake. If he decided to stay with police work, it would become second nature to him.

I’ve come to a point in my life where I have a difficult time going to wakes or funerals. It takes too much out of me. Obviously, there are some I would never miss. I just can’t go to as many as I once attended.

Perhaps even more upsetting is that among all those who have died there are too many suicides. They hit me even harder than most of the others. Usually, it is because I knew these officers and remember them as so strong, capable and confident.

These were the police officers and supervisor that showed up on jobs and you knew things were now going to go well. They were the badasses. I don’t mean they were brutal or violent. These were the people who stepped up when it hit the fan and led the way. They rallied people behind them and instilled confidence.

Maybe that is why their deaths affect me so much. I knew they each had problems in their life. We all do. They seemed to handle these issues in stride with an internal strength and fortitude you hope you can find.

In many of these deaths, I usually find the officer had just lost someone very dear. It might be a child taken away in a divorce or the death of a spouse. Whatever the cause, the rock that the officer’s inner strength is built upon is now gone and they seem to crumble. The support they once drew their strength from is no longer there to offer the support they need. They are no longer the strong person they were.

What triggers this article is I just found out about the death of a retired officer that I worked with for about four years as a new sergeant. Rick Defelice was a police legend. Not just a good cop, but also a fearless one. Some might even call him a gunslinger. And back in the day, that was needed. He worked in tough areas and confronted a dangerous element.

In the years we worked together I was his sergeant. We executed a lot of search warrants together and went through a lot of doors not knowing what might be on the other side. I learned how to do it the right way from him. I learned how not to get a citizen’s complaint even after we took down a door and searched the home. And when a complaint came I learned the right way to handle it.

For all this, he paid a heavy price and kept it on the inside. That was until he no longer could.

I shed a few tears this morning. First when a Rockford Police officer, Jamie Cox was killed in the line of duty. He was a member of the Illinois PBPA, I am a life member and was a past vice president of the organization. Now I learned of Rick DeFelice’s passing.

Both officers affected those around them in a positive manner. There will be wakes and funerals and probably a couple St. Jude services. Police officers will line up to show support for the families. I hope the families understand we will miss them, and they made a difference. Life was better because of them.

Here in Chicago, our department has suicide prevention panel as part of the EAP. If you see a problem developing, please reach out to the EAP to get help for the officer. Most departments or police unions have a similar program, make that call before it is too late for someone. Understand too that there are some people that you won’t help because things happen too fast and they are just too good at keeping it inside.

Stay safe everyone.

Robert Weisskopf is a retired Chicago police lieutenant. In thirty years, he rose from police officer to sergeant, to lieutenant, serving every role in patrol with 18 months detailed to the Department of Housing and Urban Development leading a team for narcotics enforcement. He became a member of the Lieutenants Union and served as its’ president for six years negotiating two contracts. He also served as vice president of the Illinois Police Benevolent Protective Association. He’s a divorced father with three sons.