A Hispanic family is found dead in a trailer in the rural Eastern Shore of Virginia, near the Maryland border.  The Accomack County Sheriff’s office is still investigating, but states that the incident is a murder-suicide.  The father is believed to have shot the mother of his children, the two children, and a family friend.   At the same time, in rural Illinois, Sara McMeen killed her children, the father of one of the children, and herself.

We react to news like this by recoiling mentally.   Violence and death are troubling at any time of the year, but particularly so during the holiday season.  We call deaths like these senseless, but really does taking the life of another and then your own ever make sense?  Looking beneath and within, however, perhaps we can make some sense of something which can seem incomprehensible.

The holiday season is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year.  Isn’t that what the song says, with the folks jingle-belling and everyone telling you, “be of good cheer.”  Perhaps this is kind of pressure which can make Christmas time difficult.  We are loaded down with expectations.  We have expectations that we will give and receive the perfect gift.    We expect that our lives should be like the Miracle on 34th Street and Santa will give us a brand-new house and a new daddy for our single mother.

The décor has to be perfect, we need to get to every party, and we expect that our family should be just like the Waltons (but with more money) or the Huxtables, with a dad as cool as Bill Cosby.   The truth is, people are flawed, most of us aren’t Martha Stewart, and even John Boy Walton got mad at his parents and siblings from time to time.

This year, Christmas is especially hard for many.  Human beings have baggage and that baggage is right up front during the holidays.  Add to that pressure lack of money for the basics, food banks getting down to the bare shelves, and diminishing public services and you have a recipe for disaster instead of Christmas cookies.

Baltimore County public health officer Dr. Gregory Branch said he believes that added stress can lead to violent behavior during this season.  “During the holidays, our expectations change—what we want to give and want to receive—so because of those, we don’t cope very well with stresses.”

What can the law enforcement family do in the midst of all this?  First, we can take care of ourselves.  Remember what the flight attendants tell you on the plane, put your own oxygen mask on first, so you can breathe while assisting someone else.  We don’t have to go to every party, we don’t have to be perfect, and we aren’t here to meet everyone else’s expectations.

We can take care of ourselves by keeping up with our exercise regimen, or starting one again if we have slacked off.  Instead of feeling pressure to spend and spend on gifts which may be re-gifted or returned, consider donating to a food pantry in honor of a person on your list.  Take time for spiritual practice, whatever that means for you.  Reach out to someone who is alone, sometimes just hi and a quick hug can mean everything to someone who feels isolated.  Pay attention to coworkers and reach out to them over coffee if they seem to be struggling this holiday season.

LEO’s must be especially attentive and vigilant at this time of year.  Put your vest on; saying you don’t like how it feels or how your blouse fits with it on is a ridiculous excuse.  Look for danger signs of extreme stress when you arrive on scene and give local referrals to helping agencies where warranted.

The first Christmas was about love and about family.  It still should be.  Forget the hype fueled by commercialism.  Focus on doing a few things well.  The family won’t cherish that you were so stressed that you were wrapping presents at 2 a.m.  They will remember quality time, a favorite Christmas movie on television, shared traditions, and being together as a family.

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