On August 10, 2005, the world as my little family knew it blew apart. My husband, Deputy Tim Graham lost his life in the line of duty. But I wasn’t the only person whose life was forever changed that night.
When we see that an officer lost his life in the line of duty, our minds always go the family they left behind. A devastated spouse, bewildered children. Parents reeling from a loss that by design is to happen long after they are gone. Siblings who’ve lost their childhood confidant, their touchstone, their best friend. Extended family who struggle for the words to comfort, knowing there simply aren’t any.
But there is a loss that is so often ignored, one we forget to acknowledge over and over again. And a loss that over the years I have come to understand, and recognize, was just as profound as mine.
I see it now.
I know that Tim’s loss changed you forever. It changed who you are and how you look at the world. I want you to know that I see that. I also want you to know that I never blamed you.
I see it in my memory of that day, and I see it in the photos taken at his service. I see it at the memorials, and I see it when I bump into you and we talk about him.
His loss devastated you too.
I saw the weight of it on the shoulders of the sheriff, as he knelt to present me the flag from Tim’s casket.
I saw it in the pallbearers, whose knees shook, not with the weight of Tim’s body, but with the weight of his loss.
I saw it behind the trembling jaws of officers in attendance during his last call. I saw that they were grateful for the necessity of sunglasses that August day, ones that hid the wet eyes behind them.
I heard it in the voice of the dispatcher announcing last call.
I saw it in photos at the scene. Tim’s squad, co-workers, commanders. Haunted, you all looked haunted.
I know you asked yourselves over and over, “What if?” I know that you carried that weight around, wondering if you could have done anything differently that might have changed the outcome that night.
I know that you went home the night he died and you watched over your spouse and your children sleeping. I know you thanked God that it wasn’t you. And I know that you felt terrible doing so.
I know that getting dressed the day of Tim’s funeral took every ounce of energy you had. Then you felt guilty about that because you believed our loss was greater. I’m not sure it was.
I know that Tim’s loss changed you forever. It changed who you are and how you look at the world. I want you to know that I see that.
I also want you to know that I never blamed you. Never.
I know you loved Tim. I know that you respected him. I know that every single one of you would have stepped in front of that truck to protect him had you had the chance.
Tim died doing what he loved. He died unjaded by the job. He died without burnout, without cynicism for the system. He died before the climate towards law enforcement in this country turned so unfairly against you. And, although it probably sounds strange, I am grateful for that. I am also grateful for you.
For thirteen years you have regarded me as family, as I regard you. I hope my presence doesn’t cause you pain, or remind you of that awful day. I follow you all closely and I worry about you like a mother hen.
What I need you to know, is that everything you do, everything you did is enough.
Sherry Graham-Potter is the surviving wife of Deputy Tim Graham, Pima County Sheriff’s Department, who was struck and killed by an oncoming vehicle during a foot pursuit on August 10, 2005. While Sherry and her young sons struggled to make sense of their tragic loss, their local chapter of C.O.P.S. stepped in to support the grieving family. Inspired by the survivors she encountered, Sherry became a strong advocate for the role that fitness and nutrition played in her own grief process, and encourages new survivors to incorporate healthy habits into their own lives as they navigate their healing path.
Today, Sherry is married to Officer/Pilot Chris Potter of the Tucson Police Department. Together they advocate for health and wellness within the law enforcement community, teaching Fitness and Nutrition to officers across the country. The couple are both avid cyclists and triathletes. Sherry also authored the viral Facebook post to the Nike Corporation.