The other day I had a very young client who knew about fallen officer, T.J. Bomba in Montgomery County. He’s in elementary school and incredibly intelligent for his age. Children are insightful and aware of what happens around them even when we don’t think they are. He told his mother that sometimes parents don’t come home, and in this case, it was true. Then he looked at her and asked, “What if you don’t come home?”
This statement hit me hard for several reasons.
First, I am a police officer as well as a licensed counselor, so I know how intensely grief and suffering can affect a family and everyone around them. I see and feel it in my therapy office through the work I do with grieving clients. I see and feel it as an officer when I deliver news of the loss of a loved one, and I see and feel it personally when I lose someone close to me (blue or blood).
I’ve worried personally about not making it home to my family after my shift. There’ve been times when myself and my fellow officers were running toward a threat while everyone else was running away that I feared for my life. What goes through your mind in mere seconds when your life is at risk is incredible. Memories and thoughts of loved ones flood in. You envision their grief and suffering when you don’t come home. The experience will be with you for the rest of your life. If you’ve gone through it, you’ll never forget it.
Second, I have kids not much older than the fallen officer’s children. When I heard of his death, I immediately imagined what it must be like for his wife and children to not have daddy coming home anymore. I imagined what it would be like for my own family and how hard that would be. My heart truly goes out to his family for such a tragic loss.
Third, I wondered: if my client knew about it, what about other kids in his school and other nearby schools? I imagined what the other kids are going through and how they must all be worrying about what it would be like to lose a parent. I thought about problems the parents might encounter with sudden changes in their kids’ behavior. It struck me how few of them would realize that the cause was anxiety about losing a parent.
Tomorrow is not promised, and you never know if you will come home at night no matter what job you do. However, police officers are especially at risk. Not only do we face the dangers of society, but we also face the silent dangers of stress and mental illness directly related to our profession. We must do a better job of taking care of ourselves and eliminating the stigma of mental illness and most importantly, seeking help.
I ask you to go home and hug your loved ones and tell them how much they mean to you. Then remind yourself how much you mean to them and how you are worth more than you may ever know.
If you are suffering and need help, please reach out. As a fellow officer and as a therapist I will not leave you without backup. If I can’t do it, I will find you someone who can, but I will not leave you alone.