By the time I was 25, I had experienced not one…not two…but three police funerals. Three officers, whom I knew well. One killed when he stopped on his way home to assist a motorist and was subsequently ambushed. One who my husband found dead shortly after he arrived to assist him on a traffic stop gone terribly wrong. One killed while he and my husband were working traffic accidents on an icy highway.
One on a summer day. One on Christmas. One on my anniversary.
I have watched my husband stand beside a flag-draped coffin for hours. I watched him escort a young widow into her husband’s funeral. I watched as she called on my husband day after day after day and night after night after night to try and comfort her in some way. My husband found her husband and no one else knew her pain as intimately as he did. I tell him every Christmas morning, when he re-lives that day, that there was nothing he could have done to change the outcome.
I sat with other wives through three funerals. Not with him. With them. Other wives who were sitting listening to a widow sob, with that kind of sob that literally wracks your whole body, and thinking, “Next time, it could be me.”
I stood three times at cemeteries and heard the deafening volley of the 21 gun salute, the eery wail of the bagpipes, and the melancholy sound of one bugle playing taps. I can conjure those sounds up in my mind to this day without any effort at all.
I’m not telling you this today because I’ve done something remarkable or because I want your sympathy. If not for those reasons, then why?
I’m telling you so you’ll know every 58 hours, a police officer is killed in the line of duty and a widow is planning a very public funeral. And other wives like me are thinking, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
I’m telling you because I want you to look at police officers in a different way. When they are behind you, I want you to see them as husbands with wives, mothers, and children. When they pull up beside you, I want you to see them as deacons in their churches, baseball coaches, Boy Scout leaders, and friends who play golf. When you see them sitting in their car, I want you to see them as bread-winners for young families and care-givers for elderly parents. When you see them blaze by with lights and sirens going, I want you to think of them as singers, guitar players, and lovers of Dave Matthews music.
And I want you to see their wives as the incredibly strong women they are.