Oct 25 2012

The “R” Word

There are many words over the course of a lifetime that are monumental.

Marriage.

Children.

Moving.

I’ve done all of those. Some more than once. And true to form, each time was monumental. My life changed forever.

I remember.

Right after I graduated from high school, I chose to live in Central America for nine months. (Long story.)

“You will never be the same.” Several adults said to me before I left. They would look beyond me. A far off expression in their eyes. Like they could see into my future. Or maybe they were looking into their past. Either way, it creeped me out a little and I grew tired of hearing it.

I remember.

I resigned myself to a smile and nod in response. What does one say to that? It sounded more like a sentencing of sorts than “Bon voyage and God-speed.” I dismissed it. (Eighteen year olds are extremely gifted in that regard.)

And I left. Nine months later, I came home. A different person. A gestational period of change. I grew up, slightly. I burnt rice, horribly. I gained weight, understandably. And I changed, unavoidably.

I could not be the same. Or at least, I could no longer view the world the way I had before. I lived with children who suffered from Malaria and gun-shot wounds. Men and women in their thirties who looked twice their age. The ravages of survival etched in the many lines on their faces.

I remember.

That was a long time ago. I’ve married, had children, moved. More people are added to my world. A spouse, a child, a neighbor.

And each time, I’m changed.

I remember.

And now? Now, we are on the verge of another monumental word.

Retirement.

My husband is ending a career in law enforcement. We are moving. Saying good-bye. Bon voyage. And I have to remember the past to gain the strength to look toward the future.

Today especially has been stressful. So many unknowns. Will everything work out with the house? Will it close escrow in time? Can I survive living forty minutes from Starbucks? What will our lives look like?

Unanswerable questions that swirl around in my mind like a storm, attempting to destroy whatever it touches.

So, I remember. Monumental has come and gone. I’m still standing. And not alone. A spouse, children, friends, neighbors, colleagues. Familiar faces cross my mind and touch my heart.

I’ll never be the same.

And I remember. 


Oct 18 2012

Collateral Damage

Death danced outside our door again.

His fingers long and reach beyond

the body that they claim. 

When my husband got home last night, he shared about his day. It began with a roll-over of a van full of kids and ended with a ninety-year old man being struck and killed by a motorist.

He posed a question. “What do you call it when you do the right thing but pay a price anyway?”

Two young boys witnessed the old man breathe his last. Their mom had stopped to be a witness. A good Samaritan. Death’s fingers found their way into her minivan and touched her sons. A picture they will never forget. An horrific image.

Collateral damage.

I have often thought to myself, “And that’s the last post on PTSD. Because, seriously, how many more can I come up with?” And then something happens.

“Unintended damage, injuries, or deaths caused by an action…”

Oh yeah. That happens.

Unintended damage.

Death takes one life but touches a sea of others.

Collateral damage.

I’ve struggled to explain what PTSD is like. Or better, what living with someone who has PTSD is like. In order to convey the width of impact it has in our lives as a family I end up sounding dramatic. I start talking about death and destruction and people’s eyes glass over. Who wants to deal with that?

Exactly. Who wants to? But some of us still get to.

And then I back off a little and talk about the affects instead of the causes and I sound like a victim. Look what it’s done to our family? Whine.

So when these two words came out last night as my husband was reliving his day, a light bulb went off.

What do you call it when you do the right thing and pay for it anyway? He was talking about the woman. The good Samaritan. She stopped to help but paid a price. But as he was talking, I realized he could just as easily be talking about himself.

What do you call it when you serve the community and do your job well and you end up dealing with unintended injuries?

Collateral damage. 

May we learn to respond to life’s unintended injuries.

 

God, give me grace to accept with serenity

the things that cannot be changed,

Courage to change the things

which should be changed,

and the Wisdom to distinguish

the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,

Enjoying one moment at a time…

-ReinholdNiebuhr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Oct 11 2012

The Thin Blue Line — Frayed

The Thin Blue Line -- Frayed

Art by Isaac Qualls

 

The thin blue line is a symbol of solidarity with law enforcement.

But sometimes, the thin blue line gets frayed.

My husband came home the other day with an interesting story. He was in a meeting with some of the management of his agency and the topic of PTSD came up. Sniggers and huffs floated above the table like a cloud of skepticism. Imagine. On that day, in that moment, the thin blue line unraveled a little.

Solidarity. Like-mindedness. Mutual support.

It is difficult to explain to those outside this law enforcement community what it’s actually like to live in the law enforcement community. I understand their uncertainty or blank stares when our children start pointing out other vehicles that are violating the law and deserving of a ticket. They have been indoctrinated into this code and so have I. It’s difficult for outsiders to understand. But what about insiders? What about the brotherhood?

Solidarity. Likemindedness. Mutual support.

When my husband shared this experience with me, the “Joan of Arc” in me started waving the war flag and crying out for followers. “Who will fight with me against this injustice?” It was difficult to believe that men and women within a law enforcement agency thought a claim of PTSD was a load of malarky.

Solidarity. Likemindedness. Mutual support.

When an officer is tragically lost in the line of duty, the brotherhood wears a black band around their badge to grieve and show their support. But what happens when a law enforcement brother comes forward and mentions PTSD? What happens when an officer raises her hand and asks for help? Unfortunately, sometimes, the thin blue line frays.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t have any degrees or acronyms behind my name to offer any clinical credibility. Just my experience. But, my experience tells me that those who suffer from PTSD live under a menacing cloud. Images and smells and sounds are engraved into their memories and then set loose to haunt and torture.

The journey through the dark and murky waters of PTSD is a frightening and often lonely one. Even behind the thin blue line. My goal is not to become the poster family for PTSD. I’m not trying to wear the victim badge. In fact, my husband retires in less than two months and I would like to move on. But I believe in the thin blue line.

Solidarity. Likemindedness. Mutual support.

Maybe a family needs to hear they are not alone is this battle. Maybe an officer needs to be encouraged to raise his hand and say, “I need help.” Sometimes the thin blue line gets frayed. But we can fix it. All it takes is…

Solidarity. Likemindedness. Mutual support.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Oct 4 2012

The thinnest part of the blue line

Not being one to take things at face value, I looked up the “thin blue line.” Generally accepted as a symbol used to show solidarity with law enforcement, there is a fair amount of controversy associated with the symbol. Controversy? Related to law enforcement?

Perhaps the most current controversy involving law enforcement is whether they should continue to be compensated for the work they do whether in wages or retirement benefits. But don’t be deceived. There seems to have been a hazy cloud of controversy surrounding the shiny badge for some time. And to prove my point, I give you two words, Wyatt Earp. A law man of the wild-west and best known for his part in the shoot out at the OK Corral, his past is hardly exemplary.

Controversy. 

It has become a standard part of our culture. When asked what he does, my husband never says, “I’m a police officer.” Can you guess why? What follows is typically a story of unjust ticketing or “speed traps” or a whiny interlude about the total jerk officer that pulled them over last week. The Andy Griffith mentality has faded out like black and white television and in it’s place is high def.

Controversy.

My husbands professional experience has been dealing with people who break the law, snotty and rude people, and some who would rather see him bleeding out on the sidewalk. For him, life is measured in potential threats and worse case scenarios. It changes the way he views the world. That’s his training. And his training and experience do not shut off the moment he walks through the door at home. His badge is off, but his vigilance is not. And such a condition means that he will ask me to do things that seem strange to outsiders. And guess what comes from that?

Controversy.

Even being married to a police officer opens the door for some dissension. A law enforcement family, or any first responder family, seem to have a unique set of rules. And there are instances where this causes controversy among friends and family members.

There are times when the rules that govern our home are challenged. “Why would he ask you to call him before you are on your way home? Don’t you think that’s a tad controlling?” Or, “Really? You aren’t allowed to open the front door in the middle of the day?” I could list the different customs that keep the peace in our home and that “normal” people deem crazy. I have plenty of fodder. But that’s not the point. The point is this–stop the controversy.

We all have a degree of crazy. Superstitions. Habits. Traditions. The difference is, most of us don’t wear our crazy on a clean pressed uniform, marked by a shiny star on our chest. By following a few “rules” around the house, I help put my husband’s mind at ease so that he can focus on his job and come home safe. Seems like a fair enough trade to me.

The thinnest part of the “thin blue line” is where crazy seems unnecessary and pointless. But sometimes the crazy is necessary. Then we call it something different.

Heroism.