Dec 13 2013

The here and why

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A month ago, I wrote a blog post that detailed my reason for writing. Why do I write?

But why did I write this story?

First, I have to say, it is a novel. It is a work of fiction. And yet, it was birthed out of a period of time in our lives. Painful experiences worth sharing.

When I married my husband, I had no idea what it meant to become a part of the “law enforcement family.” I was aware that there would be holiday craziness on those days he had to work, but beyond that? I didn’t get it.

We got married. I changed my name. But so much more changed. And of course, marriage is an adjustment. And without trying to sound over the top, marriage in the world of first responders is an even bigger adjustment.

There is a reason they call themselves a family. They get each other. They understand the stress and the expectations. They rely upon each other day in and day out, for camaraderie and for safety. They will always have each other’s backs. Like family.

It’s difficult to describe or explain a dynamic like that. They are knit together by a thin, often blue, line. A line invisible to those who don’t walk it everyday. A line that becomes increasingly recognizable in the course of every day life with a first responder.

Case in point, there have been nights, dinner is minutes away from ready, the kids have worn mommy’s patience down to a mere nub and the phone would ring. Don’t wait to have dinner because of…an accident, a fatal, a shooting, a car chase, or at the hospital with another officer.

You answer the phone and hold your breath until you hear their voice. And then you hold your breath again until you can determine that they are okay. It isn’t the phone calls that are difficult. It’s the stress they create. And stress like that is next to impossible to translate. But it is nothing compared to the stress of death and destruction bombarding every one of your five senses. It’s one thing to see death on TV or in movies. It’s an entirely different thing to see it, smell it, hear it, feel it and even taste it.

After phone calls like that, I would serve dinner and get the kids into the bath. I would pray for David’s safety and my sanity. But all the while, something had been set in motion that I didn’t recognize. An invisible force that had far more power in my home than I could ever have imagined. The past.

Memories are tremendous. They connect us to happier moments and remind us of people and events. They link us to those we love. But their power doesn’t end there. They also hold the potential to forever tie you to tragedy and trauma. To haunt and torment and link you to a past event that is nothing short of horrific.

As a country, we have come a long way in understanding and treating PTSD as it relates to our military. But it would appear to me that we are decades behind in our treatment and recognition of PTSD in our first responders.

So why did I write Distressed?

Two reasons. 1. To authentically show the world of the first responder and those closest to him and 2. To bring awareness to the realities of PTSD as it pertains to first responders.

It is our story in part. But it had to be more than just our story. It has to be bigger than that. Because I know, there are a number of other first responders and their families who are currently suffering in silence.

It has to be about them too.

 


Nov 9 2013

Why do I write?

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To paint a picture. A picture that gives real perspective. A perspective that goes beyond our Sunday best and drives us into the heart of others.

For the last several years, since I started taking this writing journey seriously, I’ve asked myself this question often.Whatever you may think the writing life looks like, you’re probably wrong. No disrespect. Just saying.

Writers stare at the screen and wrestle. We wrestle with words. With plots and characters. And we wrestle with self-doubt. Which is perhaps the greatest understatement of the century. Self-doubt sounds like something you find in a Disney movie. But what I’m talking about is the kind of crippling uncertainty that renders a person slightly unstable.

So why do it?

I’ve heard responses that are close to the mark. “I’m ruined to do anything else.” “I love to write so much I can’t not write.”

But I stumbled today on my reason. An epiphany of sorts. I’ve danced around the idea for a couple years but it hit me square between the eyes today.

David and I finished watching a movie this morning. End of Watch. I still have tears streaming down my face. A movie about two LAPD officers who are ambushed. One of the partners is killed. We watched the graphic portrayal of his end of watch. The scenes are heart wrenching and the cop sitting next to me kept saying, “That’s so real.”

You can take the man out of the uniform but you can’t take the uniform out of the man. We sat and watched pieces of our reality play out on screen. It was more than a movie. It was a realistic portrayal of the life of a cop.

So why do I write?

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My first novel, “Distressed” which releases soon, is a story about what a cop life can do to a marriage. To a family.

More than anything, I want the world to see. To see and smell and feel what it might be like to walk in another person’s reality. We have all been taught to walk a mile in another person’s shoes but how often do we actually take the time to do that?

What if you could read a book that put you in another person’s shoes? What if you could read a story and really see and feel the life of someone else? The characters and plot may not be reality but the emotion is. And it’s universal.

So why do I write?

I write to move people from their comfortable into the hurting world. Anyone can sympathize, or imagine what someone else might be feeling. But the well of humanity is much deeper than that.

Sympathy wipes a tear, but empathy embraces.

I write because I want to feel what others are feeling. And I write because I hope others want the same thing.

 


Sep 21 2013

A day of soccer and thank you’s

Thank a police officer

A few weeks ago, my twelve year old son started soccer in a fifteen and under division. Not only is he a rookie, but he is also at least a foot shorter than most of the other players. At a game last night, our team started the last quarter ahead by two. The goalie had done a great job but was tired of being in the line of fire. He took off the bright orange jersey and the gloves and tried to pass them off. No takers, until he got to my son.

My heart stopped as I saw Isaac pull the larger-than-life jersey over his head and push his hands into the gloves. I was reminded of what he looked like so many years ago as he would follow his dad around the house, helping with repairs. He tried to fill boots that were too big and wear gloves that continually succumbed to the pull of gravity and headed for the ground.

The game continued and the last quarter seemed to last a lifetime. The other team attacked our goal. Maybe they smelled blood. They were determined. Shot after shot. Those of us on the sidelines held our breath for minutes at a time.

The whistle blew. Although our opponents had managed to get two goals past my son, he had thwarted another five or so attempts. The game was over and we had won.

On the way home, I asked him if he volunteered to be goalie. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “No one else seemed to want to do it. And someone has to.” He had played goalie before. He knew the pressure. He understood that he would be standing alone. Protecting a large area and taking the heat first from his opponents and secondly from his teammates, should he fail.

Today is a national day, set aside to say “Thank you” to a police officer. Life isn’t a game. But I can’t help but see some similarities. Everyday, police officers put on a different color. A color that set’s them apart from their opponents and from their community. They may not wear gloves but they wear a band of tools around their middle that remind them of the gravity of their position.

They stand, often alone, between those who wish to score. And if they fail, they receive criticism and flak from their community.

It is easy to forget that we are on the same team. That someone has to put on the bright orange shirt and gloves and stand against the opponents of liberty and freedom.

Gratitude doesn’t mean we always agree with their decisions. Gratitude means we acknowledge the place they choose to stand. Say thank you to another human being who attempts to fill the shoes of men like Superman and Spiderman. They may not be superheroes but they are heroes none-the-less. And don’t be surprised if your “Thank you” is met with a similar response to the one my son gave.

A shrug of shoulders and a reply, “Someone has to do it.”

 


Apr 1 2013

Things Change…

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Hey! Remember me?

I know it’s been awhile.

Believe it or not, I ran out of things to say. At least things I thought would actually be coherent. So, I dropped off the blogging grid. Took a hiatus. But I’m back. And before I go any further, it needs saying that I’m not guaranteeing coherent or profound. Just for the record.

The last year of blogging has been relevant to the law enforcement life. As the wife of a CHP Lieutenant, and writing a novel based on law enforcement PTSD, the topics that sprang to life for me revolved around those issues.

But things change.

My husband officially retired after almost thirty years. We moved from civilization to rural America. We remodeled a house and now we are leaving on an epic adventure. The law enforcement life seems like a distant memory. In some ways, I think that’s for the better.

I am proud of the service my husband gave and the support we were able to give him. His was a noble profession.

But things change.

I had a conversation with a friend today about the life of a professional sports player. They make a ton of money. But they cannot last for thirty years. The smart ones plan ahead. They sacrifice in the moment. Bring home the bucks. Then they buy a car dealership and give up the physical abuse on their bodies.

While a career in law enforcement is not technically lucrative, I think there’s a parallel. There’s a large probability of injury running the gamut of paper cuts to fatal shootings and everything in between. A cop puts their body in harms way to put food on the table for his family. And, the smart ones plan.

You will not be a cop forever. Just like you can’t pitch a ball at 90 miles an hour forever.

Things change.

We didn’t buy a car dealership. Just a small ranch in Nevada. And my husband planned. He invested in himself and his family through the course of his career. After thirty years, he still has a life to lead. His identity is his name, not his ID number. His value as a person isn’t reflected in his annual reviews or his ability to do his job. His value as a person is reflected in the faces of his friends and family.

So we are going to take a sabbatical. An adventure to see the unknown. We’ve never been to Europe so we are going. Being associated with a badge number for thirty years is enough to change a person and the people around them. But it doesn’t have to define them.

It’s just a number.

Because after all, things change. Even numbers.


Dec 14 2012

Today’s news in Connecticut

Yesterday, I started to write this blog. It was totally different. I was going to take a break. Let you know that I would be back after the holidays.

And then I saw the news today.

That in itself is a miracle. Since I live in the middle of nowhere we have no television. But today was a town day. We stopped for lunch and watched the events in play-back on the television above our table.

Horrific. Nauseating. Overwhelming.

Then, during one of the news clips of various shots of the scene, I saw a uniform. Several in fact.

Another day at work.

And my heart broke again.

They will write their reports. Possibly have a debriefing about the horror they saw. And they will go home. Their wives could possibly have also had a stressful day. Sick children. Broken appliances. The stress of knowing her husband was on scene.

But regardless of what it may look like on the outside. Life does not just go back to normal.

Being married to a law enforcement officer is like being handed a bucket. Every incident and trauma that your spouse witnesses becomes a brick in your bucket. Even if they don’t tell you about it. There is something you can see in their eyes. In the way they hug their children. In the way they bark security measures. What changes them, changes you.

The bucket gets heavier. 

I refuse to use the word burden. It’s not that kind of bucket. But whatever name you give it, it’s presence is unavoidable.

I’ve carried that bucket. In some ways I still do. Life changes us. There is no going back.  But I want to share a secret I’ve learned. A message to the wives of those officers from Connecticut. And to anyone else who carries the bucket.

You love your husband. You gladly carry the bucket. A sign of solidarity. You think you are alone in that. Your friends can’t see the bucket and sometimes your family can’t either.

But you are not alone. 

If nothing else, you have sisters who also stand behind the Thin Blue Line. We see your bucket and we are praying for you and your family. We pray too for the families of those who lost someone, but we don’t forget the one’s called to serve and protect and the one’s who love them.

You are in our prayers. You are in our hearts. We see your bucket.

May our prayers lift your load and may we all look to the day when Peace rules.


Nov 21 2012

Thanksgiving Memory

“Are you ready?” He smiled at me as I climbed in and he shut the door.

“Uh-huh!” I glanced at him so that he wouldn’t see the terror in my eyes. Calm down! He’s not taking you to jail.

And he pulled the patrol car out of the driveway.

“I’m probably not going to write any tickets today. It’s Thanksgiving.”

My terror turned to disappointment. Reinforcing an underlying belief that I thought myself crazy. Apparently, I felt someone should go to jail. Just not me. A shining humanitarian moment.

“Oh. Okay.” Attempting to mask my neurosis.

He pointed the car toward his beat. That stretch of road that he was assigned to cover for the day. He parked on the shoulder of the freeway. Giving himself a view. And then he started a conversation.

It was challenging to follow. An unfamiliar female voice kept chanting all manner of numbers and letters and random words. She vied for attention but he continued to talk. Zebra and Mary and King. What is she trying to say?

“Um, feel free to stop and listen.”

“Oh, don’t worry. I’m listening.”

To who? Her or me?

But the conversation continued. My senses were a bit maxed but I tried to hang in there. Nodding where appropriate and still trying to act natural. The profuse sweating of my hands distracted me from the issue of what position to put them in.

“Darn it.” And the conversation stopped. He started the car and pulled out.

Remember Clark Kent? He would duck into a phone booth? (Remember phone booths?) Anyway, he would rip the front of his shirt and in seconds be transformed from journalist to superhero. I’ve seen something similar. David went from normal conversation to police officer in a fraction of a second.

I sat rigid in the passenger seat as he pursued an SUV barreling down the freeway. Lights flashing. An electricity charged the air. The conversation was gone. He was focused. Alert. And I was no longer a companion. I was a spectator.

I watched in amazement at this man I thought I knew. His composure and calm was mind boggling as he confronted the unknown. I became acutely aware of my lack. My lack of knowledge. My lack of authority. My lack of courage.

What would I do if the driver shot him right in front of me? Could I ever marry a man whose job required him to put himself in such a precarious position?

And then an amazing thing happened. I saw it. The razor sharp edge of the thin blue line. Sending him off to work meant endangering a part of my soul. He had my heart.

There would always be a part of him that I could not follow. I could give him my heart but I could never control where he took it. Or the possible dangerous positions he would put it in. That was just going to be part of the deal.

That was over fourteen years ago. (Difficult to believe based on the above photo. That’s not really me by the way and that’s not the really the car. Just in case there is any confusion.) My first and I think only ride along. A lot has changed since then. Children, moving, and now retirement. Oh, and moving out of state. That’s a rather big change. But one thing is the same.

He still has my heart. And on this Thanksgiving, I’m truly thankful.

What are you thankful for?

 

 

 


Nov 15 2012

Back the Badge

 

I’ve written about being a part of the thin blue line. Joining the prestigious family of law enforcement as the spouse of an officer.

In those early years, I learned a great deal. Don’t leave the garage door open all day. Don’t answer the door during the middle of the day. Give my husband some room after work to decompress.

I also learned a few codes. The important ones.

51-50. Crazy person. I felt it was important to learn this one should it ever creep up during an argument. If he was going to call me crazy, I was at least going to know about it.

The other one I learned early on was 11-99. Officer needs help.

But last Saturday, after almost 14 years, I learned something new.

There is strength in numbers.

A fellow law enforcement wife, Rae Johnsen, felt it was time to bring law enforcement wives together and she was right. Spouses from many different law enforcement agencies came together, under one roof. She called us to Back the Badge.

Women came locally, from a hundred miles away and everything in between. A group of strong, independent women who support their law enforcement husbands.

It’s easy to tear a single piece of paper. It’s far more difficult to tear a phone book.

Over a hundred women gathered and put their pages together. We laughed and cried. And an amazing thing happened.

We didn’t stage a coup. Or start a crusade. We didn’t design our own flag. We didn’t talk politics or promotions.

We discovered common ground. 

And I learned I wasn’t alone. I am not the only woman who has learned and is learning to live in the in-between. That place where the stress of the law enforcement life and the isolation of the law enforcement life collide.

On those days when the stress is bearing down and the fear of the unmentionable looms large, all I have to do is remember that day. The smiles, the hugs, the knowing nods. I’m not alone. And even better, I’m not crazy. There are a whole group of women who get me and get a part of my journey.

A group of women who have been taught not to trust others, found each other. And we discovered there is strength in numbers. If you haven’t discovered that feeling yet, you should. And although there isn’t another Back the Badge event scheduled (yet), there are other ways to get connected.

Here are some options to check out:

Back the Badge (on Facebook)

Wives Behind the Badge (www.wivesbehindthebadge.org)

You have your spouse’s back, but maybe someone should have yours.

Have you found strength in numbers?


Nov 8 2012

The Invisible Blue Line

There isn’t a gold star pinned to my chest or a gun at my hip. I don’t carry handcuffs with me (although I have thought about it. Having three kids and all.) No one has ever died in my arms. I have never had to pick up a detached limb off the freeway.

But, I am part of the thin blue line.

The invisible part.

I am proud of my husband and the career he chose. He demonstrates honor and courage and compassion. But it’s not just him. Being married to a first responder means that I am called to demonstrate the same.

I am part of the thin blue line.

The invisible part.

I listen to stories. Comedic and tragic. I wipe tears and return smiles. I am a confidant, a cheerleader and a counselor. A partner.

I am part of the thin blue line.

The invisible part.

I don’t wear the uniform and I don’t see what he sees. But I am not numb to what he feels. The burden of the fatal he dealt with is shared. I’m not pretending to have experienced it. Not in entirety. But I do feel it.

I am part of the thin blue line.

The invisible part.

In a few weeks, my husband steps away from the thin blue line. But one cannot escape thirty years of experience. It is impossible to step away from the memories and the events. Those are the things that define him. He will still be courageous and full of honor and compassion. It has never just been about the job. Regardless of the uniform he wears or the title he carries, those are all parts of who he is. Parts that make up the whole.

And what will I do? I will continue to listen. To wipe tears and share smiles. I look forward to still being a confidant, a cheerleader, and a counselor.

I will always be a partner.

He will no longer be a police officer. The uniform will be retired. But the thin blue line cannot be erased fromour history or from our hearts. It will forever be a part of who we are. Only it will now be…

the invisible part.

 


Nov 1 2012

The Weight of the World

The annual Halloween party has come and gone. This year, it was held the night of our epic moving sale. Epic in the sense that all living room furniture is gone and all bedroom furniture from our bedroom is gone save our bed. I watched it all drive off to new homes. Saying good-bye to bearers of memories and probably a few lost coins.

With last vestiges of energy, I was tasked with transforming our eight year old daughter into a rock star and our nine year old daughter into an ice fairy. After makeup and clouds of colored hairspray, I had a few minutes left to figure out how to transform myself. This is not the first year I have tried to convince myself that haggard mom of three is actually a costume.

I thought I carried the weight of the world. 

And then my husband came to my rescue. “Here,” he smiled, “wear this.”

Moments later, clad in combat boots, bloused pants, a old tattered bullet proof vest and a cap, I was ready to go. From haggard mother of three to tattered security guard. All evening, I clod around in the twenty pound boots and pulled on the twenty pound vest, threatening to strangle me.

I thought I carried the weight of the world.

“Is it normal to suddenly feel like you can’t breathe?” I asked my husband.

“Yeah,” he said. “That’s normal.”

As we said our good-byes, I fantasized about getting home and taking off the heavy vest and the weights on my feet. And then it struck me.

I thought I carried the weight of the world.

But I don’t. I carry the weight of my own little world. Dishes, laundry, carpools. And it gets heavy. But my law enforcement husband, the one who puts on these weights everyday actually does carry the weight of the world.

The kidnapper, the car thief. The hostile woman late for work. The guy with the felony warrant who has a tail light out but pulls a gun because he has far more to lose than a fix-it-ticket. The accident scene where a mother realizes her baby didn’t make it. The notification to the parents of the teenager who was going to fast and struck a tree and wouldn’t be graduating after all.

I discovered a valuable thing. Yes, the boots and vest are heavy. Not to mention the duty belt laden with tools of the trade. But they symbolize something that weighs even more. The commitment to do the hard thing. To serve the public and keep them safe whether they like it or not.

A heavy burden.

I thought I was tired before the party. I thought carting around those boots and that vest was difficult. But in a room full of fairies and rock stars, my boots and vest were just a costume. I could set down the weights at the end of the party and simply hold on to the pictures. Fun reminders of a another year.

But for those who really do carry the weight of the world, they need no help to remember. Sights and smells are imbedded in their memories. And all those faces and all those incidents are difficult to forget.

It must feel like the weight of the world.

 

photo credit:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/infinitejeff/69254223/

 



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