It was last Friday evening around 2000 hours. I was at my desk and about to pull the plug on a hectic day. It was time to join my wife of 152 years and watch a little TV.
BLATT! BLATT! BLATT! My phone was obnoxiously demanding my attention with the announcement of an incoming text message. It’s really loud so that I can hear it … most of the time. The boss (a/k/a wife) just loves the, “dammed thing,” when it goes off.
A TEXT FROM MY OLD PAL, DAN
I met Dan and his coworker, Mike, about a dozen years ago in the Florida Crossover Academy. We became a study team and helped each other get through it – along with passing the state certification test.
Subsequently, I had been on a few ride-alongs with Dan. I also applied to his agency, but that didn’t work out. On a few occasions, Dan and I – with our wives – got together socially.
Dan is one of those friends who all guys have: we don’t see each other or talk very often. But, when we do, we can pick right up where we left off, without missing a beat.
THE WORDS JUMPED OFF THE SCREEN
“Lost one of our own, yesterday. Sergeant Buddy Flynn. I worked with him for eight years before he retired a couple of years ago. He put a bullet in his head yesterday at home, here in town. I was working.”
A moment later, another text arrived.
The last text took my breath away.
Not another suicide. God, when will it stop?!
I responded by asking if I could call him and the response was immediate, “Sure.”
When Dan answered the phone, I knew right away that he was on edge by the sound of his voice. I paused and then asked the obligatory question, “How are you?”
He responded with the standard, “OK. I’m fine.”
“You’re lying,” was my reaction which may have been a little brash on my part.
WAR STORY (short, I promise)
I regularly get calls from cops who want to talk. I suppose it’s because I have invited them to call if they ever need an ear – or two.
There’s Zach in New Mexico and Jordan in Michigan. I won’t go into all of that here/now. You get the idea.
I’m here if someone needs to unload. They need an ear. They want someone who will just listen and maybe … ask a question, or two. No advice and no judgement. Not ever.
Just a plain cop who cares and will listen. That’s me.
BACK TO DAN
I asked Dan to tell me about the brother he lost.
“He was a really good guy. From time-to-time, we were on the same shift. It was often said that Buddy was one of the good ones.”
Dan went on, “Sarge retired a couple of years ago. At about the same time, his wife left him for another man. They had three kids, 2 girls in their late teens and a son in his early teen years.”
Dan went on to tell me that whenever the city or the department had a function of any kind, Buddy would show up and seek him out since he retired. Buddy always had a wide smile and a very happy demeanor with a lot of laughter.
Then, Dan paused.
Buddy’s ex called the PD yesterday morning, asking us to do a welfare check.
He had failed to show up to go somewhere with his son. She had called the house; no answer. She drove by the house; his car was there. She was puzzled.
“I was busy on a call at the time,” Dan told me, “a couple of other guys on our crew went over and gained access to the house. They found him in the bedroom.”
The duty bag he carried every day was on the bed. His metal clipboard still had a bunch of forms in it.
Buddy had retrieved the weapon he was given by the department when he retired.
“He put a bullet through his right temple,” Dan whispered as he was on the verge of tears.
I asked Dan if he had ever been to the funeral of a cop who had taken his own life. His answer was, No.
WAR STORY #2
I relayed my experience with close-range suicide to Dan. It happened about a year prior to me meeting Dan and Mike.
I was handling the training of street cops on computer-based traffic tickets for a software company. I had been sent to an agency on the Treasure Coast of Florida. I had been on many ride-alongs there, conducted in-service training and gotten to know the guys over the course of a month’s time.
I got a call one evening. A long-serving sergeant, whom I knew quite well, had committed suicide.
He seemed a happy person who was in control. Stunned is a good word to describe my reaction.
I went to the evening visitation and the funeral on the following day. One of the young guys sobbed almost constantly. The sergeant had been his first FTO and mentor. The other guys milled about not knowing what to say, do or think. There were moments of anger, other moments of joy and everything in between.
Dan said their guys were acting much the same. No one knew what to do or what to say. They seem shell-shocked.
WHAT THE HELL DO WE DO NOW?
Cops grieve differently than normal people. We grieve by being together. Period.
It doesn’t matter what we are doing. All that matters is we are together and have the freedom to talk openly among ourselves. What emerges are our feelings and thoughts about what has happened. Some of the questions will be asked many times:
- Why didn’t he say something or call one of us?
- Why didn’t someone realize that he was struggling?
- Why didn’t someone on our crew see the symptoms: retired and suddenly divorced / alone.
We all felt guilty because we (collectively) dropped the ball. We failed someone whom we loved and cared for.
Within a few days, each cop on your crew will begin asking themselves, “Who else might be struggling that has not been recognized?”
You will come to grips when you realize that a guy whom you knew and who seemed happy with life was horribly miserable, inside.
The real recognition comes with this thought:
It could have been me.
LOVE FOR EACH OTHER IS AT THE CORE OF WHO WE ARE, AS COPS.
Read the previous statement again.
We each took an oath where we swore to take a bullet for a brother without hesitation.
“I will die for you,” you promised.
From the Bible: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his brother.
We can share anything with our brothers and we can ask any question.
Well, almost anything …
- Don’t ask your brother, “When you have sex, how big is your … (fill in the blank)”
- Don’t ask your brother if his wife’s breasts are fake.
Just about anything else is OK between us cops.
- Are you OK?
- You’ve seem distracted lately. Is something bothering you?
- Are you pissed-off at someone?
- How’s your faith?
- What can I do for (or with) you?
In closing, if you think someone is having difficulty – of any kind – let them know that they are not alone. You are there 24×7.
Most important, remind them, “You are my brother and I love you.”
“Above all, it’s about going home at the end of the shift … “
We couldn’t agree more.
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