Police Week, a place of honor, camaraderie, and a wonderful tribute to the law enforcement profession. Established to honor all law enforcement “designated the week in recognition of the contribution the police officers of America have made to our civilization through their dedicated and selfless efforts in enforcing our laws, and has also designated Peace Officers Memorial Day in honor of the Federal, State, and municipal peace officers who have been killed or disabled in line of duty.” All officers are to be honored, all disabled are to be recognized. All. Living, deceased, active, retired, every duty status – all of them.
In 2019, I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth when we brought our families, the ones who lost an officer to suicide, and was told, among other things, we didn’t belong there. There are a variety of events for families who lose an officer to one of the traditional line of duty deaths, a truly memorable experience to honor their loved one while their name is etched permanently on a wall of honor and millions of dollars are raised for the organizations that support them.
Each year, there is a ceremony on the lawn of the capital where the names of the officers are read, and the families place a flower in a memorial wreath. Last year, I found out that at the end of ceremony, one name is read from non-traditional categories such as cancer and “those who suffered silently”. They get to place one flower to represent the hundreds lost to their cause of death.
On Friday, I was humbled to be asked to provide the names of two families to represent “those who suffered silently” because there will be two wreaths this year. With COVID, there will be over 500 names read and two for suicide, even though more officers die by suicide than any other cause of death, except COVID, each year. I had no idea how I would choose two families from the 1,200+ in our database. Being so close to so many of the and knowing their stories, I knew I would not be able to decide who would attend. How could I possibly choose only two? Our team selected the daughter and a widow of officers we lost to suicide. Such an amazing honor for us and them.
Unfortunately, because we are only three weeks out from Police Week, it won’t be the trip we had hoped. One family can go, the other can only send one person because can’t get out of work and get a babysitter for their newborn in time. I was asked by that family member to escort her, an honor beyond words. The hotels under $300/night are all booked, and the flights only have premium seats left. Because these families don’t receive benefits, it’s not easy for them to make trips like this. I called a few friends and saved a little money. Forge Health stepped up to help with the expenses. Inside the Badge is providing spending money for their trip. But, they won’t have escorts when they arrive. There will be no special events for them. They will sit through hundreds of names being read to be the sole representatives of the thousands lost to suicide. They could be lost in the crowd.
But they won’t be. They will stand with pride and emotion beyond comprehension knowing they are representing so much and their loved one mattered. They will also have one very special moment that most of these families will never experience. They will be equal. The flower in the wreath with be one amongst many, you won’t be able to tell which one is which. The officers who did not suffer silently but pleaded for help, the officers who were ignored, the families who now suffer silently will have a moment where they are represented as equal. The wreath is a representative of all who gave. Each year, for one moment in time, they are equal. Someday, they will call it suicide at the ceremony.
Someday they will be equal every day. For now, we are grateful for each opportunity our families have to honor their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and children. We are grateful for progress.