On August 28, 2015, a uniformed officer was shot to death “execution style” in broad daylight while pumping gas. This horrific murder was a deliberate killing, and it happened in the state where I live.
Words cannot describe the sadness I felt for the officer’s family. I could only imagine what his wife and children would have to go through. Law enforcement officers’ families across the country mourned the loss, while most of the country just watched the news and sighed. Some must have said, “Oh, how sad.” Unfortunately, a few silently applauded, idolizing the shooter.
That afternoon I received a phone call from JoAnne, a young, new police wife. It was Robert, her husband’s first day to work solo. He’d been “cut loose,” as my husband calls it, which is his slang for describing the day a rookie officer goes out on his own after completing his time with a training officer.
I heard and felt the concern in JoAnne’s voice over the phone.
“Did you hear the news about the deputy shooting?” she asked in an almost panicked tone. “He was shot and killed, and all he was doing was pumping gas!
What do I do? How do I handle this?”
My heart sank. Quickly I gathered my thoughts, and then I realized how important it was to share with JoAnne how I personally learned to cope with these tragic events. I know her well. She’s a pretty tough gal and would have seen right through a sugarcoated response.
“Pray for his family and your husband,” I said calmly, “and turn off the news. Limit your time on social media right now to avoid hearing more about this offense.” And then I added my own one-liner, bluntly: “JoAnne, get used to it.”
The deep breath she took was audible.
“Yes, it’s heartbreaking,” I said. “Your compassion for the loss is understandable and deserved. However, it is important for your well-being to develop coping skills to manage the tragedies in the weekly news. If you don’t, they could tear you up inside.”
JoAnne agreed but went on to say, “I can’t just put my head in the sand. The news is everywhere!”
I held my tongue but thought silently, My head is never in the sand.
JoAnne was right. It seems impossible for police wives to bury their heads in the sand. They and their families are bombarded regularly with news like this story, especially on social media.
When my conversation with JoAnne ended, it was my turn to take a deep breath, say a prayer for this young LEOW and her husband, say another prayer for the fallen officer’s family, and then shed a silent tear.
That day JoAnne and Robert experienced the reality of losing a family member in our Blue Nation. I imagined the steps Robert would take, as he was about to begin his first solo shift. He would take a deep breath, set his thoughts aside, put on his vest and uniform, and prepare himself emotionally to go to work. I visualized JoAnne, in silence, closely watching Robert as he wrapped his badge with a black band, as he had been taught, to show his feeling of loss and to honor the fallen officer.
I imagined, in that moment, JoAnne’s own invisible bulletproof vest beginning to form. It would protect her in the same way his actual vest protected him.
You may not have picked up on it, but I don’t watch the news very often. That day, however, I wanted to know more. I was disturbed by the way the media addressed the officer’s murder so matter-of-factly. Also, I was shocked by how American society, for the most part, didn’t understand how the loss of a public servant could affect the community. My heart was heavy, and after the conversation with JoAnne, I felt the need to do something. But what?
How can I make a difference? I thought to myself. What can I do to help change the way society feels about police officers? Would it help law enforcement officer’s wives like JoAnne if I shared my own experiences?
Many years ago, I prepared a devotional for a Bible study class about what it was like to be married to a cop. The devotional was my response to the “The Law and Justice” Bible study guide the class was using to learn about the Old Testament stories of Moses and Joshua. When the time came, I presented my devotional to the class, which was a poem I entitled “Coffee and Donuts: A Tribute to My Husband.”
The class members were amazed and surprised by what they heard. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. They encouraged me to share my poem with others and copyright it. At the time, the thought of sharing what I had written with others outside of that room was more than I was ready for.
“Coffee and Donuts: A Tribute to My Husband” has been on display in a hallway in my home for over twenty years. This year I was drawn to reread it, and I decided it was time for me to share it, along with my story as the wife of a police officer, with those who are experiencing life with a LEO as well. Like the people in Bible study when I first presented the poem, I thought others might appreciate it or want to get a better understanding of the people behind the badge and those who support them.
As you read His Badge, My Story, you’ll feel my passion for life, family, God, and the pride I have for my husband. You’ll encounter intense emotions, many times entangled together, including love, loneliness, honor, pride, sadness, fear, anxiety, compassion, and frustration.
If you haven’t already, it won’t be long before you experience your own “coffee and donuts” stories as well as the web of emotions and struggles because of his badge, “the calling” your husband answered.
More than likely you will face hardships. Be prepared to face them with strength, honor, and courage. Most importantly, however, you will experience what it feels like to live with a hero. A feeling of pride will rush over you like chills from a cool breeze on a hot summer day. And that pride will deepen the love in your heart for the law enforcement officer in your life. My prayer is that you will find hope and strength, with God’s help, to overcome whatever challenges you face.
You can enjoy a lifetime of happiness with your officer even though you may hear the odds are against your marriage. Your life together is worth the fight. He needs you by his side. He needs your love, support, understanding, and lots of hugs—hugs he can feel all the way through his bulletproof vest. You need those hugs also, ones that enable you to feel his heart beating through the steel-like plate that protects him.
Keep in mind he will retire someday. When the two of you look back, you can say, together, “We did it. Job well done! We made it through the thrilling, roller- coaster ride in the world of law enforcement.”
So pull up a chair and get comfortable. It’s time for me to share our “coffee and donuts” stories.