Two weeks ago, I went into our closet to pull out the pieces of my husband’s police uniform in order to make sure that everything was ironed and ready and that all of the components were there so that he could work his paid duty that evening. If you aren’t familiar with what paid duties are, they are extra shifts that we have counted on to pay for Christmas gifts and car repairs. We are blessed that my husband has the opportunity to pick up paid duties for the extra money that sometimes we are desperate for. I stay home and homeschool our four kids and every penny is needed. On this day, my husband had already worked his normal shift as a detective in the fraud branch of our fairly large police service. He had to pop home in between shifts for a quick dinner and kisses and snuggles with the kids before going in to work another eight hour shift on very little sleep. This story is told hundreds of times, every single day by police families. The rushed eating, the kids crying about not seeing Daddy enough that day, the wife doing the bedtime routine alone again.
Let me just say right now that this post is from my point of view so it is going to be about a husband, a father. I know wonderful female police officers who kiss their kids and husbands good bye, who nurse their babies after a long night shift, who squeeze their growing bellies into their uniforms, trying to protect the new life growing there from the kicks of big bad men that are resisting arrest. I cannot even begin to imagine what it’s like to go to a priority call in the early stages of pregnancy. I cannot imagine working nights at eight months pregnant. I can’t imagine, with my mothering heart, holding a baby that has passed away. Our first responders, both male and female, alongside doctors and nurses face the horrors that most of us turn away from, on a daily basis. I stand behind them and support them with all that I am but this piece isn’t about them. It is about my guy, the father of my kids. I am writing about the man who has never once turned down a tickle fight with his kids even after the longest, most agonizing day. The man who instead of being crushed by yet another sudden death, comes home and holds me and focuses on what we have to be thankful for instead of letting the darkness grab hold.
So there I was, standing in our closet, looking at a sea of blue uniforms and I pulled out his bulletproof vest and I held it. Have you ever held your husband’s bulletproof vest? Few of us ever have to hold the only thing that could stand between a human heart and a bullet. It seems so thin but it is so heavy. It’s heavy both physically and emotionally. I see his name, stitched over and to the left of his heart. When he was first hired, their names were on pins but realizing that they could be injured by the sharp pin, the decision was made to move to the embroidered style of nametag. I see our last name, the name I took on the day that we spoke our vows… for better and for worse, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, til death do us part. I see the name that our children carry. I find his black, police issued pens everywhere. I pull them out of all of the pockets. I find his forage cap (police uniform hat) and our toddler grabs it runs around with it on her head. I pull out a black t-shirt from the large stack in his drawer and find black socks and make sure that he is dressed appropriately for the weather because it seems like he is always standing out in heavy rain, or a blizzard or a heat wave. Can you picture wearing that uniform in forty degree weather? Have you felt how heavy those boots are? My kids slip their little feet into daddy’s boots. Boots that have cut into his skin after standing at large festivals for eight hours straight. His eyes scan the crowd the entire time, on high alert, looking for drugs, weapons, suspicious activity and people come up to him and say things like, “Boy, you sure have an easy shift tonight” and he smiles past them, politely answers while never once breaking his moving gaze from the crowd that he is protecting. Boots that he has had to run in, through dark backyards, while hopping fences, chasing boys, twenty years younger. When was the last time that you hopped fences while the world slept?
Obviously we knew what we were getting into when he first applied to be a police officer. Back then we only had one baby and I found comfort in the fact that if our babies lost their daddy, he would be a hero. Just like with most things in life, we had no idea what it would actually feel like until we were living it and if anyone is interested, they can feel free to apply with their local service or at the very least, apply for a ride along. I feel like at this point, I need again to point out how dangerous the world is for SO many people but there isn’t enough time to do that in detail so please, save those comments. I know there is pain everywhere.
His uniform is pulled together now and his dinner is hot and ready. My husband is jumped on by four jubilant kids as he enters the door from work. He is dressed so nicely in his suit. He is in his second year of detectives and my worry has been massively eased, knowing that he is mostly working in a safe office now but we had many years of patrol and he will end up back on the road in a couple of years but for now, he’s safe in his tie and shiny shoes. He’s home on time and has a normal schedule after fourteen years of crazy schedules between the two of us. We chat as he stands at the counter and eats quickly. He listens enthusiastically to the kids’ stories of new Minecraft worlds and what birds visited our bird feeder today. I take his plate to the sink and he goes upstairs to get his uniform on. Layer upon layer, he is transformed into someone who is either a beacon of hope or someone to be feared and hated by others. I wish that both sides could see him, chatting cheerfully with me about his day, while buttoning up his shirt. I wish they could see the man behind the blue. The man that I will worry about until I hear his key in the front door while our kids sleep.
The worrying doesn’t go away with time. I will never get used to a text that reads, “I’m going to be late, we had a gun call.” I cannot tell you how many times, I have paced in front of our windows, watching the roads become slick with ice, knowing that it’s three in the morning and that the salt trucks aren’t out in force yet and while the cruisers have snow tires on, we can’t afford them on our family car so he will be driving home, over dark roads, in the middle of the night, exhausted. I often wake up out of a dead sleep and reach immediately for my phone to see if he has texted. Is he going to be late again? Yes, every shift is busy now. The world is very different than it was nearly a decade ago when he was first hired.
I am sitting on our bed and am taken aback by how handsome he looks in his uniform. I still wonder how I got so lucky! We have twenty minutes left as a family before his second shift of the day starts. He could spend that time checking Facebook but instead he kneels beside his wife and four kids on the floor and he chooses to pray our nightly rosary with us. This man, who is about to face the evils that we are praying against, is humbled, on his knees and I steal glances at him, deep in prayer and I can never understand what could possibly be going through his head before stepping out into the night to be the one who protects the innocent while they sleep. Our seven year old son, leads us in the St. Michael prayer, the patron saint of police officers, and I ask my reluctant husband if he could just sit with the kids for a quick photo on the couch because these days, they rarely see him in uniform so I want to have a photo.
He doesn’t know that I call this photo, “the last photo.” He doesn’t know that I have a collection, spanning nearly a decade, of “last photos” just in case… There is only a small percentage of spouses out there that seriously have to say goodbye with their whole heart when their partner leaves for work. Do you know how it feels to discuss increasing his life insurance because the climate of the world is anti-police right now and I can’t afford to raise four kids on my own with our measly savings. The brutal truth is that I take this last photo so that I have an up-to-date photo in case the media needs it, in case he dies. This last time, I didn’t have the chance to get the kids out of their dinner stained pajamas so I edited it to be black and white so you don’t see the tomato sauce and peanut butter. He doesn’t know that my heart trembles while I take the photo, he looks so happy with his kids in his arms and they look so safe wrapped under him and all I can think about is “what if this is the last photo”… Grim? Macabre? Maybe… but I don’t care. What if it is the last photo? I would be so thankful that I took it.
I would be so thankful that he spent those twenty minutes before leaving, on his knees, in prayer with his family.
I would be so thankful for those stolen glances at his perfect profile speaking the words, “…deliver us from evil…”
I was talking with a friend about this “last photo” this morning and she asked me to write this. She suggested that I ask all police spouses to share their own version of “the last photo,” to create a movement, to see the person behind the badge. Can you share this and ask those you know who are married to police officers if they are “ok”? Can you see if they need help when they are alone for the seventh evening in a row, putting kids to sleep? Can you send them a message when the media reports another horrific police death because let me tell you, we all bleed blue and cry for those who have fallen because they are one of our own. I see my tears on their wives faces and my children standing beside the casket.
I wish that I never had to write this but I am so thankful that I have this opportunity to open up about my deepest fear because the family waiting at home often keeps these things locked up at home because we have heard it all before and have learned to grow a thick skin. I don’t want to become a jaded police wife. We aren’t those people. My heart cries out for justice for ALL the victims and fatherless families. My heart aches for all of the mothers who are tucking their kids into bed alone tonight. This isn’t us versus them. This isn’t my pain versus yours. I just wanted to let you know that when you see a photo of my husband and kids on one of my social media accounts, what you didn’t know is that while I was taking it, I was hoping and praying that this photo would not become the last photo.