The Cancer We Face, And Why We Continue

More from the anonymous Sacramento Deputy who has written a few things here in the past.

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I’ve been a cop for 22 years this month.  I remember pretty vividly my academy days, and how I dreamt of one day being a cop.  I remember jail training very clearly, as I also remember the several years I spent working there.  I remember patrol training, and I remember my first day as a finalized, brand new patrol cop, September 11, 2001.

I remember the men and women I have worked with over the years.  I remember the feelings I have had toward them, the brotherhood, the family.  I even remember working with a few people that I did not like, in fact there were a couple at one point or another that I despised.  But if they called for help, no matter who they were, no matter if I liked them or not, without question, doubt or hesitation, I went, as did everyone else, because that is what we do.

I remember the very first funeral I attended for a fallen deputy from my department.  I remember listening to her teenage daughter talking about her mom, and how she was going to miss her.  I remember sitting there in that church, crying, in my dress uniform, wondering how the daughter managed to stay as composed as she was, while I sat there trying to hide the tears on my cheeks.

I remember every single “officer down” call I was ever on, even those from other local agencies.

I remember that gut wrenching feeling you get when you hear those dreaded words on the radio, “shots fired, officer down!”  I remember wondering why in the hell my car would not go any faster.

In fact, I blew up two different cars responding to officers who were shot.  Both cars suffered a crack in the intake manifold.  How in the hell do you crack an intake manifold?  I have no idea, but I’ve done it, twice.  One of those cops survived, the other did not, leaving behind his three children.

I remember sitting at home with my eldest son, who was barely 3 at the time, when I got a call from a close friend and coworker telling me that two of my coworkers were dead and another was in a coma.  I remember the helpless, useless feeling that day.  I remember sitting on the couch, hugging my son and crying while watching the news coverage.  I remember being angry at God for what happened, even though I know it was not his fault.

Over the next several years, I would lose more coworkers to both accidents and murders.  And each one took a chunk of me with them.

I again got to experience that same helpless, useless feeling four years ago as I listened to the radio from home as my coworkers hunted a man who had just murdered another coworker.  As I listened, the same scumbag murdered a deputy from a neighboring department while he fled from mine.  I listened, unable to do anything, wishing I could be there to help, needing to be there to help, but stuck.

Just barely three years after that, as I got into the car leaving lunch, I heard those dreaded words on the radio, “officers down, multiple officers with gunshot wounds.”  My partner and I drove to the scene and while I was of little actual help, being there with my family in blue, made that scene a little easier to handle, until I learned that the man most seriously wounded was a man I went to the academy with, and he had just died.

As a man, as a cop, I was always under the impression that I am not supposed to cry.  As a human, I am a big bowl of mush and have always been on the emotional side.  So now, I’m doing what I can to choke back the tears.  I need to stay busy, give me something to do.  The tears can wait until I get home, and they did, thankfully.

I can remember just about every service from every cop funeral I have been to.  And to this day, thinking about them makes me emotional.

They add up.  The grief doesn’t go away.  It is cumulative.  The hole continues to grow, like a malignant cancer.

Just when you think your soul is starting to mend, another cop gets killed.  The cancer comes out of remission and hits you full force.  The pain is so strong, it feels like not a day has gone by since the last one.

Here I am, barely one year since I buried my academy classmate, and I am polishing up my badge and leather gear, making sure my Class A uniform is clean and pressed, finding my hat that only gets worn for funerals, so I can go bury yet another coworker.

In the academy, they told us to always take care of number one, and you are number one.  They told us to exercise, eat right, and live healthy, that way we would make it through our career in good physical condition so we could enjoy the retirement we earned.  However, little was done to prepare us for the constant emotional drain, or the loss of your friend and coworker, your family member.  I mean, in reality, how do you prepare someone for that?  Especially when it happens with such frequency.

A friend of mine whom I’ve come to know only recently wrote this piece just before he retired one year ago.  In it, he talks about all the cops that were killed during his career.  It is sobering, and sad.  During his 29 year career, 4,122 cops died in the line of duty.

4,122!

That is too many.

I don’t know how I am going to make it through this funeral coming up, but I will.  We will.  I owe it to my blue family to be there, and not just for the fallen, but for all of those who must carry on.  We need each other to lean on, for support and strength, and for understanding.

It reminds me of a line from the movie Blackhawk Down.  “When I go home, people ask me, ‘Hey Hoot, why do you do it, man? Why? You some kind of war junkie?’  I won’t say a goddamn word. Why? They won’t understand. They won’t understand why we do it. They won’t understand it’s about the men next to you… and that’s it. That’s all it is.”

Society doesn’t understand cops.  Some fear us, some resent us, some hate us, and still there are some who love us, but none of them understands us.  Hell, for many of us, our own families don’t understand us.  The only people who truly understand cops, are cops.  We are here for each other, always.  We find strength in each other.  And we will once again find the strength to bury our fallen brother, knowing that as we bury him, we bury a little bit of ourselves.  After that, we will carry on, watching each other’s backs, supporting each other, understanding each other, being there for each other, because if we don’t, who will?

We also know that we will sometime in the future, hopefully not soon, but eventually, be burying yet another member of our blue family, and another.

A couple days ago, I was ready to throw in the towel and walk away.  I was hurt and angry.  A coworker of mine, a friend from my academy days, reached out to me, knowing I was hurting, and sent me something that really hit home.  With his permission, I am going to share his words here, and end this post with his words to me.  For those others who might be wavering like I was, this may help.

“I wanted to say something encouraging, but words are failing right now. The constant drum beat of our fallen brothers and sisters is echoing in my heart tonight and it HURTS!

Like you, I’ve shed tears for a kid I didn’t know, but we do know him, don’t we, even if we’ve never met because we are him, just further along the trail.

I cling to the belief that what we do is a noble calling, that we truly stand between that animal and citizens who are just trying to live their lives. That, along with my faith in Christ, is what sustains me.

I got home today and hugged my wife, and knowing that there is a family tonight which is shattered…and I cried for them, I cried for those in our blue family who knew Mark and are broken, I cried selfish tears because, I too am exhausted by the toll the last 22 years have taken.

And tomorrow I will strap on my gun and badge, I will do my duty and be thankful that I serve alongside heroes known and unknown. Be well, my friend. We are in this together, and we will survive and do everything we can as we train our fellow officers so that this never happens again…yet knowing it will.

We shoulder that burden because it is WORTH IT, even on days like today when the load is oh so heavy.”

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Matt
Deputy Sheriff at California
Matt is a full time Deputy Sheriff that has been on the job since 1996. During his time as a LEO he's attended countless training classes and is a court recognized firearms expert. Matt brings a unique perspective to discussion regarding the second amendment given his LEO experience and life time appreciation of firearms and our 2nd Amendment rights.
  • rjsnow

    Thank you for sharing, I’m not a cop my wife is. I cry too been to to many funerals.
    Went with a friend to both of the funerals, two in two days, my wife worked with him, the friend said afterwards, I never cryed so much for someone I didn’t know, I thanked her for coming with me.
    I went to Oakland.
    This time I watched on my phone the funeral, then went to an overpass to stand for the family.
    There was an American flag with a blue line and many small flags, many people waving.
    What I wasn’t prepared for was the people before the procession started, horns of support from average Joe’s like me, Americans waving and beeping support, lots and lots. I smiled inside.

    I think Most people want law and order not lawlessness. You wouldn’t get that from watching the politicians or the news media and that’s sad.