Thursday, December 2, 2010

Helping Survivors Survive the Holidays

Last night I had the privilege of having dinner with two very good friends, who happen to have very important jobs they never wanted: President of Concerns of Police Survivors, Linda Moon Gregory (surviving sister of Officer James Moon), and Director of National Outreach, Jennifer Thacker (surviving spouse of Investigator Brandon Thacker). You see, they never wanted their jobs because you have to be a survivor of a fallen officer in order to have them.

During the course of discussion the topic of the holidays came up, specifically how hard it is for "new" survivors to make it through the season without their loved one. I asked them for a little guidance that I could share with both survivors and law enforcement officers on how to cope during such an emotional period. Here's what they suggested:

 For members of the fallen officer's agency:
  1. Simply send a Christmas or holiday card saying "we're thinking of you."
  2. Invite the surviving family (spouse, children, parents, siblings, etc.) to any holiday socials the agency or association is planning, and don't be offended if they decline or don't show up.
  3. Send a gift or gift card.
  4. If you setup a Christmas tree in the lobby or at the FOP/association building, invite the family to decorate it. Ask them to make or buy a special ornament that remembers their officer. Consider decorating the tree with blue lights.
  5. With anything you do, include ALL family members. Losing an officer impacts not only the spouse, but also the children, parents, siblings, grandparents and other close extended family.
For the survivors:
  1. If invited to the department's holiday party, attend if you feel up to it, but don't feel obligated to go if you're not. The officers won't be offended if you're a no-show.
  2. Establish a new tradition to honor your officer like lighting a candle or buying/making a special ornament.
  3. Surround yourself with "safe" people; family and friends who can listen and be there to support you.
  4. Don't feel like you have to decorate for the holidays.
  5. Don't hesitate to ask for help. Reach out to family, coworkers, or other survivors if you need help with something around the house, shopping, or just to talk.
On that last point above, if you have no one else to talk to, call another survivor from COPS. COPS members are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The COPS National Office can provide contact information for appropriate points of contact in any state by calling 573-346-4911 during business hours. After hours, you can call a representative from your local or state chapter. If your state doesn't have a chapter, call a rep from a neighboring state.

Lastly, for everyone reading this, you can show your support for all fallen officers and their survivors by participating in Project Blue Light. It's as simple as sticking a blue light in one of your windows throughout the holiday season.

As a fundraiser, COPS sells a special LED candle designed by Streamlight®. Order one (or more) today and display it proudly for all of your neighbors to see. If you have other interesting ways you participate in Project Blue Light, post it in the comments section below so others can get ideas on how to participate as well.