Police Psychology: Killed in the Line of Duty: A Different Peer Team Story
Susan Ciano Guest Author
The doorbell rang at 7am. I really did not give it much thought, it was most likely my husband. Glen returning home from working a 9pm – 7am shift as a Suffolk County Police Officer.Approaching the door I noticed 2 people standing on the stoop. I thought it was Glen and a friend from high school. Opening the door with the thoughts of teasing about keys, I was dumbfounded by who was there. Standing in front of me was a Suffolk Police Chaplain and Glen’s partner Nancy. Beyond them in small scattered groups were the men and women from Glen’s squad.
My heart broke as I realized my husband and best friend was never coming home again. It was February 22nd, 2009, a car fire burned my husband alive. Glen was going to assist another officer with a stolen vehicle and was killed by a drunk driver.
My children, family, friends, and co-workers all shared my pain. He was a wonderful husband, dad, son, brother, uncle, in-law, and friend. We leaned on each other to lessen the pain. Reminiscing about the times spent with Glen bought both laughter and tears which helped us deal with our loss.
I missed Glen every day, but I went through the motions and did all the right things. In the beginning of April, my Mom moved into our house due complications from COPD and emphysema. This was the beginning of my life spinning out of control. How long this would last I had no idea. In May, Mom was hospitalized.
In July, my daughter fractured her back. Hospitalized for 3 days she returned home wearing a brace. At the end of August, she was able to remove the back brace. In September, she returned to school and my mom and I spent a lot of time going back and forth to doctors. It was not always easy but I got through each day. The first weekend in December my mother got sick and was hospitalized. Dad, my sisters and I went back and forth to the hospital daily.
Eight days later my son Dan fell off a ladder while doing electrical work. He fractured his skull and was put in an induced coma to prevent swelling of the brain. That night he had emergency surgery to put in a shunt and in the morning he was transferred to another hospital that could handle brain damaged persons better. Three days later they were removing the ventilator tube when his lungs collapsed. The tube was replaced and he was reconnected to the ventilator. In the meantime, my mom was still hospitalized and we had a family meeting with the doctors, we were told that my mom had 3-6 months to live. Dan was taken off the ventilator three days later. We missed Christmas that year. I was always at the edge of tears.
My mom was released from the hospital and began a rehab program to gain her strength. She made the decision when she completed the program she would move into an assisted living facility. Two days after moving into the assisted living facility my mom got extremely sick. A few days later hospice was called.
Hospice care is only 4 hours a day, the remaining 20 hours were divided up between my sisters and I. Mom’s health continued to deteriorate and she was placed in a hospice care facility where she peacefully passed on February 21st– one day before the 1 year anniversary of Glen’s death. The “Year from Hell” was over.
A month after Glen’s death, I reached out to the union asking about counseling for myself. I was referred to their Police Psychologist. After meeting him we agreed to begin weekly sessions immediately. I wanted to learn how to process my grief and help my children through theirs. Throughout my “Year from Hell” the focus was on all the difficulties and changes occurring in my life in addition to grieving Glen. It was an uphill battle, when things seemed to be getting better something else happened. I had always depended on Glen during difficult times. He was the clear headed one that made the decisions. I usually sat back and let him take control. Without Glen, it was all on my shoulders. Week after week I learned that I am a strong and capable woman. With each situation (crisis) I learned how to cope and become the steadfast woman that my children and others could rely on.
The week after Glen passed I received a card from an organization called Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.). I put it aside in a pile and didn’t give it much thought. Fast forward to May, I received a newsletter from C.O.P.S. which included information about a retreat for spouses of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. I googled the organization and learned the hands-on programs allow survivors to receive support from peers who know how they feel, attend seminar sessions specifically designed for their needs and obtain resources to help them on their journey of grief and coping. Without hesitation I registered and made my airplane reservations. This was the first time in a long time I felt a small sense of accomplishment. I needed to go. I wanted to go. I was hoping I would find the something, anything to help me deal with my loss.
The men and women on this retreat met at a conference room at the airport. I was taken aback by the friendly greetings, laughter and the hugs & kisses that were exchange when people entered the room. I was scared and it bothered me to think that the weekend would be all fun and games. I found it strange that each new person I spoke to asked me about my husband. At first it seemed wrong to be telling complete strangers the details of Glen’s death. After a while I realized that speaking about Glen and what happened was making me feel better. That was my “aha” moment and I knew the weekend would help me. At the end of the retreat, I knew I wanted to return the next year. I had met wonderful people that lost the love of their lives and had learned to live again and successfully navigate lives without their spouses. I wanted that for myself.
Each year, the 3rd week in September I return to Potosi, Missouri for the Spouses Retreat. The activities and sessions together make it an experience in which I am learning how to successfully navigate life. The sessions I participated in the first few years were about coping and figuring out how to handle life. Making it through the first three years of seminars was a dream like: preparing for trial and post-conviction rights, using mindfulness to beat stress and anxiety and what about the in-laws. As the years went by, I became interested in sessions that would help me find my new “normal”. Some examples: moving on does not mean forgetting, transitioning to a new normal and “when birds fly”: coping with an empty nest. The sessions I have partaken in the last few years are: the pitfalls of dating, the 5 Languages of love, and online dating. I am ready to take a giant leap into the dating pool. I am forever grateful to the C.O.P.S. organization and my fellow spouses.
I have stepped out of my comfort zone and pushed myself to live my life to the fullest. Glen’s death and my year of hell made me acutely aware that life is short. Traveling to the Spouses Retreat was the first time I traveled alone. Since then I have driven by myself to Charlotte, North Carolina and flew to Seattle Washington to visit with family. I took my family to Hawaii and arranged the trip by myself. I was then given the opportunity to go London. Without hesitation I agreed. It turned out to be a wonderful trip. A few months later I was asked to join a group going to Paris. I had never imagined myself going overseas but now that I have experienced it, I plan on traveling to Italy next year. Recently I purchased a kayak with the help of my son. I made sure I would be able to carry it a distance and get it on and off the roof. As with my life, I want to be reliant on myself when I want to kayak. I have lost all the weight I gained during my grief and before and am in better shape now than I was 15 years ago. Trying new things and challenging myself are new to me but I am enjoying exhilaration of succeeding on my own.
While at the 2010, 2011, and 2012 retreat, I was asked if I wanted to help start a C.O.P.S. chapter in the Metro NY area. The first two years it was a definite no. The third time I agreed and when I returned to New York I met with Leslyn Stewart (NYPD- Spouse). Leslyn had sent in an application to National to start a chapter but it was rejected because she needed another person to sign the application. Without hesitation I signed. The next step was finding more survivors that wanted to work from the ground up creating the Metro New York C.O.P.S. Chapter. This was easier than I thought and on October 12, 2013 the chapter was officially launched. I was the Vice President.
If you asked me 10 years ago where I imagined myself in the 2016, I would of said that I wasn’t sure. Glen would definitely been retired by now. But what would we be doing? We had many hopes and dreams for this stage of our lives. The kids would be out of the house and our time would be ours.
Before Glen’s death my life was “normal”. I knew what to expect on a day to day basis with the occasional twist. Glen took care of the house, food shopped and paid the bills. I worked a part time job, cleaned the house, and cooked. It was perfect. We had time to spend together doing what we enjoyed — riding his motorcycle together, hiking, and occasionally sneaking away for a long weekend. After Glen’s death it was anything but normal. I became a caregiver to my mom, shared the responsibilities of taking care of the house, made all the decisions by myself and missed him terribly. I realized that my “normal” was gone, life would continue, but I would have to find a new “normal”. Over the last 7 years my normal has been evolving and changing.
One kid is married the other one is getting married. They’re both better now. I volunteer for MADD and speak publicly to educate people about underage drinking, drunk driving and the tragic consequences. The NY C.O.P.S. chapter is now passing its third year since we started it and we respond to the many in line of duty deaths in all the city, Long Island and the other NYC suburbs. This is my normal now. Will it change again? Yes. Do I worry about it changing? Not really.
Glen being killed by a drunk driver will forever be the worst thing that has happened to me. My life as I knew it was forever changed when I answered the door Feb. 22, 2009. But life has a way of re-balancing itself after period of really bad luck. The only things we can do sometimes is gather the family, friends and professionals we need to be there to support us in times of trouble. Support your family and friends, meet your police psychologist and find out about C.O.P.S. I strongly suggest during police week, you find your local chapter and support it now.
Metro NY C.O.P.S. provides resources to assist the rebuilding of the lives of surviving families and affected law enforcement officers or agents who have died in the line of duty. C.O.P.S provides training to law enforcement agencies on survivor victimization issues and educates the public of the need to support the Law Enforcement profession and its survivors.
Site Editor: Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP
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