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We All Know

“To such as these, all but forgotten, doing a dirty, thankless job, without reward or glory, policing, firefighting, and EMTs is a way of life, the only one we knew or wanted.” (Paraphrased from “Boots and Saddles”)

The day my daughter was born, I held her tiny body in my arms. Her head was barely the size of my palm. I knew then that I had to change. I could no longer be the kind of police officer I was. I did not want to be all over the news for some action I took. I did not want some bosses and the Police Chaplain ringing the doorbell at some ungodly hour, announcing my family is a member of a club no one wants to join.

Cops, firefighters, and EMTs may not think about or verbalize it. But deep in the recesses of their minds, they all wonder. When they leave for work, will this be the last time they see their loved ones? Will these be the last hugs and kisses.? Their families feel this too. They may never express it, but they know, feel, and fear it.

Some say they do God’s work. That is wrong. They do the work God does not want to do. They do the job no one wants to do. It is a calling, not just a career. They are humans with human flaws. Yet they are essential. Their flaws are splashed all over the news media like cheap beer on a bar. The day-to-day grind and danger are only reported when they are killed or seriously injured performing their essential duty.

Last night a Chicago Police officer was shot and killed. Her partner was critically wounded and is fighting for his life. They were performing their duty. It is called the ultimate sacrifice, dying or being catastrophically injured while performing duty.

We live by rituals. The rituals are essential. They make us feel we belong to something bigger than ourselves. They keep us strong in the face of our weaknesses. They help us grieve, heal, and keep us bonded to each other. They begin the remembrance. We never forget.

The ritual played out over the early morning hours. Droves of police officers gathered at the hospital. Then, the parade of police and fire vehicles took their slow ride to the Cook County Medical Examiners facility. An honor guard and piper led the parade from the street into the parking lot.

Two hook and latter trucks raised their ladders, almost touching, to drape an American flag as they arrived. Officers and Fire Department personnel lined the street to honor the fallen. In the days ahead, the honor wake and funeral will be another part of the ritual.

Another mass gathering of emergency responders will be at the funeral home. A large honor parade will follow the fallen to the cemetery. Handing a flag to the family and the twenty-one gun salute will end the formal ritual.

I was a witness and participant in many of these rituals. Some were for friends. Some were people I worked with. Some were people I did not know. Each and everyone was heartbreaking.

We are extended families. These are our brothers and sisters from other parents.

Another part of the ritual is assisting the families of the fallen or catastrophically injured. We take care of our own. It is the least we can do to honor those who lost their lives or bodies for those words, duty, and honor.

Emergency services personnel go out every day and give their all. They see and do things no human being should experience. As the adage states, they are the first in and the last out. They leave no one behind. The ritual is part and parcel of leaving no one behind, including the families of the fallen.

Lest we forget, others do the work God does not want to do. They are the medical personnel in trauma units. They heroically work to save lives no matter how fruitless their endeavors may seem. Life is sacred to them. They never give up until the very end.

582 Chicago Police Officers were killed in the line of duty since the inception of the Chicago Police Department. Many members were catastrophically injured while serving. The Chicago Police Memorial Foundation assists the families of these officers. For more information or to donate, visit their website.

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