In Memory of…

19

In Memory of…

  • Next week is National Police Week, several days set aside to honor those law enforcement officers that have paid the ultimate sacrifice as a result of adversarial action on the streets of our nation. They are truly the modern day heroes of our society. There is another group of officers, equally as large, who have lost their lives to an unseen adversary, suicide. This serves to remember them also, but unfortunately, it offers no profound insight because in the words of an unknown poet: “…tis hard to understand.”

It was a drab waiting room on the second floor of Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital. The light was poor, furniture nondescript and the walls were painted a dull unidentifiable color. My mom, 21 year old sister and I waited nervously. It was the day of my father’s surgery. At 12 years of age I was not supposed to be there. The plan called for me to take the nearby subway to my aunt’s apartment and spend the day with her. The actual surgery would go several hours and I prevailed upon my mother to spend just another hour with them before I left. We sat and bantered like nervous people do when greater, unknown things loom ahead.

My sister reviewed my instructions. The subway station was just two blocks away at North and Clybourne… I was to take the outbound train, not the downtown train, and get off at Addison. My aunt would be waiting for me and walk me to her place on Sheffield Avenue, a stone’s throw from Wrigley Field. As I was preparing to leave, the surgeon walked into the room, unannounced, in full operating room scrubs. My mother and sister looked at me nervously; I really was not supposed to be there.

The doctor didn’t notice and he began without fanfare. It was cancer, a tumor attached to the posterior wall of the heart. They would proceed with the surgery, hoping to make him more comfortable in the coming weeks. But at best, he would give Dad six months to live. I staggered against the wall. My mother and sister most likely reacted in a similar manner, but I did not notice.

A bit too late, I was dispatched to my aunt’s.

The subway station at North and Clybourne was well below street level and was damp and putrid smelling as I proceeded down the long stairs. I stood on the platform alone, the distant lights of the oncoming train turned to a roar as it sped into the station. My mind was spinning, my heart racing. The news incomprehensible. I felt physically ill. As I stared down at the shiny tracks, now reflecting the lights of the oncoming train, for the first and only time in my life I considered suicide.

I was alone on that subway platform and it was a moment of total despair, I was losing my father, my world was crashing to bits and I could not begin to absorb the news.

Why?

Why me?

Why now?

Up in a quaint old attic

As the raindrops patter down

I sat paging through an old schoolbook

Dusty, tattered, and brown.

I came to a page that was folded down.

And across it was written in childish hand:

“The teacher says to leave this for now,

’tis hard to understand.”

 A lifetime later on a sunny June day I stand with my police officer son at the Chicago Police Memorial Park for the Family Day Mass. He’s been unusually quiet this morning and for a moment he breaks away from me and I watch as he has some words with the Superintendent of Police.

“Walk with me,” he asks as he returns. The words are forced and he is visibly upset. We walk a distance from the crowd.

“My former partner committed suicide last night.” He is literally choking on the words. “It was a rumor last night, I couldn’t believe it but I just confirmed it with the Superintendent.”

The conversation is strained and disjointed, his throat constricts with each word… “A great guy… married… children…”

When it comes to a death like this

About all we can do is fold down the page and write

“The teacher says to leave this for now,

’tis hard to understand.”

In another story on this blog, I wrote about my partner Mike. He lost a long bout with the ravages of alcoholism and took his own life on another sunny day in May. I was out of town when I received the news and I sat for some time in my darkened hotel room.

There are lots of pages in the book of life

that are hard to understand

All we can do is fold them down and write:

“The teacher says to leave this for now,

’tis hard to understand.”

“Danny” was the subject of still another story here. A family friend since he was eight years old and close friend of my son. They grew up together; grammar school and high school classmates and became police officers a couple of years apart. The call came on a Monday afternoon several weeks ago:

“Dad… Danny… he…” then garbled words. Maybe wind noise? Damned cell phones!

“What? You cut out. What are you saying?” I stood up as if that would provide a clearer connection.

“Danny committed suicide.” The words once again choked in the back of his throat.

It hit me in the gut like a baseball bat and I recoiled back into the couch as though I had actually been physically struck. Marital problems, divorce… we knew. But Danny had fought and conquered so many other obstacles…

Someday—maybe only in heaven

We will unfold the pages again, read them and say,

“The Teacher was right; now I understand.”

 

  • Author’s note: The poem, paraphrased above, is “The Folded Page” and the author is unknown. My personal thanks to Father Greg Sakowicz for sharing his copy with me for this article.

Showing 19 comments

  • Mane
    Reply

    I love a cop who bottles it in. (BOTTLES IT IN) Issues with work and a quadrepelegic mom who he is a guardian of…aside from a decade of being a peace officer… spiritual, emotional, physically, & financially drained. I pray for him and every second of the day wishing him peace, so he may see how great of person he is. suicide is the last resort as we may know in this human suffering…..pain will subside…. get help…

    • jimpadar
      Reply

      Quoting Father Greg Sakowicz,”Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” Unfortunately it is so often difficult to discern the “temporary” nature of our problems. Hang in there with your loved one!

      • Mane
        Reply

        thank you Jim and for raising awareness…

  • Kaye
    Reply

    This is a real grabber.

  • Ed Hammer
    Reply

    The phenomena of police suicides eats away at me. In a short period of time, in my small but statewide agency there were 2 downstate, one before I retired and one slightly after. With the first one, the signs were there, yet it wasn’t prevented. During that same period , a state trooper friend with whom I attended both college and the ISP academy at the same time, was killed by an accidental discharge of his shotgun. I frequently had breakfast with him and there were no signs. He was 30 days from to retiring. How does one shoot himself with his own shotgun? PTSD is more common among our fellow officers than we choose to believe. Administrators and peers both need to be more proactive when police officers are having a difficult time dealing with both crisis and day to day stress.

    • Mane
      Reply

      “eats away at me” so right Ed…. exactly, not fessing to what’s eating us up.. owning up to it that we are human and weakness is part of us….. 30 days from retiring….very sad… all the good deeds he has done…

    • jimpadar
      Reply

      And Chicago in particular, needs to remove arcane impediments to those officers seeking help. In Chicago, an officer who voluntarily admits himself/herself for psychiatric care is stripped of their FOID card and ultimately goes into a non-pay status and loses hospitalization insurance. Ain’t that a bag of worms?

  • Greg Bernacki (RET CPD)
    Reply

    Thanks Jim, we can not make sense of what causes suicide. I had a few very close family and friends “choose this option”. I do not judge their mind or intent. I do hate what happens to family and friends. Someday we will understand. Via con Dios……….

    • jimpadar
      Reply

      “…do not judge.” Key words for those of us left behind.

  • Cindy Reed
    Reply

    Wow, Jim……so very powerful! Thanks for sharing your gift of writing with us.

    • jimpadar
      Reply

      Thanks Cindy. I enjoy writing, although I sometimes wonder what kind of reception certain stories will get… so far the positive feedback on this surprised me.

  • Tom Davy
    Reply

    Great piece. The worst suicide for me was a good friend who was a police wife and mother of two sons on the job. She was always the most cheerful person in the room. At her funeral mass I just thought how our group of friends were supposed to go to each other’s funerals toddling in our walkers, not in the fullness of our – if not youth – at least years. Other than accepting that the human mind can go haywire, that one was impossible to understand. Thank you for sharing your stories, no matter how painful.

    • jimpadar
      Reply

      Thanks, Tom. Certain stories are more painful to put down on paper than others… our entire family is still wrestling with “Danny’s” death.

      “”Tis hard to understand.”

  • Silvia
    Reply

    Thank you for sharing this extremely painful and personal story. Prayers to Danny’s family,your son, and his police family.

    • jimpadar
      Reply

      Thank you Silvia for your kind comments and being a regular reader.

  • afohara
    Reply

    Excellent writing. Some more info at http://www.policesuicideprevention.com/id62.html

    It’s important, as we go into National Police Week, that we understand what suicide is–and isn’t.

  • John
    Reply

    As one who also lost a partner, I refer to it as “A temporary lapse in judgement.” Most suicide victims, if they could speak to you the next day, I believe, would say, “What the hell was I thinking.?”

    When suicide happens to one of us, guy that go out and solve the problems of the City on a daily basis, are the most self sufficient people on the face of the Earth, and can do McGyver-like things with items found on a curb, ask “Who’s looking out for us?”

    Good write, Jim..

  • Mary Rita
    Reply

    Thank you so much, Jim, you have written powerfully about Danny and Mike – it is so important that their stories be shared. Unfortunately suicide leaves the survivors so bereft and with many questions, and sometimes unable to share in order to get some comfort. Father Rubey helped me with the question “why”? – I know for sure that Mike and most likely Danny were in so much pain that they could not continue in this world. I have never known that kind of pain – These people that we love unfortunately can only find one way out of their pain. So much needs to be done with regard to mental health – the stigma needs to be completely taken away. Also, for the families, friends and loved ones – the stigma of suicide needs to be removed. Suicide prevention is key and programs for those who have lost loved ones are also very important. My life was saved by one of those programs and friends like you, Jim. Thank you again for getting the word out in such a meaningful. These stories need to be shared again and again to get the message across. God bless and keep you.

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