Officer Injury and Death
The primary issues to be examined and discussed in this course are:
* grief and its relationship to loss and trauma
* the impact of grief on victim’s spouse, children, and co-workers
The instructor should encourage student participation in exploring and examining each of these topics and solicit relevant individual experiences that would enhance understanding. Topics for group discussions and a practical exercise are included that are designed for this purpose.
I. INTRODUCTION (5 minutes)
Display overhead #1: Student Performance Objectives.
As a result of this block of instruction, the student will be able to:
define grief and its relationship to loss and trauma; and
explain the impact of grief on victim’s spouse, children, and co- workers.
A. OPENING STATEMENT
The television news reports another story about an incident involving the major injury or even death of a local officer “in the line of duty” – an officer who has sacrificed his/her health or life that others may live or that homes or property might be saved. Most civilians barely acknowledge the event. They are mainly concerned with other factors that are more significant to them: sports outcomes, stock market figures, or entertainment news. Their lives are not changed by this tragedy. But for the family and co-workers of this officer, life will never be the same again. Emotional reactions overwhelm their lives spiraling them into a frightening and dark void where pain, loneliness, and grief are a constant presence. Surviving this personal tragedy can seem unbearable or, at best, difficult.
B. STUDENT PERFORMANCE OBJECTIVES
Distribute handout #1: Student Performance Objectives.
In order for the police chaplain to effectively interact and counsel with those impacted by an officer’s injury and/or death, he/she must understand the dynamics of grief and its impact on the victim’s family and co-workers.
II. BODY (1 hour 40 minutes)
A. Grief Defined
1. Definition and Causes of Grief
Although most of us associate grief with the death of a loved one, grief can also result from a myriad of other experiences: divorce, loss of a friendship or job, job relocation, debilitating illness or injury, or an unpleasant emergency call. The list is endless. Before we can learn to cope with pain and grief, it is necessary that we learn why we feel and respond to traumatic events as we do. Grief has no set pattern nor does it ever go away completely. Grief is a person’s feelings and thoughts resulting from a loss or traumatic event.
When someone dies, our response to this loss is equal to our relationship with this person. When someone dies suddenly – auto accident, heart attack, or line of duty death – the grief is immediate with no preparation for the loss. There is no chance to say good- bye, heal old wounds, express love and affection. This is not to say that grief will not follow an anticipated death, but rather the length of grieving and the extent of the pain may be lessened somewhat because of the opportunity to prepare for the loss.
The grief process can be complicated by various everyday issues: job-related problems, personal health problems, financial worries, troubles with the children. These distractions can influence an individual’s ability to effectively deal with the grieving process.
2. Grief Reactions
Everyone responds to grief and loss differently. No two people will react to a shared grief experience in the same way. Many factors will determine the end result of an individual’s reactions to trauma or loss. For example, how the loss occurred, the individual’s emotional involvement with the person or event, previous loss experiences, and the lessons learned as children for coping with emotions and feelings.
Grieving is not governed by a set of rules that, if followed consecutively, will make it go away. The direction, intensity, and duration of the individual grieving process is comparative to the loss: the more emotionally involved with the person or event, the deeper the emotional trauma and grief.
Emergency Response Community: It is not unusual for law enforcement, firefighters, emergency medical personnel to experience a vast number of emotions and feelings in their day-to- day lives. The numerous traumatic calls that these individuals respond to can be tremendously overwhelming. Therefore, experiences with nightmares, depression, substance abuse, or relationship problems with family and friends can occur as a result of recurring trauma and grief.
Grief involves the whole person: physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.
breathing problems, change in eating habits, weight loss or gain, headaches, fatigue, apathy, insomnia
mental or spiritual reactions
ego problems, distracted thoughts, short attention span, hallucinations, regression (becoming childlike, or more dependent on others), suicidal thoughts, social withdrawal, overprotection of children.
anger, depression, fear, frustration, blaming
Too often, those affected by grief will turn to alcohol and/or drugs to wipe away the bitterness and pain that can result. Unfortunately, upon awakening from a drunken or drug-induced stupor, the reality of the situation is still there. Internalizing or attempting to ignore grief can be harmful.
Guilt and anger are normal, healthy reactions to trauma or loss. A person can feel guilty for unkind words or actions toward the person who died or regret missed opportunities to spend quality time with them before their death. A person can be angry due to the circumstances surrounding the victim’s death (suicide, homicide, etc.). The person can also be angry with the victim for dying and leaving him/her alone. However, guilt and anger can be used in a positive manner. A grieving person can choose to direct guilt and anger into a positive or a negative outcome and influence their effect on himself/herself. These emotional reactions can be the driving force behind saving lives in the future, getting procedures changed, and making a healthy impact on our well-being. It can be the “push” that a person needs to get goals and dreams accomplished.
(Ask the students if they have any questions.)
B. The Impact of Grief
1. The Spouse
The impact of an officer’s death can be a devastating loss to the spouse. The grief can last a lifetime. Time at home can be very lonely. Friends who are willing to be “there” for the spouse at first can, over time, seem not to care or want to participate in the grief process anymore. They want the spouse to “get over it”. Everyone has their own life to live and will want to distance themselves from the spouse because they do not know how to make him/her feel better.
Ask the students for counseling recommendations for the spouse of an officer killed in the line of duty.
Possible answers: Recommend that the spouse keep a journal of the grief journey. Spend time every day to write down feelings, how he/she coped during the day. Write letters to the victim (spouse). As the weeks and months pass, the spouse will be able to return to the early pages of the journal and see the progress made.
2. The Children
The children of the deceased officer are often referred to as the “forgotten victims”. Parents, teachers, and even emergency providers are in many cases not aware of the true impact of the loss to the children. Many make the mistake that children recover from the death of a loved one quite readily. However, this is not the case.
Adults typically try to shield the child from the pain of grief by using falsehoods and deception. We allow children to participate in weddings, parties, and other pleasant events, but when someone they love dies, children are often discouraged from going to the funeral or visiting the gravesite. Adults try to deceive the child into thinking that the deceased has gone on a long trip or is “asleep”. These efforts only create distrust in the child. Unfortunately, by trying to shield the child from grief and pain, adults pass their behaviors on to them.
Many adults believe that when children appear to continue their normal behaviors – playing, wanting to be with their friends – the death had minimal impact on them. This is a mistake. Children are affected and do grieve.
Ask the students for recommendations in assisting children through the grieving process.
It is important for the child to continue his/her normal routine as much as possible. However, the child will need even more loving attention. Although he/she may seem to adjust appropriately to life after the funeral, it is imperative to keep the lines of communication open. Share your feelings and frustrations with him/her. Talk about the deceased. Encourage the child to express his/her thoughts and feelings without fear of reprimand or criticism. Be aware of the child who may experiment with drugs or alcohol as a means of coping with his/her grief and emotional pain.
Adults often ignore the visible signs of a child’s grief: acting out, unhappiness, or violence. They will punish the child for what the adult interprets as unacceptable behavior. This behavior may be the child’s way of asking for help.
Many times if the child is left alone to deal with grief or traumatic events, he/she can often choose undesirable remedies as solutions to their problems: drugs, unprotected sex, or gang activity. The child may also believe that he/she is the reason for the problems that are occurring in the family (divorce, addiction, abuse, etc.)
Depending on the relationship with the deceased and the size of the department, the connection is not just people who work together, but are more like brothers and sisters in a close-knit family. There are shared moments of happiness and sadness. Members work together as a team saving lives and property. Sometimes the relationships can be closer than with family members. Therefore, the death of a co-worker can be devastating to members of the department. They experience a grief that few civilians truly understand. A line-of-duty death impacts the agency to its very core. The event can cause nightmares, anxiety, anger, guilt.
Ask students to provide recommendations in providing counseling assistance to co-workers.
Co-workers should be provided an outlet to express their feelings, preferably a critical debriefing or regular support group meetings. Suppressing grief may cause them to doubt their self-worth as a public servant or question whether anyone appreciates the risks they take and the need they have to be the professional they are.
(Ask the students if they have any questions.)
Practical Exercise: After giving the students the following scenario, separate the students into groups of four to six and instruct them to develop a comprehensive plan of action for the police chaplain’s involvement beginning with responding to the scene, assisting in notifying family members, transport to the hospital, etc.
“You are called to the scene of a homicide. An officer has been shot and killed by a perpetrator who was in turn shot and killed by the officer’s partner. The shooting occurred in the front yard of the perpetrator’s residence. Both officers are married and have families. Other officers are on the scene. The perpetrator’s family and neighbors are gathering and tensions and emotions are high.”
Allow fifteen to twenty minutes for the collaboration. Then bring the group back together and discuss recommendations for a plan of action.
III. CONCLUSION (5 minutes)
During this block of instruction, we discussed the following issues:
grief and its relationship to loss and trauma; and
the impact of grief on victim’s spouse, children, and co-workers.
(Ask the students if they have any questions.)
C. CLOSING STATEMENT
The road to healing grief is filled with many obstacles and detours. Individual reactions are defined by previous experiences as well as coping skills. Each person will react to grief and loss differently. It is the responsibility of the police chaplain to know the dynamics of the grief process and the impact it has on the victim’s family, friends and co- workers in order to effectively assist in the healing process.