In Officer Down – The Girlfriend and PTSD, I tried to show you the superficial view of what was happening through Francis’ eyes and set you up for the turmoil that they experienced. My closing statement was about the status of their relationship, as you can see from the photo above, they made it. Francis and Jeff are now happily married and have been able to move past the incident, it has made them stronger and has taught them a lot. All four of them learned a lot -Steve, Tanya, Jeff and Francis – much of it Steve and Jeff use in their new roles training new recruits. Aside from the mechanics of police work, there is a lot more to learn. There is a lot people don’t see. It’s the emotion of the people involved. Francis was able to articulate that emotion quite well when I spoke to her.
As an EMT, Francis is trained to see certain things. She did see his vitals, his tubes and that he would probably pull through. But what she also saw was a man, a friend, a husband, an uncle and a partner lying in a hospital bed. Has she seen this before? Yes, she has, but this time it was someone she loved. That makes a world of difference. It also makes a difference that there were many bullets flying that day, any one of them could have hit Jeff.
Now imagine your husband goes out for drinks with a friend. They part ways and the friend gets hit by a car while crossing the street. Yes, it could have been your husband had he crossed with him. Yes, he could get hit anytime he crosses the street. For the ones who love police officers, those bullets are aiming for them. It’s not an accident or a fluke. It’s very different. Guns are pointed at them on a regular basis – intentionally. Add to that the fact that some took aim at Jeff’s head in a previous incident and missed. He and Francis now have two incidents under their belts that cause a lot of heartache and fear.
Recent statistics have shown that 3 in 5 law enforcement marriages will end in divorce and that police officers commit suicide at a higher rate than the national average. Incidents like these may or may not contribute to the problem. I’m not an expert, I don’t know. What I do know is that they are incredibly difficult for everyone.
Francis is scared, she spent many hours crying since the incident. When she saw Steve, she cried. She cried and held his toe at the foot of the bed, her way of letting him know she was there. She cried for Tanya and their son, her heart ached for what could have been. While she held on to the fact that Steve would be okay, she could not simultaneously let go of the fact that death just got a little closer to their door. She knew that things could have gone much worse. She knew that Steve, Jeff and their unit were well-trained, knew each other and were the best of the best. She knew that they would be okay physically.
But did she? Deep in her heart what was she feeling? That’s tough to say. How do you put into words the anguish that a pain like this brings? This isn’t an illness, this isn’t an accident, this is someone intentionally trying to kill the people you love. Once the monitors are gone and the flesh wounds are closed, the memory and the fear remain. What happens next time?
Before they could figure out next time, they had to get through this time. Jeff and Francis had never dealt with this kind of stress as a couple. Jeff didn’t get shot, so what’s the stress? Jeff’s partner was shot while he watched and was in the middle of the cross-fire. That takes a toll on him and the people who love him. Jeff was dealing as best he could, while Francis was trying to support and understand what he was going through; all while trying to manage her own feelings. Sleeping was difficult, crying was frequent and knowing she couldn’t take away anyone’s pain was unbearable.
For fear of using too many stereotypes, Jeff is a man, his way of communicating was not Francis’ way. He tried to talk, she tried to listen but they often ended up arguing. She tried everything she knew to comfort him but it wasn’t what he needed at the time. Her grief was made deeper by the fact that she felt she was making things worse for Jeff. Deliberately or not, Jeff was pushing Francis away and she was trying to hold them together. A perfect formula for discord.
In addition to their own feelings, they had children to consider. These children had to face the fact that Uncle Steve was shot and Dad was there. Dad could have been shot. Each child had their own way of dealing, from hiding their feeling to being openly affected. Let’s throw one more thing in the mix. Not all police departments are set up to handle the aftermath of a shooting. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not part of their jobs to shoot or get shot. As a result, resources tend to be scarce and there is a long-held perception that police are weak if they can’t handle it. Now do you see why I chose the picture of Francis balancing for the last post? She had a lot on her plate, they all did.
Francis struck me as a person who loves love. She loves her family and her friends, she loves to love people and she wants the best for everyone. Truly. Anyone who knows me knows I am suspicious of anyone with that big of a heart, but Francis is pretty transparent, I don’t think she has a mean bone in her body. Now she is being crushed beneath the weight of everything that has happened and trying desperately to heal everyone. Could be the paramedic in her, could just be her love.
Regardless of what it was, her steadfast love and devotion to Jeff was enough to carry them through. They both learned about PTSD and how to help each other, although they didn’t attend counseling they did find other resources. If Francis could do it all over again, this is what she would tell herself:
- When your loved one starts to share their feelings, listen to them, let them get it out. Just listen.
- Stay by their side, it takes time and it is a process but things will get better. Be patient.
- They will try to push you away unintentionally, it’s a coping mechanism. Continue to love them, don’t leave.
In the end, they struggled through, and it was a struggle. They can count themselves among the lucky, their relationship withstood one of the toughest things any law enforcement family will have to face. They will be okay.
So you know where that leaves us, right? Human of the Week! Tune in on Saturday for the Human of the Week, some PTSD resources and more about how they met and their family.