It's not the most popular club to be in, and I certainly didn't ask for a membership to it, but here I am. I can't opt out no matter how bad I want to, so I'm just...here.
The first year was absolute shock, panic, and denial. My life didn't seem like it was mine, and I had no control at all. I felt numb ALL the time. I was making split-second decisions for everything with no time to consider anything. I was overwhelmed with texts, mail, letters, cards, visits, and phone calls, and I was having a hard time processing it all. I wasn't interested in anything about my new life. Nothing at all.
Just like being sick, it all felt worse at night. I sat outside at all hours of the night just crying and begging for this nightmare to be a mistake. I sat in my closet and read cards and letters Charlie wrote me and cried myself to sleep many nights on the floor.
I had to adjust to a life with no privacy because what was once my private little life was now plastered all over the media and Internet. Those who didn’t support law enforcement were quick to post horrible things online without knowing any of the details. Things my kids and I would eventually see. My husband’s face was all over the news, online, and in the newspaper constantly.
Death became a constant thought. I panicked just thinking about leaving my kids. I prepaid for my own funeral and did as much as I could so that my kids never had to worry, question, and stress the way I did when Charlie was killed.
Every single part of my life was affected from the way I cooked, the things I watched on tv, the laundry, where I sat in the living room, the places I went, the people I talked to, and how people looked at me. Death changed everything about me.
I didn’t belong in places I did before. Being around married couples just reminded me of what I lost. I was treated differently by my own friends, and for the first time in my life, I had no idea how to fix things or cope. I stopped trying at one point and gave up on being positive. I didn't care about much at all. It wasn’t the life I planned, and it was so empty without Charlie.
I didn’t know when it was okay to talk about Charlie, or when I brought him up too much. I didn’t want to leave my home, so I started isolating myself and cancelling plans. It was the only control I had left of my life. I learned how to fake a smile and convince people that everything was fine. Showers became the perfect place to cry because it helped when my eyes were swollen. Carrying tissues and wearing waterproof makeup every time I left home became my new normal.
Being in shock that long changed me. It changed the trust I once had, it changed the way I looked at people, and it changed how I looked at myself.
The second year was hard because it was the real "firsts" without him. Realizing my life would never be the same was traumatizing. It still is when I think about it for too long. I still hated the new life I was forced to live, but I pushed myself to at least try.
Everything started to sink in when the phone calls and messages slowed down. My life was a constant struggle,and I felt like a robot. I was tired of being called strong because I would've loved the opportunity to be weak, just for a little while, but life didn’t give me that choice.
I was sick all the time, and I started losing my hair. I wasn’t taking care of myself, and it was really starting to show. I was exhausted, couldn’t focus, forgot things that I knew my entire life and just walked in circles most of the time. I didn't know where I was going or what I should be doing. Lost seemed to be an accurate description, I guess; lost with absolutely no one to help me find my way because that was completely up to me. I prayed for direction but felt like God left me too. I really struggled with that. I had a hard time not blaming God for letting Charlie die so violently.
As time went by, people moved on, but I couldn't. It was basically, "Sorry for your loss but go be a widow somewhere else." That's when it was time to get myself together or fall apart. I couldn't expect anyone to help sort through this new life because once again, that was all on ME.
I started feeling like I wasn't doing enough and then felt like I did too much. Nothing helped no matter what I tried, and there weren't too many people that understood the helpless and empty feeling I carried with me EVERY single day. I hated that. I hated depending on people because I was NEVER one to ask anyone for anything. That sure went out the window when Charlie was killed. I had no idea how much I would need people, even people I never met.
I was shoved into widowhood by violence, so it was hard not to be angry. Some days got better, but the bad ones knocked me on my face again...back to the day it happened. I was supposed to grow old with Charlie and never gave aging a second thought…until now.
The third year was more than frustrating. I had to fight for a lot of things that I shouldn't have. I had to sit in Charlie’s murder trial the exact month he was supposed to be retiring. I had to once again, relive that day and watch Charlie take his last breath on the dashcam video they played during trial. I had to watch my kids fall apart AGAIN.
I still had some really tough days, but not as many as the year before. I still got angry, I still cried, and I still wondered what our life would be like if he were alive. I still picked up the phone to call him when things happened or when I needed to hear him tell me things would be okay, and I still got a sinking feeling when I heard his favorite songs.
I went to all the annual memorials just like the years before, but this time I saw them as honoring Charlie, not mourning him. I was proud to stand and speak for Charlie instead of crying. I shared our story a little more and started to give back to the blue family that held us up for so long.
I could call myself a wife, widow, and surviving spouse and sometimes I didn’t cry saying it. I felt stronger, but I still felt broken on the inside on the bad days.
I started taking care of myself and getting out of the house more. I talked more at the cemetery and did a little less crying on my knees. I found a little more balance in my life and tried new things. Some things worked out, but most didn’t, and that’s okay because I tried.
I knew I needed a career change but wasn’t sure where to go or how to figure that out. I wanted to use my loss and all the struggles and challenges that came with it to hopefully help someone else with theirs. I just needed to find something that would allow me to do that.
I still have a hard time being introduced to new people without Charlie, going places without Charlie, and trying new things alone because no matter how much time goes by, I will NEVER be in the right place, I will NEVER be where I'm supposed to be or feel like I belong. Everything is different now and that's been so incredibly HARD to figure out. I wish people knew or acknowledged that because being a widow isn't something I ever planned for, I was forced to accept it and I still haven’t learned how to be okay with it.
Now that 2018 is here, I'm hoping to find my place. I've learned a LOT about fighting for the right things and speaking out when I need to. I’m still learning how to balance my old life that I miss and the new life that I still don’t like sometimes. I’ve lost more friends and witnessed the true side of people when I needed them the most. Because of that, I’m more determined to do what’s right for my family and theirs – no matter how they treat me. There are a lot of things that need to be changed for our law enforcement officers and the families they leave behind. Things I never even thought of until I became a widow.
Third EOW Anniversary, December 21, 2017
Three years ago today at 3:07 a.m. on a Sunday morning, Charlie's life was violently taken, my life was shattered, and my kids were broken to pieces. Three years ago today my house was surrounded by police lights and cars with officers knocking on my door. Three whole years have raced by while we stood still.
This was Charlie's favorite time of year. He listened to Christmas songs in the car and sang them to the kids. He loved Christmas candles and old Christmas movies and woke the kids up every Christmas morning. We were almost finished with presents that year. We were happy. Our kids were happy. Just hours before he was killed, I texted him to let him know that all of the presents were wrapped and told him where I hid them. He was so excited that year because for the FIRST time, his overtime allowed us to get everything they wanted.
Charlie has missed so many things in life that he deserved to be a part of as a father and as a husband. Holly is getting married next month, Andy finished his AA degree and will start the police academy soon, Brandon and Aleena are in college, little Charlie is still working hard and helping me with things around the house, and as for me, I’m still his widow. I'm still without my best friend and the only person who made my life complete and that will never change.
I think about all the days we wanted to forget, all the nights we cried ourselves to sleep, and all the times we were angry. I think about how many times we sat at his grave telling him how sorry we were that this happened to him and how much we still needed him here.
I think about the instant emptiness we feel and the look on our faces when his name is brought up or we see someone wearing a t-shirt with his name on it...even three years later.
I think about the look on our children’s faces when I had to tell them their father was murdered. I think about the first time I saw my children sobbing on their knees staring at their father's name on a piece of stone. I think about their faces when they see people hugging their father knowing that their father is gone. No walks down the aisle for our girls, no father-daughter dances, no father-son talks, no graduation hugs…nothing. It’s all GONE!
We've survived these three years, but it has taken its toll on us. We are not the same. The kids and I are still broken. We are still learning to find our way, and it has been SO incredibly HARD!
Another year has gone by, and all we can do is put more flowers on his grave and cry a little more than the day before. On the outside we are still the same little family Charlie and I worked so hard to build, but I think now we are learning to be the family God intended us to be after our loss. We have peace because we didn't take the time we had with him for granted.
We understand that God never promised us a life without pain. We know that after Charlie’s death, God has provided us with an enormous family that reminds us every day that we will never be alone. We loved Charlie without limits and for that, He has given us the same in return.
I'm thankful for those who convinced me to get back on my feet when I felt like my life was spiraling out of control.
Thank you, BLUE family for proudly stepping up to stand in for Charlie, even if it meant time away from yours. Thank you for standing by our side, for listening to us, and for hugging my children and me. Thank you for letting us cry and be angry when we needed to be. We've needed you more than you know.
I don't know how it's possible, but I still miss you more each day. I still look for your face at places we’ve been. I still smell your shirt you left on the floor that night. It's funny the things you miss when people die. I still want to pick up the phone to call you when things happen. I still look at the door like you're going to walk in. I'm so afraid I'm going to forget the sound of your voice or the way you laughed so on those days, I watch videos of you until I cry myself to sleep.
You're GONE. No matter how many times I've said it, I still can't handle it some days, but I'm really trying. It's incredibly hard to be happy without you and it’s even harder to be me without you.
I don't know how any of this works, and I'm still trying to find my new place. A place that will always include you, but will allow me to start my own chapter in this new life. It’s hard to make myself understand that it’s okay to be happy without you here but then...I remember how much my happiness meant to you. My biggest struggle is the fear of making new memories that you're not a part of. I don't know how to be okay with that. One day at a time is what I’m told, but a day is so damn long. I know that I am who I am now because of you and everything you taught me. You gave me security and taught me the meaning of trust, patience, and unconditional love, and I am forever grateful for that.
Soon, I will PROUDLY be your voice during your murder trial when I finally have the chance to speak to the one responsible for your death. I promise when I speak for you, I'll do my best and make you proud.
Keep watching over us. Your brothers and sisters in blue have held our hands through some pretty bad times. Their loyalty to your sacrifice and the bond they have with us still amazes me. I know you're beyond proud of them.
Holly, Andrew, Charlie, Aleena, and Brandon are doing some amazing things to honor you. They are so proud to have and share stories about you. Your life, time spent with them, and what you taught them is showing through EVERYTHING they do, and they are PROUD because of you.
I couldn't imagine this life without the little pieces of you I see in our kids. Every time I look at their faces I'm reminded that they are the CLOSEST thing I have to you.
I swear to you Charlie, as long as I can get up, speak, and tell OUR story, you will NEVER be forgotten.