The Mindful Officer: Facing Grief

By avoiding death we are in fact avoiding fully living

By Shawn Perron  |   Oct 6, 2016

Law enforcement is accustomed to grief on a daily basis. We grieve for our brothers and sisters in blue who are killed in the line of duty. But we also grieve with our communities at the scenes of shootings and car accidents, for example. What are the best ways we can support each other, our families, and communities when the effects of grief can be debilitating?

Sometimes we can learning new ways to process tragedies requires simply rethinking some of oldest social concepts. In our western culture we tend do everything possible to avoid the reality of death. When it comes to loss of life, we usually spend our time and effort avoiding it. We don’t talk about it. We certainly don’t plan for facing it (even knowing that we will face it).

Without going too far into the subject no one likes to think about, have you ever considered that we gloriously celebrate birth? Yet we avoid thinking and talking about death. Are they not equally natural processes? Birth is a guarantee that death will befall each us.

In our line of work, we must consider death more than most since your survival should be the daily goal for us each. We know that we might be killed on the job when we least expect it, and this is a strange psychological space to inhabit day after day. Murder fails to meet any definition of “natural.”

Police academies across our nation tirelessly trains us in current tactics to better our chances of surviving a violent encounter. I think most will agree with that premise. They usually do not teach many techniques for us to healthfully process and survive exponential grief on a daily basis. It is my heartfelt hope that some of these techniques will assist in negotiating grief mindfully.

Look after one another. We should learn to step away from the ego, from beneath the cape, and down from the saddle of high horses. Words least likely heard among us cops are: “I need help!” Or: “I am NOT okay!”

Most of us have become experts in noticing when co-worker is not in a good place. Regretfully, we are most skilled at minding our own business and not pushing help on someone we care about who doesn’t ask for it.

Giving them space or room is popular method in police culture, right? We may feel like we are helping, but does isolation make any sense? Most also don’t volunteer for chance to be put on “the desk” or sent to a “head doctor.”

My point is only this: Try to be “enthusiastically available” for anyone that is obvious struggling and just talk with them. Talk. Ask them or invite them to attend a small social gathering where they may be more comfortable to share or vent. Do this when out of uniform or away from the police station. We behave differently out of our costumes, though we may not admit to it.

Gratitude. It feels good. When received, but its greatest effect on your peace and well-being is offering it to others and yourself. Recognize all that’s going well in life, as opposed to those things that aren’t. Let the family members or partners of closest to the officer slain know how grateful you are for the time you shared with the person while here. Most likely they are feeling lost without them. Remind them of all you learned from the person that they miss. Explain that their presence alone made a positive difference in all those they met. Share pleasant or even funny stories about their loved one that will fill their hearts.

Laughter shared is better than any pharmaceutical. This is most important for the parents, spouses, and children of officers killed in the line of duty. Try to honestly think of what you would want others to say and do for your family if it was your badge number being given last call on the radio.

Presence over time. Manage your presence (attention) in life, not time. Mostly unaware, we waste more time than any culture on earth. We spend lifetimes doing and achieving, and cramming every activity possible into our time or schedule. Noted Tibetan Lama/Teacher S. Rinpoche refers to it as “active-laziness.” We even judge our day’s success or failure based on how many “activities” we can complete in time before bed. All this constant “doing” contributes in our failure at “being.” We feel anxious or uncomfortable if having to sit or wait on anything. So we whip out an electronic device—catch up on email, send a text, gossip over the phone.

Conclusion

All of this technology and distraction and striving takes us from what really matters in the final sum: The present. The most precious gift you can give your family and those you love in times of grief is your presence.             

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Shawn Perron

Shawn Perron

Sgt. Shawn Perron has worked as a police officer in Texas for 22 years. He regularly attends mindfulness retreats and has studied meditation and eastern philosophy at many Zen Centers throughout the U.S. Sgt. Perron writes in his spare time and voluntarily teaches basic mindfulness techniques.