Last week, one of our other local police departments lost an officer. He was on his way home from work, on his motorcycle, he hit some construction supplies on the freeway and was killed.
He shared a kinship with our department in that he was one of the first officers on the scene when Rob was hit in April, and stayed with him, holding his hand, while waiting for emergency personnel to arrive. It was a strange coincidence that his accident happened in the vicinity of Rob's.
I felt quite sad to hear about such a tragic event. I've struggled with the irony of the situation; and my heart smarts at a wound that threatens to reopen.
But that is not the thing that is truly bugging me. No, the thing that is truly bugging me is the fact that people have a hard time vocalizing their thoughts about tragic things; sad, unpleasant things like death, and the stuff that fills in and is meant to be comforting...can irritate, for want of a better word.
People want to know if you knew the deceased, and as you answer how closely you did or didn't know them, you can see them measuring the weight of their consequent response.
Then it's the "married? kids?" question. And here is where I have to take a deep, deep breath. People mean well. They just short-circuit in the face of grief.
There is an audible sigh of relief when you say "not married." And a half-shrug, half-grimace, "well, at least he didn't have any kids left behind."
Honestly, I wonder about how anyone can say that.
If someone is taken unexpectedly, horrificly, quickly, from this earth, whether or not they are married or have children is important, I'll admit, but I think that putting the entire value of one's life on that detail isn't fair.
I caught myself nearly snapping my answer last week, responding to someone with the "no kids" comment, "Well, that doesn't make it any easier for his parents."
You cannot tell me that a parent would half-shrug, half-grimace, and write it off as an "ah, well, these things happen, at least there isn't a wife and kids" should they be told of their child's untimely death.
And if there was a wife, but no kids, you will never convince me that she feels any sense of relief at all for her situation. Because I know a widow who misses her husband every second of every day.
I did not know the officer who was killed recently, but from all accounts, be they in the media or from people who knew him, he was an exceptional young man. A friend of mine who did know him said "He was the nicest guy you would ever want to meet. My brother used to get in a lot of trouble when he was younger; this guy was the only person who stuck by him during that time." (As for our Rob, exceptional is only one of many superlatives we could use to describe him.)
Exceptional people touch more lives than those of their immediate family and loved ones. They tend to touch the lives of everyone they come into contact with; in both positive and negative ways.
It might be a minor interaction, or it might be a years-long friendship. But their mark, it's indelible. It's an imprint on your heart that you always carry with you.
And when they are gone, taken from you unexpectedly, it's gonna hurt. Which is why a statement like "well, at least there was no wife or kids left behind" bothers me.
There's a lot of people left behind, who will carry the memory of this person with them forever.
I'm so sorry for their loss.