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Secretary Jeh Johnson, Attorney General Eric Holder thank you for participating in this candlelight vigil and honoring our officers. Craig Floyd thank you for your dedication over the past 30 years you have spent building and safeguard this beautiful memorial. I am honored to be here tonight to share my story and my thoughts with you.
I became a law enforcement survivor on August 3rd, 1989 when my husband, Essex County Police Officer Keith E. Neumann was shot and killed during a drug raid. Keith was only 24 years old. I was only 22 years old and we had been married for just six weeks.
I can tell you when I walked down the aisle of our church on our wedding day on his arm proud to be his wife, I never for a moment thought that the next time I would be in that church I would be following his casket. I can remember thinking that people would not think I my loss was a big deal because after all we’d only been married for six weeks. In truth, it was a very big deal, in fact it was devastating. It shattered my world.
Keith was my best friend; we grew up together and went to the same schools and worked at the same restaurant during college. I can remember having lunch at his house when I was in kindergarten. Having been the daughter of a New Jersey State Trooper, I knew Keith’s profession was dangerous, but I never for a moment expected for him to be killed. We had planned on a long life together filled with love and lots of children. But instead I found myself widowed at 22 years old.
My friends did not understand my grief. One friend told me she knew how I felt because she had just broken up with her boyfriend. I was speechless to that statement and just stared at her. It was then that I realized, not only did I lose my husband, but I also lost my happy, secure life. Truly no one understood what I was going through.
It’s amazing how our society views grief today. Many people believe the grieving process is a short time. After all we only get three days bereavement leave from work, right? There is a lot of understanding of my grief by the people around through the funeral and maybe a few weeks after, but beyond that people expect you to “pull yourself up by the boot straps and get over it” – as I was told three weeks after Keith’s death. There is no time limit on grief!
Generations ago, I believe they understood grief much better. The grieving family wore black clothes or black arm bands for a year. The widow was not able to make any major changes in her life until that year had passed. Perhaps they knew something? Today’s society would have you questioning yourself at the length of time you feel grief and sorrow and pain. Today’s society would make you think that perhaps there is something wrong with you because you can’t seem to focus, or even get out of bed some mornings.
Well I want you to know that is normal. You’ve suffered a great loss it will take time for you to find your “new normal”. It will take time for you to even want to find your “new normal”. I want to assure you that this week you will find that understanding that perhaps is lacking at home. You will find that you are not crazy and that what you are feeling and going through is normal. The old adage “there is strength in numbers” is very fitting. When you are alone you, you are without support. But when you have a group of understanding people standing beside you and behind you, you are never alone. I believe that it is possible to be in a room full of people and still be alone. Because they do not understand you.
During National Police week you will find that through Concerns of Police Survivors you will never be alone again. Take a moment right now to look to your right and then to your left. Now look behind you. You will see that you are not alone. E pluribus Unum. That is what is printing on our currency. It means: “Out of many, come one”. Out of many survivors traveling a long hard path, comes one group, COPS, standing united in support, fellowship and love.
I believe that grief is comprised of two components: First is obviously the loss. The second is the rebuilding of a shattered life. That is why you are all here. To begin to rebuild your shattered life. Together we can do this. This week you will see that there are many who want to remember with you. There are many who want to honor your officer with you.
Musician Patti Smith said, “Grief starts to become indulgent, and it doesn't serve anyone, and it's painful. But if you transform it into remembrance, then you're magnifying the person you lost and also giving something of that person to other people, so they can experience something of that person.”
This memorial, The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, does just that; Transforms our grief into remembrance. The NLEOM strives to respect, honor and remember our officers. A step in the process called healing. As you walk around this magnificent memorial, the only memorial in Washington DC that continues to grow each year, you will see all of the mementoes left in remembrance of our officers. I hope this gives you a sense of peace that their memory will live on.
Ella Montgomery tells us that "Nothing is lost to us if we remember it". Our officers are always with us. They will never be lost to us. Right now for some of you memories may be painful or bittersweet, but in time they will be comforting and a source of joy.
This truly is a beautiful memorial. Actually, I think it is THE most beautiful memorial. Not just because my husband’s name has been carved upon these walls, but because when I’m here I feel such a sense of peace. For me, coming here is like coming home. I’m sure the architects of this memorial chose lions to guard sentry over these walls. Lions are fierce warriors. They are courageous and strong. I wonder if they realized the connection of this majestic animal to our officers. For our officers were also warriors who were courageous and strong. The same can be said of you as survivors. You are courageous. You are strong. Stronger than you know! You have the courage and strength to triumph over your tragedy.
If this memorial is home, then it is Concerns of Police Survivors that is our family, for every home has a family. COPS will give you the resources you need to rebuild your shattered life. We are a network of survivors, like yourself, who have walked where you walk now. We have not only survived, but thrived. St. Pope John XXIII said, “Do not walk through time without leaving worthy evidence of your passage.” I believe these walls leave worthy evidence of our officers’ passage. Their sacrifice is forever etched in our nation’s history. Now it’s your turn to think about what worthy evidence you will leave behind.
I refused to give up on life because I simply could not squander or throw away what Keith had taken from him. For the past 25 years I have worked hard to rebuild my life and be successful and happy. I am remarried and have 4 beautiful children. I thank God every day for Keith and I thank him every day for giving me the courage to go after my second chance.
Through Concerns of Police Survivors I have found lifelong friends who really have become my family. There is no other organization that can offer you what COSP does. In fact, for 30 years Concerns of Police Survivors have been offering survivors strong support. This week please take advantage of the speakers we have scheduled and the sessions we have planned. It is here that you will find the tools you will need to heal.
Grief is a process not a state. You can’t navigate through it as if it were a place. There is no road map of the journey you are on right now. Grief is a process that cannot be denied. You can ignore it, but it won’t go away. In grief, nothing “stays put”. You don’t go through a check list and say “OK, I’ve done this. What’s the next phase?” You will feel denial, anger, depression, and bargaining individually as well as together. One day you may feel angry, the next day it may be denial. Then the following week you’re angry again. And then you start asking yourself questions. You know the ones: “Why?”, “What if?”, “If only.” Round and round. Up and down. Quite like a roller coaster. Take heart, it won’t last forever, the peaks and valleys will once again even out.
When you are in the “process” it is hard to see where it will end. It can be hard to find the light when you are in darkness. But rest assured, COPS will be there to light your way with a blue flame and a hand to lift you up. As we often say to each other, “take my hand, I’ll help you up.”