“Sundays are hard for me. Sunday is the day my husband walked out the door and never came back. January 20th was a normal Sunday for us. Like every other woman in America at the time, I was suddenly inspired to organize my life after watching the Marie Kondo Netflix show ‘Tidying Up.’ I was going to do it this time. Buy all the bins and all the labels and get my stuff together! Sean laughed and rolled his eyes with the usual, ‘Okay whatever you say, Krissy’. He was used to my weekly grand ideas that never came to fruition.
I ran out to get us coffee and buy all my goodies while he stayed home finishing up school work. I got back home and began ‘tidying up.’ His work phone was upstairs on our bar and it kept going off. Sean was a cop. The work never stopped. Yes, it was a Sunday and his day off. But criminals don’t have a work schedule. I yelled down the stairs that it kept ringing. He told me to bring it to him with a soda. A few minutes later he ran up the stairs. ‘I’ve got to go in.’ This scenario had played out so many times in the past 5 years. A criminal was wanted. Sean couldn’t sleep until the job was done, so he worked nonstop to make that happen. Then he came home. He hurried around and I helped him find his things. I kissed him and said, ‘I love you’. He said it back as he rushed out the door. I learned early on being a police wife that pouting did nothing. He was going to go no matter what I said. So I made it easy on him that day. Even though he had worked late every night and this was the only 48 hours we had together all week.
I continued my organizing while texting him making sure he got to the spot safely. At around 3:00 p.m. I noticed he hadn’t answered my text from 2:00 p.m. I started my initial worrying phase, getting a little anxious. 3:30 p.m. still nothing. I texted again, ‘Are you okay? Please let me know when you can.’ Nothing. This still wasn’t that unusual. Like I said, this wasn’t my first time.
I thought okay, he probably got the guy and is having to book him, write reports, etc. He’s busy. I tried to keep organizing…but I couldn’t. I was getting really anxious at this point. I called my dad. ‘Dad, Sean isn’t answering. I am scared something happened to him.’ This wasn’t new territory for him either, I did this often. My dad said, ‘Krissy I am sure everything is fine, he will be calling any minute.’ I hung up but didn’t feel any better. Next, I did what most LEO wives do when they can’t get their husband to answer, I went on to Facebook Live. We do this all the time. We get on there and we see our husbands arresting somebody or their car in pursuit and we think, ‘okay that is why they aren’t answering… they are busy.’
I see breaking news that there was a shooting at an apartment complex on the west side of the city. I didn’t know where Sean had gone. I didn’t know if this had anything to do with him, but Sean was almost always in the middle of the action. It was the type of cop he was. So I kept watching. I hear someone say they thought they heard a lot of gunshots. There are people talking over one another and a lot of police on the scene. Then I hear the reporter, ‘People are saying they think an officer may have been involved in the shooting.’ My heart sank and I knew right then, it was Sean. I tried calling his best friend who was also a cop. He forwarded me to voicemail. I kept calling. I kept getting forwarded. I learned later… he already knew and couldn’t talk to me until I was properly notified.
I stood there feeling sick to my stomach. Alone in my house knowing something was wrong but not getting any answers. I looked out the blinds waiting for the police to pull up. I stood there waiting for probably 5-10 minutes. Finally, the black Tahoes stopped in front of my house and two men got out. I ran out to meet them. ‘He got shot, didn’t he? He got shot, take me to him.’ They looked at me with tears in their eyes and told me he had died. ‘What do you mean? Are you sure? Are you sure he didn’t just get shot?’ At that point, I had not let myself think that he had been killed. All I could get to was that he had been shot. My mind wouldn’t let me go any farther than that.
Dead? How could he be dead? He was just here? He had done this a million times and come home. But not today. Today was different. They walked me inside. I asked about a hundred more times if they were sure. ‘Yes, we are sure Krissy. He has died.’ You never know quite how you will react. You literally can’t control anything you say or do. It is a complete and total natural reaction to something your brain can not process. I cursed at the chaplain. I screamed on my porch in pain. I shouted things over and over again almost like a recorder at these officers, ‘My husband is dead because of a stupid thug!’ ‘Why would anyone want to do this job? Look at me. Do you want your wife to end up like this?’ They sat there and cried and shook their heads. I could see their pain just like they could see mine. Then I sat in a chair and I stared. Full disbelief. It is indescribable the number of things you feel in this state. Unless it happens to you, it is impossible to understand. Feeling someone’s warmth next to you in the morning and then gone never to be seen again by the afternoon. I remember what I was wearing. It’s still in my drawer. I’ve never worn it again. I remember what drink I brought down to him. It sat their half-full for months. I haven’t drunk them since.
The first few days are foggy. It was a constant stream of people. My family first, then friends, then strangers. I sat and stared a lot. I let it all circle around me while I was frozen. More officers came. I was learning more about what happened. He was shot. Multiple times. I remember the first time someone used the word ‘murder’ in my presence. Like a literal stab in the gut. I didn’t really care to hear any of this at that point. He was gone and never coming back. That was all my brain could handle. There were many things to be done now. Logistically, a line of duty death is a lot of work. Multiple agencies and tons of people. People talked. I acted like I listened. I couldn’t get into our bed at night. His shoes were still at the bedroom door. I closed my eyes and saw horrible things. Things you never want to think about your loved one enduring alone. I still have trouble with that sometimes. The quiet. Closing your eyes. They became the things you dread in those first few weeks. You know it’s when the pain is the worst. I didn’t sleep for about 3 days. I was completely miserable. Crying constantly because I was so tired.
On the 3rd day, it was time for me to go see him. I was exhausted and I remember throwing a tantrum like a little girl saying I didn’t want to do it. But I knew no matter how hard I screamed and cried, I had to go. My dad looked me in the eye and said, ‘Krissy, you are strong and you can do this.’ They finally got me in the car and I laid curled up in the fetal position until we got there. I held the Chief’s hand as his body was rolled out with an American flag over it. It was real now. I stood and stared. That was my husband.
Sean was also in the Alabama National Guard and they had soldiers standing watch over his body 24/7. They never left him. When they had him ready to be seen I was adamant that I wanted to go alone. I needed this time with him. I walked past the two soldiers and stopped. There he was, lying cold in a hospital gown. I touched one of the soldiers and I took a deep breath. I walked over to him. He had a little band-aid on his face from a bullet hole and I kissed it. I kissed his forehead. I kissed his lips. I rubbed his hair like I had every single night until he fell asleep for the past 10 years. I talked to him. I told him how much I loved him and that he was okay now. I repeated that like a mantra, ‘You are okay.’ I think it was just as much for me as it was for him. I think about those soldiers. How they had to stand there and hear the last intimate conversation I had with my husband. I think about the officers that had to see the pain on my face when they told me the news. I think about the ones at the scene where he was shot. We all have images that flash when we close our eyes. Ones that cause us to feel the pain as if it were that exact day all over again.
That week was busy, and I was in survival mode. I stood for 4 hours next to his body and shook the hands of hundreds of people. Officers, soldiers, nurses, citizens all came to pay respects to my hero. It was something I will never forget. I know I drew my strength from him that day. I wanted every single person who took the time to come see him know that I appreciated it. The streets lined with people and signs saying ‘Thank you’ still touches me. It restored my faith in humanity after something so tragic. After the funeral, I remember sleeping for close to 24 hours. All this was hard, but I knew the real struggles were about to begin. When everyone left, and I was there alone to rebuild my life.
That’s what I have been doing ever since. Learning about myself. Learning about what grief is and how I am processing all of this. Grief is intimate and lonely. You see the people around you go on with their regular lives, while every little detail about your life has changed. You suddenly feel misunderstood by the people who have understood you your whole life. Words become meaningless because you hear them so often. One of my favorite quotes from a grief book I read is ‘no matter how I craft the words, I can not reach where this lives in you.’ You learn very quickly that this is a personal journey. Nobody is going to say or do anything to fix it. You stay up at night thinking long and hard about why him and why me. I do not know the answers to these questions, but I am learning. I know that his story was meant to end that day and mine was not. That pain is heavy, but I have accepted it.
Sean was so special. While I laid in bed thinking about the dirty dishes in the sink, he laid next to me thinking about how he could do his part to make the world a safer and better place. That was him. He saw the big picture. I didn’t understand then. But I do now. We are a second in time. A small fraction of history. What are you doing to make your second count? I never used to think about that. But I do now. I had something extraordinary right in front of me. His absence has made that clear. He was not perfect. But he was different. Like a storm or shooting star coming into my life and changing everything I’ve ever known, and then disappearing. Walking out the door forever and leaving me with everything I needed to become the person I always wanted to be. That is love. When someone challenges you. When you look at that other person and admire them. When they inspire you to self-reflect and grow. We did that for each other.
He always knew his purpose in life, but I was never sure of mine. His loss is making it so much clearer. I will forever have a teacher and guardian angel on the other side and for that I am grateful. I know I will find love with someone else. But there are lots of different kinds of love. This one I will not have again. I am lucky to have experienced it once. Even if it didn’t last my lifetime, it lasted his, and I find comfort in that. He is gone, but he is not far away. Like someone just around the corner. I feel him every day.
You hear stories like this and you think there is no way you could survive it. But you can. I am living proof. I am still surprising myself every single day. You somehow find strength and you keep moving forward. My life does not stop because he is not here. It is now my job to find purpose in the pain.”
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