Life is full of “guarantees.” It’s full of “always.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Bright laundry detergent is guaranteed to lift those tough stains.” “When you graduate high school…”
“Don’t worry about cooking dinner tonight, come have dinner at Sally’s restaurant: where the food is always fresh and the staff is always friendly.”
We coast through our daily lives bombarded by guarantees. We even take an active role in the cycle of promises. So, naturally, when a life is taken “too soon” by our standards, we feel cheated, lost, and confused. We can’t seem to grasp the concept that our “forever and always,” is no longer a possibility. We are lulled into a false sense of security by society’s continual cycle of promises, and we refuse to accept the one guarantee in life- we’re all going to die.
We are all guilty of choreographing the beat of our lives to the guarantees society presents to us because in the end, we find peace and comfort in the word “always.”
I’ve written before on the conversation Jason and I “always” had before work. It’s the same basic conversation all law enforcement wives have before sending their husbands off to fix society’s problems and “save the day.” I’ve even written about how the conversation didn’t end in “always” the night of Jason’s death. How for whatever reason that night, he couldn’t reassure me with always.
What I haven’t shared, is how our relationship seemed to be built around and based on the reassurance of the word always. I ended every letter, every goodnight text, every conversation with “love always.” When he asked me if I loved him, I replied, “always.” For us, it was a foundational word and hearing it somehow convinced me that everything would work out.
Not hearing it over a year ago shook me, but it didn’t break me. And, since then, I’ve often thought about how different the night’s events might have played out if I had heard it instead of “I’ll try.” Realistically, I know the result would have been the same, the verbalization of one word wouldn’t change the events of the night, but I think it would have changed how I accepted them.
I’ve spent a considerable amount of time angry at the fact that my “always” was taken away from me. At times I’ve felt defeated, lost, and just plain mad at the idea others get to continue their own “always,” and I get stuck with remembering an “always cut too short.”
The reality that I have now “observed” two anniversaries without my “always,” is difficult to stomach at times. In fact, the idea to write this blog about the reassurance of the word always has been in the back of my mind for months…and I just couldn’t bring myself to write it. I wanted to be okay with my “always,” no longer being here, but how can one grasp the idea that “always” is gone. By sheer definition of the word, it’s an impossibility.
And, tonight, as I was getting ready for bed, I looked through the Facebook page for the upcoming Officers Down 5K to benefit Jason’s scholarship and ODMP, and I had an epiphany. As I scrolled through the posts, I paused at Jason’s picture and promotional information for the race staring down at me from a billboard. And tears begin to flood my cheeks. In that moment, my definition of always changed. I realized that it is impossible for always to truly be gone.
The reality is, my role in the “always” has changed. I thought that my role was to always make him feel loved, always support him, always help him, and always be by his side, and for almost 7 years, that was my role. Now, my role is even bigger. My way to continue the always, is to be a voice for the true cost of an officer’s sacrifice, to rally the LEO community together and humanize our heroes. To raise a little boy into a man who understands the value of sacrifice and is willing to pay the true cost of it if need be.
I never thought my love ended with Jason’s death, but I struggled because so much of me was wrapped up in the idea of being his always. After he died, I felt imprisoned because I had no idea who I was. Tonight, I feel free. Free because no action I perform after his death changes my love for Jason. Nothing can lessen it, eradicate it, or diminish its purity. Instead, I get the rest of my lifetime to continue to work on the always.
Whether I remarry or not, move or stay, teach or not, none of those change my love for him. Instead, they just continue to prove it. I prove it by living. I prove it be striving to be a voice for the true cost of sacrifice. I prove it by starting an organization, and then they join in on proving it. We prove it by hosting a 5k, and by rallying a community together around the idea that our officers should be thanked, and that their humanity is our first priority.
I believe in signs from Jason, and tonight even though that billboard didn’t say “always,” the message clearly was conveyed. A year ago, I would have never imagined the idea that together we could host such an event. I would have never thought we would be this far in humanizing our heroes, and demonstrating the true cost of sacrifice, but here we are.
My always didn’t end, and it never will, because I have control over its permanence. Always doesn’t end with death, it just changes form. Always doesn’t end if I change anything in my life, start a new life, or leave it as close as possible to how it was. Now, it comes in signs from above, little nudges in my heart, and a little boy who looks and acts just like his daddy. It comes from sisters who love me, family who supports me, and from friends who lift me up and help me continue my always.
Call me crazy, but for me, always comes in the form of billboards, interviews about sacrifice, and making baskets for a silent auction. And, while it would be nice to be able to hear him say “always” one more time, he shows me our “always” all the time. I just have to be still and listen.
How blessed I am to be able to continue my journey of “always.” And at the end of my life, when someone asks me “You still love him after all this time?” I’ll be able to answer, “always,” and my actions will provide the proof. How blessed am I, that when I said goodbye to my officer that night, I awoke being able to help ensure that my fellow sisters get to hear their “always” as they send their husbands off to begin their shifts. How blessed am I, that I get to help humanize hundreds of thousands of officers.
Willingness to sacrifice isn’t just in an officer’s DNA, it’s in his wife’s as well.