Written by: April Katherman-Redgrave
There is no arguing the fact that Law Enforcement families share a special bond and connection. Being a part of the “Blue Family” is unique. When one falls, we all fall. Whether it be an injury, critical incident, family struggles or God forbid a death we always band together. There are times when we are not sure how to support each other yet we are willing and ready. What better way to get advice and tips on how to help one of our own than from a family who has been there, who has experienced tragedy, loss and needed support.
On June 14, 2016, my husband, San Jose Police Officer Michael Katherman was killed in the line of duty. My sons were eight and ten when their dad died, and our world was turned upside down. The day I received the news I began to live the nightmare that every police spouse fears. Throughout the first days, weeks, months and now even years there are many ways I have truly felt comfort, love, and support from my Blue Family. I received help that I didn’t even realize my boys and I needed.
Here are ten ways to best support law enforcement families in need:
Find something you can take off their plate. If you are out running errands offer to run one for them as well. There are often many phone calls to be made and emails to be sent, ask for a list and help check some off it. Ask for a grocery list and go shopping for them. Another huge help to me was at the beginning of the school year a friend offered to purchase all my sons’ back to school supplies from the list given by their school. It sounds so simple, but it was a burden that was lifted and something I didn’t think about or even have the energy to do myself.
Keep your promises to the children. Do not offer to take the children to do something they love like go fishing, shoot hoops, camping, go on a playdate or any kind of special outing unless you mean it and plan on following through. If these LEO children have experienced any kind of trauma, loss or change in their current family situation chances are something fun to look forward to gives them a glimmer of hope and takes off some of the stress and sadness they could be experiencing at home. They do not need any added disappointment.
Be understanding. There are going to be times when plans are canceled last minute, phone calls are not returned, and texts are left unanswered. Often with no explanation because they simply do not have one. So many times, I felt willing when I made plans then the time would come and I would have no energy mentally, emotionally, or physically to leave the house. Talking on the phone or even responding to a single text seemed to take so much out of me. When the other party did not get frustrated or annoyed by my flakiness and was understanding of my struggles it took a huge weight off my shoulders.
Show up without being asked. Let me clarify… do not show up to visit or come inside their house unexpectedly especially in the beginning of their time in need, whatever that may be. What I mean by this is show up and hang Christmas lights. Come with your own lawn mower and garden tools to do the yardwork for your injured friend. Wash their car in the driveway. Stain the fence that so desperately needs it. These are the kind of things I would have never asked for help with because I didn’t realize I needed it, yet I also couldn’t do it on my own.
When you are thinking about them, tell them. If they are on your mind, send a text or make a phone call. When you visit the gravesite of your fallen friend, tell the family. Send a card in the mail or care package. You never know how much you can brighten someone’s day by a simple, “I’m thinking about you” message in any way shape or form. If you have LEO children of your own, think about having them send an encouraging note to the children in the family. It always brought a smile to my boys’ faces when they received personalized notes from other kids who were thinking about them.
If you do not personally know the family, you can still reach out too. I received many cards from people all over the country who let me know they were thinking and praying for my family. They were mailed to my husband’s police department and then brought to me. I read every note and card. I even made multiple binders that I filled with those notes and cards that I will keep for my sons.
Keep the contact. Continue to keep in contact and check in months and years later even if the family does not reach out or respond back. The worst feeling is feeling like you have been forgotten. The outreach and support are so evident in the beginning of any kind of hardship then it slowly dwindles away, yet the family may still need the support even years later. Check in every once in a while and see if there is anything you can do to help. Months and even years later, keep the contact.
Offer support and not advice. When hard times and tragedy strikes there are many decisions that must be made. As the family tries to move forward those decisions continue. When you are the one making those decisions all while trying to do what is absolute best for yourself and your family, what is needed the most is support. Not judgment or advice unless the advice is being asked for. Even if you do not agree with a decision being made, trust the person because unless you have walked in their shoes, they know what is best. The weight of all they are carrying is already so heavy that they do not need to be pushed down any further.
Continue to send the invites. You may receive a no every time you extend an invite. Sometimes it is just too hard to go out and put on that happy face, so a no is a much easier answer. I can tell you that eventually they will be ready to say yes. It may take a while and when they are ready chances are the invites have stopped. Be patient, give them time and continue to invite them.
Utilize the Porch Drop. If you are local to the family, think about doing a drive by. There is always a need these families have even if they don’t know it themselves. One time I came home to toilet paper, paper towels, toothpaste, tampons, water and laundry soap on my porch. Someone in our community wasn’t quite sure how to help, so when she was at Costco, she picked up some essentials for me and left them on my porch. It was exactly what I needed, and I didn’t even realize it. I was not thinking about the fact that we needed more toilet paper, I was just trying to survive. Gift cards were dropped on my porch, toys for my boys, encouraging cards, you name it. No contact needed or really wanted by me, yet I felt so comforted by the sweet simple gestures. If porch drop is not possible then think about dropping items off at the local police department the family is affiliated with. They will take care of the delivery of the items.
Always say their name. This one is the most important to me since my tragedy is that my husband was killed. He is no longer with my boys and I which leaves a huge void in our lives as we continue to move forward without him. We love when people talk about him, tell stories, and say his name. It does not make us sad, it is the exact opposite. I can’t stress this one enough, say their name!
These tips for helping Law Enforcement families in need can really be utilized for any family. The common factor for Law Enforcement families is that every struggle we hear or read about hits so close to home which makes us want to reach out and help even more.
God bless your family as you bless others. We’ve got each other’s six.
About the Author:
April Katherman-Redgrave is the surviving widow of fallen San Jose Police Motors Officer Michael J. Katherman. April experienced unimaginable brokenness and despair, yet also witnessed how God redeemed a terrible situation into one of great beauty and joy. April now shares her beauty from ashes story through writing and speaking to help encourage law enforcement families, widows and blended families while honoring her husband in heaven and glorifying all God has done in her life.
She is the author of Through Hell and High Water: A Police Widow’s Story of Tragic Loss and Redeeming Love.
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