Having your officer involved in an OIS (officer involved shooting) or critical incident is a lot of police wives’ nightmares come true. It’s stressful and frightening, and can even be traumatizing and life changing. Every incident is different and every family is different, so there’s no “one size fits all” piece of advice I can give or strategy to “make it all better.” This post is not all inclusive, nor does it contain all of the right things for everyone-it’s just some of the things that helped me as someone whose husband was involved in a critical incident. If your family was involved in a critical incident and had different things that worked or didn’t work for you-please, do what’s best for you! We’re all different. This is just my experience and some things that helped me.
During and after a critical incident it’s so, so important to make sure that your officer is taken care of! They were just in a life threatening and sometimes life altering incident. Please, help make sure that they’re okay! Keep your eyes peeled for a follow up post on how to specifically support your officer. I’m also working on a post on how to support fellow blue family when an officer from your agency has been involved in a critical incident. These all have some overlap, but are also very different experiences.
Below are a handful of things that I personally have found helpful. There are many other things too-you know yourself best! Seek professional help from a counselor. Utilize the services your department provides. Ask your best friend for advice. Depending on what happened, the extent of your officer’s injury (if they were injured), your mental health, your officer’s mental health, the politics surrounding the incident, the state of your marriage, and the season of life you’re in, things will look different. Everything you might be feeling is “normal” because what happened is anything BUT normal.
Above all, know that you’re not alone. Unfortunately, critical incidents are not unusual among our thin blue line family, especially lately. Here are 10 things I have found helpful as a police wife after my officer was involved in an OIS:
Stay off of social media and the news for awhile. It seems like a no brainer, but so much of our scrolling takes place without a second thought! The first thing I used to do after something happened at my officer’s department was go right to Facebook and the news to scour for information. The first thing I do now is shut it all off! Especially at first, most of the information won’t even be accurate. Then there’s the comments-oh gosh, the comments. It’s much easier not to read them if you don’t go to them in the first place. Take a break from social media and the news for as long as seems appropriate-maybe a day, maybe a week, maybe indefinitely. Guard your heart against the commentary surrounding the incident, especially when it’s negative.
Drink a lot of water. When I was in undergrad, one of my professors worked for Child Protective Services and was constantly dealing with family emergencies and stressful situations. One of the first things she told our class was “have everyone drink a lot of water”. Water helps flush out the stress hormone cortisol, which is produced in excess during stressful times. Make it a point to drink way more water than you normally would-even if some of it is flavored or in tea. Try not to have too much caffeine or sugar-but who are we kidding, too much coffee and a bunch of treats are what I turn to when things are hard! Try to give your body the nourishment it needs, but don’t beat yourself over having popcorn for dinner, either.
Accept help. Whether it’s from the department itself, other police wives, family, or friends, accept the help others are offering if it’s appropriate and would, you know, be helpful. I’m horrible at asking for and receiving help, which is totally unfair because I love giving it! Chances are, you saying yes to a meal someone wants to drop off or a friend offering to babysit for the afternoon will bless them just as much as it blesses you. After my officer had an OIS last year my book club (which has a couple of police wives in it as well) dropped off a sweet card under our doormat. It said how they were thinking of us and praying for us and contained a gift card to get groceries or dinner delivered so it was one less thing on our plate. It meant the world to me to know they had organized this together and were helping to ease some of the stress.
Get outside. Get yourself some fresh air! If it’s sunny out, even better. I always, always, always feel better after some time outside-even if it’s just for five minutes. Taking some deep breaths of fresh air will help physically and mentally, as well as the Vitamin D from the sun. Sit on your patio with your coffee, chug your extra water in the backyard, or even pop down the block to get the mail.
Move your body. Outdoors, if possible! Take a walk, jog around the block, do a workout, dance in the kitchen, play hard with your kids, or even do some yard work or deep cleaning (if that sounds good to you). When we go through traumatic events we get huge adrenaline rushes and our bodies itch to do something. Give your body some release through some physical activity.
Say yes to some socialization. This will, of course, depend on what happened, what your inner circle looks like, and how social you are as a person. Regardless of how introverted or extroverted you are, humans were created to be in relationship and in community. Take another police wife up on the coffee date, say yes to happy hour with your neighbor, answer that call from the sergeant checking in, or spend a few minutes chatting with the friend who dropped off a meal. It’s normal to want to feel like shutting everyone out at first, but resist that urge if you can and be blessed by the positive relationships around you. It’s okay if you don’t want to (or can’t) talk about what happened-you can reply to their text or questions with a simple “Thank you for thinking of us. It means the world just to know you’re there.”
Feel your own feels. Chances are, there are a lot of people and services surrounding your officer right now. That’s good! By all means, make sure he or she has support and their needs are being met. But also take a moment to feel your own feels, too. Depending on what happened, your family (because it really is the entire family who serves!) was just in a life threatening situation. Maybe things will go back to “normal” soon or maybe they won’t. Give yourself room to feel all of the feels that come with a traumatic event. Grief, anger, fear, gratitude-nothing is off limits or not “normal” because what happened is anything but normal.
Lean onto God. Leaning into your faith and the steadfastness of the Lord can provide a peace that nothing else can. I can drink all the water, jog all the miles, have all the coffee dates, and fill all the journals, but nothing compares to the calm that only He provides. Turn on a worship station, open your Bible, blast a praise song, repeat your favorite verse, rewatch a sermon, read a devo. It’s okay to be angry with God. It’s okay to have questions. It’s okay to be sad that whatever happened, happened. Take all of those concerns and feelings to Him and lean on the one who cares for you the most.
Take extra measures to feel safe. This was a big one for me in the weeks that followed my officer’s shooting. I felt myself constantly looking over my shoulder, checking the locks, and wearily assessing every single person I came across in the grocery store parking lot. Hypervigilance is completely normal after a traumatic event. A lot of our LEOs live with this even if they haven’t been in a “critical event” because the things that they deal with each shift are stressful and “critical” in and of themselves. This will probably vary depending on what happened. If your officer was involved in a collision, being hesitant on the road makes sense. If the person that attacked your officer is still at large, scanning the area for anyone that fits their description makes total sense. Keep tabs on your hypervigilance (and your mental health in general) in the weeks and months after the event and notice if it’s getting better or worse. Typically it will fade, but if not, there are many things a therapist can do to help. In the meantime, I did things like set our home security system more often, avoid having anything delivered to our house, go out with others, and make sure I was always carrying whenever I left the house.
Take care of business. I waffled back and forth about putting this on the list, since my focus in this post is taking care of yourself in a time of extreme stress. However, I think that some of these “taking care of business items”-although they take up time and brain space and emotional bandwidth-can actually help relieve stress and worry in the long run. Make sure that your officer has an attorney-most likely they have access to one through their FOP/union. Make sure that your social media is locked down and everything is as private as possible. Schedule therapy or a psych eval if/when needed (our department has a mandatory apt with a therapist before the officer is able to return to work). Attend the incident debrief (typically departments offer this about 48 hours after the event; ours has a group for the responders involved and a group for the spouses). Be careful about who you speak to about the incident and what details you share (depending on what happened and what state you’re in laws will differ, but in general, details need to be kept confidential). If necessary, have a talk with family and friends about what you’re comfortable with being shared online (mention of the incident, tagging you and your officer in posts) and in real life (sharing with others what happened). If you have kids that are old enough, discuss with them what happened and what might happen next in an age appropriate way. Make arrangements for how long your family will be off of work/school/daycare, if that is applicable.
Phew! I know this is a wordy post, but I wanted to make sure to include as much as I could, since there’s not a lot of posts like this out there-and critical incidents are all too common among our thin blue line family right now. If you have dealt with one, please know that you’re not alone. If you or your officer is struggling, please reach out for help. Police wives are among the strongest women I know. I am honored to get to stand behind the thin blue line with you.