by Robert Cubby
Recently, I saw an article about taking the uniforms of the military and turning them into Teddy Bears for the children of deceased military personnel. Something tangible to hug and hold that belonged to their Dad or Mom. I thought what a great idea. It reminded me of the program that the military is presently using called Combat Paper. The uniform is converted to paper with the same camo pattern the veterans wore. They were instructed to take that paper and convert it to a piece of art, cutting into it. The rational is to take something that may have painful memories due to PTSD and turn it into something of beauty. Along the same lines of reasoning, these Teddy Bears will turn a painful memory into something positive. This appealed to me since I suffer from PTSD from my police service.
Seeing this, I thought why couldn’t this be done for first responders also? Take an old uniform shirt, let’s say, and cut it up in a pattern and construct a Teddy Bear for a child that has lost a parent who was a first responder. Then thinking this out, I wondered who would construct such an object? Who would be able to cut up a uniform and make it into a Teddy Bear? I don’t mean talent in sewing or cutting, I mean emotionally.
You see, it struck me that doing that act would be almost impossible for a first responder and I don’t know how the military does it. I know the military regularly discards their old uniforms and changes camo patterns for security purposes. They don’t keep these uniforms and regularly burn them in a mass burning pit. So I guess their view of the uniform may be different from that of the first responder.
From the day you enter the academy until the day you retire, that uniform has to be maintained and kept spotless subject to daily inspections by unforgiving supervisors with magnifying abilities in their eyes. They find the slightest flaw and point it out to you. Shoes shined, pants pressed, shirts pressed, all leather accessories polished, brass gleaming, visor of hat spotless, hat squared on head with neatly trimmed hair. This was relentless day in and day out. You cared for that uniform and became distraught if anything soiled it. Of course you maintained extra uniforms in your locker so that you could change should that happen.
Beyond the inspections was the pride instilled and what it meant to wear that uniform. How you went from khakis in the academy to earn the privilege of donning that police officer’s uniform, no longer a recruit or plebe but a police officer. And as you went through the years you wore those hash marks on your sleeve with pride. If blessed with promotion, you know how hard you fought for those chevrons, single bars, double bars or railroad tracks, the eagles, then the two stars or five stars of the chief. The gold braid on your dress blouse and the number earned, the gold braid on your eight pointer, the wide black tweed stripe down the piping of your trousers and on your hat, the scrambled eggs on the visor and the coveted white shirt of captain and above. You fought your heart out for those pieces of cloth. They meant endless nights studying and time away from the family hitting the books. For those pieces of cloth.
So now, after all that and what that all means to a police officer, who will be able to cut that uniform. To you who wore that honorably all those years, that’s sacrilege and unforgivable. You protected that uniform from all enemies who would stain it or soil it. To cut it? Not here, and not now.
Recently, I volunteered to construct several panels for a quilt for the movie, Code 9 Officer Needs Assistance. The quilt would just express messages and emotions of those who lost a loved one to suicide or suffering from PTSD. I wanted mine to look like my uniform but, of course, couldn’t bear to cut one up. So I went to a craft store that had materials for sewing. Being a fish out of water I must have looked out of place. The sales woman helped me secure what I needed. I planned the pattern and what I wanted to say, but even when I put the scissor to the material, my hand was shaking so badly because it looked so much like what I cherished all those years and protected. There was a certain amount of release being able to do so. The grip that uniform had on me was released somewhat, and became a thing of beauty. It was therapeutic and made a positive statement our of something that had brought so much pain. The PTSD monster was loosening its hold on me. Ultimately, I made two panels for the quilt and a third for the brother of a Philadelphia police officer who died by suicide.
But more than the therapy that it afforded me, it made me think. If I or another officer could construct a Teddy Bear, the pain that uniform brought the family, especially the children, could be lessened and dealt with positively. Imagine what that could do for the child of a first responder or police officer who lost their life due to suicide. It might be hard and it might be emotional for the officer or victim of PTSD and the recipient of the Teddy Bear, but in the end I think it would be a welcome change that is needed.
About the Author: Robert Cubby was born January 4, 1950. He attended Montclair State College (University) earning a BA degree in psychology. Shortly after graduation, Robert was sworn in as a police officer for the Jersey City Police Department. After attending the Police Academy, he was assigned to the patrol division. After seven years of working in two patrol districts, he was transferred to the Emergency Services Bureau where he was an instructor for the Police Academy. After 8 1/2 years, Robert was promoted to sergeant and assigned to the Property Unit. This was followed by assignments back in patrol as a sergeant, lieutenant, and captain. As a lieutenant, Robert was deployed to assist in the efforts during the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City. As a captain, he was assigned out of title 50% of the time as an acting inspector/city commander. Captain Cubby retired from the Jersey City police Department in 2011 after 38 years, 4 months of service. As the result of his service to the department, he was diagnosed with PTSD and continues to struggle with it on a recurring basis. Robert also appeared in the film, Code9 Officer Needs Assistance.