by Robert Cubby
I am reminded of an experience that took place at a police funeral and the aftermath, the loss of an officer to suicide.
It was December 2005. We lost two officers in a motor vehicle accident where their emergency services truck drove off an open drawbridge in dense fog on Christmas night. The bridge was shut down because the lights and gates that would stop traffic when the bridge was in the open position weren’t working. They closed the bridge entrances in Kearney and in Jersey City. The Jersey City unit in Kearney was running low on flares and the emergency squad truck drove over the closed bridge to give them more flares. After wishing each other a Merry Christmas, the emergency squad headed back over the bridge to Jersey City. Due to the thick blanket of fog, Sean and Robbie didn’t see that the bridge was open and they plunged to their deaths.
Jane and Mike were in the Jersey City unit that was posted in Kearney. They were yelling to Sean and Robbie to stop because they could see the impending doom. They ran to the edge of the bridge and wanted to jump into the water below to save Sean and Robbie. Jane had to be restrained. After an exhaustive search, both bodies were recovered; one still inside the truck, the other separated from the truck. Both died in the line of duty and an inspector’s funeral would be planned for each officer.
We were lined up in front of the funeral parlor in formation. As we awaited the funeral detail to form up, I noticed that Jane and Mike were standing by themselves across the street, holding each other and crying. No one was with them or comforting them. They seemed to be alone in their grief. I walked over and talked to them, hugging them both and trying to show some compassion and give them some comfort. Union representatives walked over and took over looking after Jane and Mike.
We marched from Pavonia Avenue to the Armory on Bergen Avenue where the funeral for Robbie would take place. Again, I see Jane and Mike and no one near them. They were sobbing once more. No one was standing by them, no one comforting them. It may have been just a mix up in the crowd and they were separated from others who were with them. I stood by them and stayed with them until someone from the union stayed with them. Attending a police funeral is a very emotional and traumatic event. If you were involved in the incident surrounding the death of the officer, it is especially hard to handle your emotions and you feel so alone and afraid. I experienced those feelings several times myself when I was involved in the incidents surrounding the death of several officers on different occasions. In one instance, no one stood by me or accompanied me. But in the other, two officers stayed by me the entire funeral and I was able to get through the ceremony with their help.
It is such a simple matter and seems like something that should occur naturally, that no one should be reminded that the officer shouldn’t have to go through this alone. But we as police officers sometimes feel that we are not our brothers’ keeper and unless they ask for help, we shouldn’t bother them, that they probably want to be left alone to deal with their emotions. In some cases that may be true, but in my experience often times it isn’t. Even if it’s a matter of saying nothing, doing nothing but standing near them or showing that you are there for them is all we need to do or all we can do. We don’t have to have the magic words that will solve the world’s problems or undo the trauma that the officer is going through.
So many times, I hear that from officers telling me they don’t know what to do or say to the officer so they don’t say anything or do anything. Sometimes, it just might be better to say and do nothing but stand next to them letting them know they are never alone in this world. That there is someone out there that gives a damn about that officer and what that officer is feeling and going through. That it’s not a matter of “getting over it” or “ this will pass” or “stop crying and man up.” Because right now, at this very moment, that’s the last thing they want or need to hear.
It is a process that moves at its own pace that needs to be gone through and no amount of effort by anyone will change that. It moves in baby steps sometimes, and seems to drag on forever. Sometimes that frustrates the person suffering through it and sometimes the people around them. But no amount of effort will change that.
But that doesn’t mean we abandon them because there’s nothing we can do. It means that they need friendship, empathy, comfort and support to help make the transition as comfortable as possible. They mourn the loss of a friend and that hurts. They shouldn’t have to feel that they are the only ones mourning that loss.
On August 1, 2010, we received the devastating news no one ever wants to hear. Jane had killed herself using her service weapon. I don’t know what pain Jane suffered that caused her to end it this way. I couldn’t help but wonder how much that incident on that bridge that Christmas night took from that poor soul. I saw her pain at the funeral, that deep sobbing where your whole body trembles. Her pain must have been great that day and every day since. I wish I had known her better.
I wish that those who knew her had seen this coming. But we can wish and wish and often we never see the signs or indications. Such was probably the case with Jane. I hope that smile that would light up a room lights up heaven for her and all who knew her.
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.
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