Tears for a fallen officer
Recently, I shed a few tears during the funeral of the Mendota Heights Police officer killed in the line of duty. Beyond all of the pageantry of the ceremony, I was moved by the overwhelming response of the people who most likely never knew this officer. They lined the route to the cemetery for miles, holding signs and flags. They saluted, they made the sign of the cross or simply dabbed at their eyes as the entourage wound its way to the officer's final resting place. Those who will carry on where he left off preceded his casket. And, oh yes, people in public safety know how to honor their dead. What is it that brings us together in times like this? What makes these same people, who would most likely pay scarce attention to any police officer on an everyday basis, now honor him?
It is often uttered at funerals and weddings that "the only time we get together anymore is at weddings and funerals." I have heard it said many times, and I have said it myself. It seems to me to be an excusable way to say, "I'm sorry I ignored you all of these months or years." I have, in the last few years, lost many friends and loved ones. Always, after the final goodbyes - and it takes a few weeks - you slowly realize the finality of death. It can come in the form of grief or guilt, depending on the strength of your conscience, and your place in the life of the deceased.
Sometime in the next few days, that officer's widow and children will have to pick up the pieces and go on with their lives. The last friend will leave, the door will close, and they will be alone with their thoughts and memories. We have all been there at one time or another. It's brutal. It's one thing to cry in the arms of your family and friends. It's another thing, entirely, to cry in the dark by yourself. Grief comes on you like a high fever that gradually subsides, a fraction of a degree at a time. Sometimes it flares back up, and the process starts all of over again, but with each
recurrence you build some resistance and the episodes get milder and milder. Sometimes, it can leave you emotionally crippled, and you have to learn how to live life all over again.
Most us will never have a send-off like Officer Patrick received. We will be remembered more for how we lived, than for how we died. There will be no white horse with an empty saddle. No caisson to pull our casket past throngs of people. So much of our eulogy will depend on how we lived out our lives, the people we loved and touched, and the impressions we made on them. No matter the send-off, however, death is the great equalizer and we are all reduced to our own common soul, left to fend for itself in the great hereafter. It's not a good time to try and make amends for either the deceased or the survivors.
I have never put a lot of stock in autobiographies. We all like to toot our own horns. But when others, who were impressed with the way you lived and loved, tell your story - well, my friends, that is meaningful. I see so many lives that are lived in obscurity and it's sad. We all have so much to give. The great poet William Butler Yeats said, and I quote, "Think where man's glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends."