An open letter to a Dispatcher

While I was getting some thoughts for my next email (for Police Week 2014) that will be going out in a week or so, I felt the need to stop and converse for a minute on some people who are really special to me.

For those of you who know my story know how it started. Here is the basic story that I tell “This began while I was thinking on the events of 9/11 in 2008. One of the last “moment of silence” was for the fire fighter that was the last survivor removed. During that moment, a gratitude for our law enforcement and fire crews really “came to life” so to speak. That evening I called my local department (Huber Heights, OH) on 9/11 and asked if they could let the officers and fire fighters know my appreciation for them. I was informed that they had not had that request in over 14 years. So that’s when I decided that I would reach as many as I could and let them know they are cared about.”

What seems to both of us like a moment of candor and honesty, has turned into a real life purpose for me. It’s been said that there are two great days in your life. When you are born, and when you figure out WHY you were born. That day really started the journey for me to figure out WHY I was born. When I talked to the dispatcher that night, it really came alive in me. Now, 750 departments hear from me. I’m a Chaplain for a few Police Departments directly and available to others as mutual aid. I’ve been in hospitals, funerals, more ride alongs that anyone I know and my life is dramatically different now. I won’t say who it is since I didn’t get her permission, but I have told her on a few occasions what that conversation meant to me that day. My life has been changed forever. Who did God use? It wasn’t a friend, or even a minister. It was a Dispatcher.

This week is National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week. A time when we express our gratitude to those who are behind the mics and phones telling us all what to do and where to go. I’ve sat in the HHPD dispatch for a while on a couple of occasions. I hear them in action every time I’m in one of our cars. I know that we are in good hands when I hear their voices. They are just plain awesome.

I want to give shout outs to another dispatch too. Now I’ve heard lots, but in a trying time, these voices kept it all together. When I went to Menifee County after the tornadoes in 2012, I rode with the Sheriff’s Office there. Even in the middle of all kinds of stuff going on, the Menifee County dispatch team was on top of it. Here’s the picture: It’s two days after the touchdown. We have 2 people confirmed dead, and damages to numerous residences. Power lines still lay in some roads and the National Guard was blocking off the worst hit area. It is 10 PM at night, getting colder. On top of all this, opposite side of the county, a domestic violence call. Then it started snowing. All this going on, and the lone dispatcher was holding the county together. She was in control. And even though some of this area had just been through hell, you’d never know it to her the radio transmissions. I was amazed.

SO to all my dispatcher friends (and readers) out there, never forget that you are AWESOME. Never forget that YOU can make a HUGE difference in someone’s life. You are the voice we count on. You may not get enough credit for what you do, but it does not go un-noticed. So, if any of you guys ever need anything, you let Doc know.

Weighing in on the “Duck Dynasty” controversy

OK…I’m weighing in. There are some things that I do not post on Facebook (or anywhere else in public view) that I truly believe. And there are some things posted to my wall that I remove. I do this, not because I question who I am, but the respect I have for my position. Let me explain.

While I do not speak for any organization directly, there are some people who see me as “the Chaplain from Huber Heights”. So, even though I do not speak for the city, or it’s Police Department, I do not tend to be controversial. As a matter of principle, I try to avoid it.

I truly believe in Freedom of Speech. I truly believe in (to use common terms) my religious principles. My relationship with God isn’t negotiable. It’s not up for debate. My good friends likely know where I stand on any issue. I have stood for the Constitution and pledged my life to it’s defense before, and will if I ever need to again. So if you want to say anything, it’s a free country. Me and millions of others have worked to keep it that way.

My goal on Facebook and on my blog is not to trumpet who I am and what I believe. If you do , that’s OK. Freedom of Speech is working as it is designed. My goal on Facebook is to keep in touch with family, and keep my supporters updated on my “ministry”:to show support for First Responders and Public Safety forces, honor our fallen, and encourage those who remain. Will I post some things along the way that folks may disagree with, or even may find offensive? Probably.

Here is the only opinion I will offer publicly: This is not a “Freedom of Speech” issue (as I see it). The constitution says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”. The government is not restricting Phil Robertson’s speech, it’s A&E, in a sense one of his “employers”. Just like I can go to work and tell my boss that “You’re doing a bad job” or “I hate the way you….”. I can do that. It’s a free country. And my employer has the right to show me the door. My speech is protected, but I am not protected from the outcomes of my speech. If you want to claim it’s media double-standard you can. You can claim it’s people harassing country folks. You can claim it’s a bias against Christianity. Is it true? Maybe. But that’s for better minds than mine to decide. But the way I see it, it’s not a problem with “Freedom of Speech”.

I owe it to the Huber Heights Police Division and the Butler Township Police Department to not do anything (in word or deed) that would cast a negative light on them. And as a friend pointed out, in the last four days we have lost 3 good officers and 2 firefighters: heroes. I owe it to them to make sure they are not forgotten. I owe it to those who remain to be ready to help them if they need it.

Please distribute to all Police, Paramedic and Fire personnel – Merry Christmas

First, I again want to say thank you to all the Chiefs, Sheriffs, Officers, Administrators, and fellow Chaplains who have made it possible for me to distribute this message.

I wish you and your families a Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday season. For those of you in stations or cars working during the holidays, we appreciate the sacrifices you and your family are making while ensuring our safety and security. It does not go unappreciated or unnoticed.

It’s that time of the year again. The Holidays can be a source of wonderful joy. I look forward every year to having some down time, spending time with my family, and going back to my home town to see more of my family. And there’s always a stop (or two or three!) at a police station or fire house to spread more of my support.  It’s a time of traditions. Most of us have them, though yours and mine are likely different. I know that some of you reading this will be working those days. Some of you volunteered so the department newlywed can have that first Christmas with his new bride or the new father with his newborn on Christmas morning. Some of you will be busy at work when I crawl out of bed on Christmas morning, or will hear the tones drop multiple times that night. Some of you will do it in freezing temperatures, and others will do it in warm ones. You will change your holiday schedule and family time around your work, and may not even think about it because “That’s what I do.” As a Chaplain, I’ve been privileged to see some of what goes on “behind the scenes”. I hear the stories and see the sacrifice. Lots of us do. Don’t ever forget that. But if you do, you know where to find me. So, do Doc a favor this Christmas. Have a great time. Be with people you love during the Holidays. Find some time to relax. Do something that makes YOU happy. Sit and enjoy some warm cocoa, or a cold drink (a good raspberry tea is my drink of choice) and enjoy it. You deal with the bad enough. Find some good and soak in as much as you can.

During the holidays, I always put in this information, because I know that someone may need it. The holidays are meant to be times of joy, happiness, time with those we love and hope. While it can produce stress for even the best of us, for some of you can be a time of sadness, frustration or depression. It can be hard to balance out what you have to deal with and still know that there are great people in society as well. I also know that it’s hard for us to reach out sometimes (and I’m no exception to this rule). If you find yourself struggling in this holiday season, don’t hesitate to reach out for assistance. Your departments may have Employee Assistance Care, Chaplains, Chiefs, and any other Supervisor available for help. There is also other Clergy and/or even friends for guidance and assistance should you need it. My phone is always on and I’ll make myself available to help you in any way that I can. Call us, grab us after roll call, send an email. Reach out if you need to.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and best wishes for 2014. I’ve said it before and will say it again, you all are heroes. I don’t know how often you hear it, but I’m certain it’s not nearly enough.

Journey through Grief Part 2 – Practical ways to help someone in mourning

I was working on a training online for Hospice and in the section “Grief and Bereavement” there were numerous good suggestions. I think most of us have said “I wish I could do something for their family while they are going through this”. It had some ideas and I’ll put some in here of my own.

This is not a complete list, so if you think of something, let me know. While this applies for everyone, I’ll also add in some thoughts for Public Safety deaths as well.

Sometimes in fear of “saying the wrong thing” we say nothing at all. In many ways this is just as harmful (if not more so). Don’t assume they know how you feel. Also do not assume that expressing how much the other person meant to you will make the situation worse. Listen to how they feel and let them do the talking first. Then you can say something that would be helpful.


The below sections are quoted from Practical Things to Say and Do When Someone Dies, Author Penny Halder. (Accessed 9/2/2013)

What to say/Not say

The best advice I ever received when trying to think of something to say when there really wasn’t anything to say was, “Simply say what you are feeling.” Try to put into words the pain and loss you are feeling your self rather than assuming what the other person is feeling. Let the survivor express his thoughts and feelings to you first. This gives him a sense that you are really listening and trying to understand. After you listen you will have a better understanding of how to respond. The following suggestions can be put in your own words.

o What a tragedy this is for you and your family.
o I heard about what happened and just had to come
o I hate it that this had to happen.
o How terribly hard this must be for all of you.
o I feel so bad about all the suffering (Name) had to go through.
o I was just shocked when I heard the news.
o I can’t imagine what you are going through.
o My heart hurts for all of you.
o Tears came to my eyes when I read the obituary.
o I feel just terrible about what happened.
o What an awful loss to our community.
o There’s a big hole now in my life.
o The world will never be the same without (Name).
o (Name) had such a great smile, personality etc. I will really miss him/her.
o I enjoyed working together with (Name). He always made the tasks easier, more fun etc.
o (Name) had such a wonderful way of making everyone he met feel special.
o I’m going to miss (Name) so much.
o I remember when…(happy memory here)

What can I do?

(Blogger’sNote)When people experience grief and loss, the shock and emotions they experience will make it more difficult to do normal tasks. So what they may need is someone who can perform the normal mundane tasks for them. First, before doing, ASK. The items below are good ideas, but they may not be needed. Ask what they need, and be PRACTICAL. This list is broken down in the stages of American funeral process.

o Washing the cars inside and out.
o Answering the phone.
o Polishing shoes
o Keeping track of children, driving them to lessons etc.
o Gathering information, (flight plans etc.)
o Picking up relatives from the airport
o Grocery shopping or other errands
o Caring for pets
o Bringing over snacks and/or a meal
o Staying at the home to receive gifts of food and/or flowers, recording who they are from

Additionally, these items may help.
o Offer to be their chauffeur.
o See if there are phone calls you can make for them. (This might be more suited for close friends)
o Coordinate the meals. A free service that is great is

PREPARING FOR VISITATION

GIFTS

o Rather than sending cut flowers to the funeral home, why not send a plant that can be replanted outside to your friends’ home?
o Choose a picture frame, figurine or piece of jewelry in memory of the loved one to give to your friend.
o Prisms that make rainbows throughout the room when the sun shines make a lasting gift of hope and beauty.
o Monetary gifts made to the designated memorial funds are greatly appreciated.
o Make up “quiet bags” for the young children. At visitations kids don’t have much to do. They don’t enjoy talking with relatives. You will be a hero to them and their parents if you provide a little relief. Buy a few inexpensive quiet toys for them to play with during those long hours. (Pad of paper and pencil, a small stuffed animal to hold for comfort, magnetic games or quiet contained puzzles, white boards.
o Make a memory book of blank pages that friends and family can fill in for a valued keep-sake. Ask people you see at visitation or at the luncheon afterwards to write their thoughts and memories. Make a pretty cover for it or use a fun photograph.
o Make a photo album of photos of you and your friend. Everyone appreciates photos of their loved ones.

SERVICES TO OFFER

o Offer to “house sit” during the visitation hours or the funeral where you can answer the phone and door. Keep good messages.
o Offer to coordinate the luncheon.
o Offer to clean up after the luncheon.
o Offer to sit with small children during the funeral at the funeral.
ATTENDING THE VISITATION
o Attend the visitation and offer a warm handshake or a hug.
o Bring a note with special memories and/or attributes of the person who died.
o Don’t be afraid to show your own tears. They show the survivors that you care too. Their loved one did not live in vain.
THE FUNERAL OR MEMORIAL SERVICE
o When you help out by taking food, be sure to put your name and phone number on the container. Better yet, send it in a disposable container. (When preparing food, it would be especially thoughtful to consider any of the survivors who may be on a special diet). Also when you prepare food, choose something that will be especially comforting to eat like a hot noodle or potato dish.
o Offer to return food containers to their owners after the luncheon.
o Offer to bring the paper and plastic products for the luncheon after the funeral.
o Offer to bring more chairs if needed.

WHAT NOT TO SAY

When someone dies, the mourners are often confused and hurt. They are experiencing a variety of feelings which make them feel especially vulnerable. It is best to not offer any explanations about the death, assume how they are feeling or even encourage them to look on the bright side. Let them take the lead with these thoughts. What they want most is to be accepted and given the right to express their thoughts and concerns without judgment. In time mourners can usually see past insensitive remarks to the heart behind the words. If you have said any of the following in the past, forgive yourself, knowing that you did the best you could with the knowledge you had at the time. Your intentions came from a heart full of love. That’s what really counts. Vow to never say them again.

o It must have been his time. (most survivors are not ready to hear this yet-they are still wanting the person to be alive and with them)
o She lived a good life. (this does not give the survivor the room to have different feelings)
o It must have been God’s will. (This comment can cause anger toward God, pointing the blame and causing the survivor to feel guilty for being angry at a loving God.)
o If he wouldn’t have been out that late, he would be alive right now. (This comment is blaming the victim and not bringing comfort to the survivors.)
o She wouldn’t want you to be so sad. (People hurt when someone dies because they loved him/her. It’s natural and healthy to feel sad. None of us like to be told what or what not to feel.)
o When a child dies please don’t say, “You’re young, you can have more children.” (This comment minimizes the death. No child can ever take the place of another.)
o I know just how you feel, my dog died last month. (Most parents will in no way relate to that.)
o At least you have other children. (Again, there’s a hole that no child can replace.)
o It’s probably for the best. (A survivor is so overwhelmed with feelings of grief, that his comment is usually misunderstood.)
o God must have wanted a baby angel. (Parents cannot understand how God would want their child more than they do)
o I know just how you feel. (Even though you may have had a similar experience, you are not this person. There are multiple factors influencing each individual circumstance and therefore you cannot know how someone else is feeling.)
o Just keep looking for the positives. (A griever usually cannot be at this point in his mourning for many weeks following the death.)
o You just sit there and let me take care of everything. (Making decisions is helpful in the recovery process of grief-let survivors make as many as they can.) NOTE: While giving someone valium may sound like a good idea at the time, the drug or one like it can dull feelings that will still need to be dealt with eventually. It is important to a person’s well being that they are active participants with as sharp a mind as possible.

DON’T SAY THE FOLLOWING TO CHILDREN
o Look at how peacefully she is sleeping. (Children take most things literally and may have problems sleeping because they believe that they may die in their sleep.)
o You must take care of your mom/dad now. (This is too much pressure on a child-they need to be themselves and mourn in their own way. No one else can take the place of another. A family needs to work together repairing the broken circle. In healthy grief, families need each other and support one another.
o No, you shouldn’t see (Name). It’s better to remember them the way they were. (This may be true for some children, but for others they need to see for themselves that the person is really dead otherwise they may continually look for them to come home.
o In the case of suicide, NEVER impose your beliefs or even suggest where their loved ones’ soul has gone even if you share the same faith. Suicide is cruel. Support your friend as if he has a broken limb. Don’t offer any opinions.

Quoted sections from Practical Things to Say and Do When Someone Dies, Author Penny Halder. (Accessed 9/2/2013)

Please distribute to all Police, Fire, and EMS personnel – Happy Thanksgiving

First, I again want to say thank you to all the Chiefs, Sheriffs, Officers, Administrators and fellow Chaplains who have made it possible for me to distribute this message.

I hope you find this email helpful and encouraging. This email marks five years that I have been sending out these emails on the holidays. So whether this is your first time reading, or you’ve been on board since the beginning, welcome. I’d like to take this time to reflect on some of the things I’m thankful for at this time.

I will say that this has been a life-changing experience for me. In the last five years, you have taught me more about life (and even myself) than I thought possible. This all started by just wanting to say “Thanks” to a group of local folks who I thought were under-appreciated. And over time, that “mission” has evolved and broadened, and broadening me with it. For that, I say Thank you.

I say “Thank you” for picking up some meals. Thank you for inviting me into your homes. Thank you for opening up and telling me what you really thought about the job (It’s hard, you don’t like the hours, you are lonely on the holidays.) Thank you for not sheltering me from the bad, from the disasters, from the politics, and from the things that make your job so difficult. Thank you for telling me that is OK to feel anger at the kidnapping suspect, for saying it’s OK to vent with you later. Thank you for also telling me that a death notification is very hard, emotional, and draining and it’s OK to go outside “for some air”. Thank you for showing me you are human. That you get angry, hurt or depressed. Thank you for allowing me to see your emotions at the funeral. And for those who knew when my wife was in the hospital, and for sending the cards, thoughts, calls and prayers.

For those of you whom I have never met “in person”, you have not been any less appreciated and impactful. Thank you for showing me that even in your department’s worst times, you take the time to drop a nice email or call me. Thank you for trusting someone (whom you may never meet) enough to read and pass along my notes. Thank you for giving me insight into what it’s like policing in Alaska, or working a fire crew in Maui.

Thank you I can now understand better what you feel, and as a chaplain, that’s what helps me be able to help you. And last but not least, thank you for showing me that the “Thin Blue Line”, “Thin Red Line” and the “Thin White line” are not just images or ideas. They are a reality and a symbol of what is good in the world.

Finally, as we approach “the holidays”, I usually advise that the holidays can be a time of sadness, frustration or depression. If you find yourself struggling in this holiday season, don’t hesitate to reach out for assistance. Your departments may have Employee Assistance Care, Chaplains, Chiefs, other supervisors, clergy and/or even friends for guidance and assistance should you need it. I’ll make myself available to help you in any way that I can. Call us, grab us after roll call, or send an email. Reach out if you need to. Life is a battle best fought with others.

I’ve said it in every email, and every chance I get. I’ve said it to the chiefs and administrators when I contact them. I’ve said it to you on the parks and restaurants. You all are heroes. I don’t know how often you hear it, but I’m certain it’s not nearly enough.

Journey through Grief Part 1 – What is grief? What should I expect?

Grief is something that will touch all of our lives at one time or another. Over the next few blog entries I plan to give an overview of grief, and what to expect. I also hope to help answer the question “What could I do to help.”

First, what is grief?

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross first introduced the “five stages of grief” in 1969. The stages were based on her study of patients with terminal illness. Since we have really began to apply these to life as a whole, including loss of friends, marriages, family members, and even jobs.

The five stages of grief:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance
  • NOTE: It is important to know that the experience will not look the same. Some may linger on one phase longer than others, go back and forth, or skip a stage entirely. Depending on numerous factors, individuals will display grief in different ways.

  • Culture-Does their culture prohibit open grief? Or is there an extended grieving period?
  • Family-Does the person have strong family relationships?
  • Faith-Studies show that the strength of an individual’s faith will factor into the grieving process.
  • Previous Loss-The amount of previous loss the person has experienced can either help the individual process grief, or the reverse can be true.
  • Common symptoms of grief

  • Shock/Disbelief– Shock has been described as the brain’s way of protecting itself. You may feel numb, or just “going through the motions”. As you begin to process grief, the shock begins to wear off.
  • Sadness – Deep sadness in likely the most experienced symptom, and the one that most people recognize. A few things that can be felt during this time is emptiness, despair, loneliness, and a sense that life may never return to normal. Crying is common at this phase.
  • Guilt – You may feel guilty because of what you said/did or didn’t say/do. This is especially true of a sudden loss. When the loss gives preparation time, you have opportunities to “say goodbye”, but sudden losses do not, so they typically are harder to deal with.
  • Anger – You may feel anger at someone, yourself or God over your loss. This is a normal phase of grief. When you encounter someone who is grieving, do not take this personal is you seem to be the target of their anger. They are processing, so don’t take it personal.
  • Fear – Fear will take many forms. If it is a job/livelihood, concerns will be over how you will make ends meet. If you have lost a spouse, you may be concerned about the day to day tasks. For example, if your spouse handled the bills, you will be concerned that you are forgetting something, may not have enough money.
  • Physical symptoms – Grief can often involves physical symptoms including upset stomach, tiredness, inability to sleep (or sleeping “too much”), weight changes, aches and pains, and insomnia.
  • Lastly, here are some notes from Helpguide.org’s article on Supporting a Grieving Person:

    There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Grief does not always unfold in orderly, predictable stages. It can be an emotional roller coaster, with unpredictable highs, lows, and setbacks. Everyone grieves differently, so avoid telling the bereaved what he or she “should” be feeling or doing.
    Grief may involve extreme emotions and behaviors. Feelings of guilt, anger, despair, and fear are common. A grieving person may yell to the heavens, obsess about the death, lash out at loved ones, or cry for hours on end. The bereaved need reassurance that what he or she feels is normal. Don’t judge them or take his or her grief reactions personally.
    There is no set timetable for grieving. For many people, recovery after bereavement takes 18 to 24 months, but for others, the grieving process may be longer or shorter. Don’t pressure the bereaved to move on or make them feel like they’ve been grieving too long. This can actually slow the healing process.

    Once you understand grief and what to look for, you can be in a position to help others, and ultimately yourself.

    My next article will cover what grieving people need and how you can help.

    Please distribute to all Law Enforcement, Paramedic and Fire personnel – 9/11/2013

    Distribution: Please distribute to all Law Enforcement, Paramedic and Fire personnel

    First, I want to say thank you to everyone who has made it possible for me to distribute this message. I can not express my gratitude enough for your assistance.

    As I write this, Patriot Day is two weeks away. It is a day or remembrance for what we lost in the attacks on 9/11. Just under 3000 people lost their lives that day. 343 firefighters, 70 officers of the NYPD and PAPD, 8 private EMT’s and a K9 gave their lives that day and over 50 more since then due to “9/11 related illness”.

    It’s during these times that we ask ourselves a question like “What do we do to honor their sacrifice?” One of the 343 was a Chaplain, Mychael Judge. Sometimes I ask myself the same question, although maybe not in those same words. When I put on my uniform I may take a second glance to make sure it looks like it should. I do what is needed and I behave in a manor to not bring shame on my position, or tarnish that honor. That looks a little different for everyone of us. When you lace up your boots and get in that engine or cruiser, I’m sure you do the same thing.

    But don’t think that means we don’t have “bad days”. We all have bad days from time to time, even us Chaplains. So what we do with our “bad days” determines if we bring honor to our professions or if we tarnish them. It also determines if our “bad day” becomes a “bad year” or a “bad life”. So what do we do? I understand that your life may be complicated. As everyone travels the road through life, we have to deal with money issues, family issues, hospitalizations and death of family members. So how do we keep ourselves going? Here are a few ideas.

    1. Take time for yourself. I know I say it a lot. You have to do something for you that makes you happy. Whatever it is – hunt, fish, go to the beach, go to the mall, go to a religious service. Do something for YOU.

    2. Remember, anything can change. If you are going through a tough time, it can change. Things change. People change. We change.

    3. Reach out. Find someone you can trust and talk to them. Supervisors, clergy, co-workers, doctors, chaplains… somebody.

    4. Share your story. This might be hard for some of us. If you managed to fight your way out of a dark time in your life, others may need to hear it. If you had a “critical incident” and you came back happy, then someone else will need that. It will help someone else, but it will also help you to remember it. Life threw it’s worst at you and you came out on top. You won. Be proud of that. I’ll end this point with one of my favorite stories from “The West Wing”. “This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you. Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.’” Someone needs you. Let them find you.

    Thanks for reading, stay safe, and contact me if I can help you.

    I’ve said it in every email. I’ve said it to the chiefs and administrators when I contact them. You all are heroes. I don’t know how often you hear it, but I’m certain it’s not nearly enough.