The Chick in the Road
In the fall of 2010, I gave a presentation entitled, Behind the Scenes; A Grief Deconstructed, at a police-based victim services conference in British Columbia. In this particular presentation, I go into detail about the psychological, emotional and spiritual components of my experience grieving the death of my husband, John, a police officer.
After my presentation in BC, an RCMP officer came up and shared his story with me. His teenage daughter had been struck and killed by a car as she was crossing the street at a pedestrian cross-walk. He was devastated. But he went on to explain how a police Chaplain had helped him in the days and weeks following his daughter’s death.
“I felt like a helpless little chick in the middle of Oak Street,” the officer told me. “I was terrified and didn’t know what to do. Then the Chaplain came along and through his kindness, it was almost as if he…gently picked me up and took me to safety at the side of the road.”
And it struck me: this is what people who work with victims do…they support strangers during the most horrific moments of their lives. And even though they can’t even begin to make anything okay again, they can be there for people during their greatest time of need. And this presence can be a tremendous gift.
During my time of greatest need, I didn’t meet any victim services volunteers. Instead, I had an amazing support network of family, friends, police officers and chaplains surrounding me. Heck, I wasn’t just moved off the road; I was picked up and put in a safe little nest with dozens of protective mother hens guarding it!
I was very blessed.
For the purpose of this blog, however, two of my “chick safe-keepers” in particular stand out.
The first was my brother, George. After spending seventeen hours with John in the ICU, the time came for me to say goodbye when an operating room became available for his organ removal surgery. The medical staff wheeled John’s hospital bed from the ICU into the operating room – and I’d followed him through the halls and right into the OR.
After saying my final goodbye, I left the OR and went back into the hallway, where dozens of people were waiting. I started to thank everyone for staying when George shook his head, took my arm and quietly said, “That’s enough for today, Maryanne.”
He was right.
But when we are in times of crisis, we often don’t KNOW when enough is enough. We’ve lost all perspective because suddenly there is no normal. And it is up to the people around us – be that family, friends, colleagues, professionals or strangers – to have the courage and compassion to remove us from a situation we no longer need to be in.
In the weeks that followed, my brother Doug became the chief safe-keeper of the chick. He was the mother hen of all the other mother hens. Doug fed me, watered me, put me to bed, dragged me out of bed, listened to me, answered my questions, fielded the dozens of phone calls, kept me on track meeting all the lousy new obligations my days held…funeral arrangements, choosing a headstone, meeting with lawyers and so on.
Fast forward a decade to my Behind the Scenes presentation at the victim services conference in BC. I knew then that the time would come when I would no longer be giving these presentations. By continually dredging up a painful past for the sole benefit of others, I was inadvertently keeping myself in baby-chick-mode: safe but stuck.
For although it may seem safer to stay in a situation we have outgrown – and is no longer healthy – versus finding the courage to change, the reality is that we are actually at risk of a fate worse than death, in my opinion: perceiving ourselves as a victim.
But the RCMP officer’s ‘chick in the road’ analogy gave me an idea. The next time I gave my Behind the Scenes presentation, I would incorporate his story to demonstrate the incredibly important role that people working in victim services play. I would also have my presentation professionally filmed and put on a DVD for educational use by victim services units.
My intended audience could still hear my presentation – it just wouldn’t be live.
Then I took it a step further and decided to create a Behind the Scenes “info kit” that will have the DVD, a copy of my book, A Widow’s Awakening, and one other item to complete the chick theme.
Back when John and I were in our early twenties and he was writing the different exams required to become a police officer, I gave him a “warm fuzzy” – a fluffy little yellow chick with cardboard feet and googly eyes. And with the chick was this little note I’d written for him:
This warm fuzzy will give you luck in your exam. Whenever you get nervous or worried, just remember he is in your pocket to remind you of our love.
Unbeknownst to me, John had kept that little fuzzy with him all those years. He had it in his duty bag the night he died. It was in the police car. So after his death, the police returned John’s duty bag to me and when I found the strength to go through it, there in the side pocket was the little chick and folded-up note I’d given him a decade earlier.
So the other item that will go in the Behind the Scenes info kit is a yellow chick/warm fuzzy and note of encouragement to victim services workers that the greatest gift they can give people is not their advice; it’s their presence – love at it finest.
As for the rest of us, thankfully muddling through life mostly in times of non-crisis, I think back to what George said to me that night in the hospital hallway. When the time for change has come in our own lives or those around us, perhaps the greatest gift we can offer is advice…as in: “That’s enough.”
I’m giving my Behind the Scenes presentation at another police-based victim services conference this spring. It will likely be my last. But you can bet your warm fuzzy it is being professionally filmed for the info kits
Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening and the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions Inc. She is the Board Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund and lives onVancouver Island, British Columbia.