Young Surviving Spouse Attends C.O.P.S. Retreat
Brooke McKay | C.O.P.S.
As a first-time attendee at Concerns of Police Survivors’ Surviving Spouses’ Retreat, Tiffany Cortez of Phoenix, Arizona, seemed intimidated and scared upon arrival, but within hours began to open up as she met some amazing people. Amazing people that were survivors just like her. The C.O.P.S.’ Spouses’ Retreat was held in Potosi, Missouri, at the YMCA Trout Lodge the weekend of September 18-21. The amazing people she met were all surviving spouses of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.
There were 90 spouses at the retreat from all across the nation; 3 of the spouses were male. They all gathered for the specific purposes of dealing with grief and healing. Counseling sessions were held in the morning and afternoons were spent at classes on archery, shotgun, .22 pistols, climbing the Alpine Tower, or a high ropes course. These activities challenge the spouses to do things they never thought they could. Self-esteem is seriously eroded when someone you love is suddenly, often violently, taken from you. So C.O.P.S. plans these activities to strengthen and rebuild self-esteem. Succeeding at one of the challenges helps the survivors understand that they can overcome any obstacle that stands in their way so long as they set their mind to succeed.
Tiffany was one of the younger attendees. Now 25, she was just 23 years old when her husband, George Cortez, an officer with the Phoenix (AZ) Police Department, was killed. Tiffany explained, “I am at this retreat because on July 27, 2007, George went to work. I was at home doing laundry with our two boys, who were jumping on the bed and watching the Diamondbacks game flipping through the channels and I hear ‘Officer down at 83rd and Encanto’. My heart just stopped. I quickly tried calling him and he didn’t answer. I just knew he was the downed officer. Officers from the agency came and got me and took me to the hospital where I learned that George was dead. ”
Research conducted in the early years of C.O.P.S. show that the fewer number of years in a marriage, the more traumatic the sense of loss. Tiffany’s struggle has been like the struggles of other young, surviving spouses who have lost their spouses in the first 5 years of marriage.
Everyone at the retreat, unfortunately, has a story similar to Tiffany. One lost her husband in the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001; another was 4 months pregnant; another was left to raise 6 children alone. There were 90 very different stories, yet the stories were all similar. Everyone at the retreat lost a spouse; everyone at the retreat was struggling for survival; yet everyone relied on others to help them heal. That’s the power of strong peer support…one survivor helping another along the road to recovery.
“I can relate to everyone I have met this weekend, because somehow, someway, there is a connection,” said Tiffany. The spouses come from all walks of life, but for one weekend they do not have to put on a brave face. If they want to cry, they cry. If they want to laugh, they laugh. And no one judges them for how they are grieving. That, too, is the power of strong peer support.
And strong peer support is the foundation of Concerns of Police Survivors. Coupled with professional counseling, you can actually see a difference in the faces of the surviving spouses after just a weekend of support, counseling and challenges. They learn to live again at C.O.P.S. functions so that they can love again, knowing that healing is not forgetting. They develop a new sense of trust, an inner strength to overcome obstacles, and they have made new life-long friends. These new friends will be the best of friends; yet friends they wish they never met….because you see, the price they’ve paid is devastatingly high. Aside from Spouses Retreat, C.O.P.S. also holds a Kids Camp for surviving children 6-14, Outward Bound® for surviving children 15-20, Adult Children Retreats, Siblings’ Retreat, Parents’ Retreat, In-Laws’ Retreat, and coming in 2010 an Affected Co-Workers Retreat.
Tiffany says, “I now want to take my boys to C.O.P.S. Kids Camp. We went to National Police Week in 2008, they had great activities and they boys had a blast.” The healing, love, and life renewed experienced at C.O.P.S.’ events helps C.O.P.S. to meet its mission of rebuilding shattered lives of America’s law enforcement surviving families. Just ask 25-year-old Tiffany Cortez.