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Getting Broken in on the Job

Brooke McKay | C.O.P.S.

I arrived at C.O.P.S. Spouses’ Retreat the weekend of September 18-21, 2009, at the YMCA Trout Lodge in Potosi, Missouri, after only one month as the Marketing Coordinator for Concerns of Police Survivors. I knew the organization dealt with death, dying, and grief; yet I was not prepared for what I saw. I was instantly introduced to a young widow who was there for the first time. She was 25 years old, just one year older than me. While I smiled as I meet all the spouses, I could not get the young widow out of my head. Part of my job that weekend was to interview that young surviving spouse; and, after meeting her, I began to worry. “Will I say something wrong? What if I make her cry?” I realized this was going to be a much more difficult task than anticipated.

On the second day of the retreat, I pulled her aside asking if I could speak with her. She seemed hesitant but agreed. One of the studies I had read in the C.O.P.S.’ office cited “the fewer number of years in a marriage, the more devastating the effects of the loss are on the surviving spouse”. Here I was just weeks before my first wedding anniversary, realizing how horrible this young widow’s life must be without her husband.

When Tiffany Cortez, Phoenix, AZ, and I sat down for the interview, I promised to make it as easy as possible. I began the interview by asking her to tell her story and why she is at C.O.P.S. Spouses’ Retreat. Tiffany explained, “I am here because my husband, George, age 23, went to work with the Phoenix, Arizona, Police Department one night and never came back. We had spoken just 15 minutes prior and exchanged text messages 5 minutes prior to the incident that claimed his life. I was at home doing laundry with our two boys, who were jumping on the bed, watching the Diamondbacks game and flipping through the channels when I heard ‘Officer down at 83rd and Encanto’ on the T.V. My heart just stopped.

I quickly tried calling him and he didn’t answer. I just knew it was him. I was taken to the hospital and that was when I found out what happen. George was making an arrest; the suspects were 18 and 19 years old, boyfriend and girlfriend. It was the girl’s birthday and the male was trying to cash a $250 fraudulent check that the female had written. My husband got called out to the scene and was by himself. As he had one handcuff on the male, the female tried to run out the door, George turned to yell at her and that was when the male pulled out a gun and shot him. He shot George twice, once in the face and again in the shoulder,” said Tiffany.

I fought back tears and kept waiting for Tiffany to cry as she explained her story. She was so strong but my heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest and I was shaking.

“It was July 27, 2007, when George was killed. Our boys were 4 and 2 years old. George and I were high school sweethearts. We met when we were 16,” Tiffany said with a smile.

During the interview, I couldn’t help but think of my husband and our upcoming one year anniversary. Tiffany’s story really hit home because we are about the same age and she is now a widow left to raise her two children alone.

With a shaking voice I asked, “What do you think of Spouses’ Retreat so far?”

“I love Spouses’ Retreat,” Tiffany replied, “I was so scared coming, but I am very happy that I am here now. It’s been good to hear everybody’s stories and get to tell yours. The feedback from everybody’s issues and what is going on in their lives now relates to me, my loss, and my issues. I can relate to everyone that I have met because somehow, someway, there is a connection,” she replied.

She went on with a smile, “I now want to take my boys to C.O.P.S. Kids Camp. If they will let me take my 5 year old, he will be almost six; I just can’t leave him behind.” It is obvious that her two boys are her life. As we finished the interview, I gave Tiffany a hug and thanked her for speaking with me. “If you ever need anything, do not hesitate to call me,” I said as we parted. I hope that we will stay in touch after the retreat. I am glad the interview went well, but it had a dramatic effect on me, the interviewer. I had just met an amazingly strong woman who never shed a tear while telling of her devastated life; I was now the one crying. Tiffany made me realize that tomorrow is not a given and that sometimes life is too short. Yet she made me realize that this organization that I’ve known for only one month does some amazing things. And my job is to market C.O.P.S. It’s a task that I embrace knowing of the good it does for survivors like Tiffany Cortez.

When I got home after the retreat, I hugged my husband, I cried in his arms, and I told him how much he means to me.

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