It was while scrolling social media that I came across some news that made my stomach lurch. 

An accident on Melbourne’s Eastern Freeway tragically took the lives of four police officers, resulting in the single biggest loss of police lives in Victoria’s history.

My stomach felt sick and my heart began to beat hard, as I was transported back to a place of grief and the impact of sudden death and loss. 

My heart hurts immensely for the police officers who have so tragically had their lives cut short, and my heart hurts harder for those that are left behind – the partners, wives and husbands and their extended families.

It’s hard to fathom what the partners of these officers are experiencing right now and the journey of grief they are about to experience. It’s hard to fathom, because given the choice, no one would ever want to. 

As a widow myself, I’ve experienced the loss of having the person you love ripped away. I’ve experienced a death that impacted every part of my being and every aspect of my life. I’m in the unenviable position of having an understanding of the terrible journey the partners of these police officers have been thrust into.

Over the coming days and weeks, their partners will experience a lot. 

More than enough for one lifetime, more than one person should ever have to bear.

Forever, the 22nd of April 2020, will become a day they will reflect on. They will think back to how ordinary their day was, not knowing how their lives were about to be irrevocably changed. 

Their grief journey may have begun with a knock at the door, or a phone call. It will become a moment in time they wish never happened as their “old” lives ceased to exist in an instant. 

As the horrifying news is delivered, total shock will begin to set in, bringing with it confusion, disbelief and denial as their brains try to comprehend the news they are being told. It will seem like a sick joke, as they wait for someone to deliver a punchline that will cruelly never come. 

While their brains and emotions spiral out of control, their bodies will begin to react. Uncontrollable shaking,  feeling cold yet sweaty, a rapidly beating heart and pulse, nausea, confusion, even breathing will feel hard. It won’t be the first or last time they will feel like their bodies are betraying them over the brutal journey that is grief. 

There will be the breaking of news to loved ones – immediate family, extended family and their friendship circles. It’s a task filled with fear, anxiety and some guilt for being the bearer of bad news. Lists will be made and ticked through so no one is forgotten. Should they enlist someone to help, there’s the nervous tension they will feel with each phone call being made, waiting to hear how each loved one has responded. Hearts will break, minds will reel and bodies will feel heavier with every phone call made.

For the police officers with young children, an unthinkable task is left for the remaining parent. 

Telling a child their mother or father has died is an act that defies comprehension. Parents, often seen as the protectors, lead children like a lamb to the slaughter to deliver a blow that will forever shatter hearts and families. 

A darkness will envelope the household. 

Flowers delivered, meals dropped on doorsteps, cards sent. An abundance of phone calls and text messages will be received, some will be taken and answered, others will never be responded to. 

Funeral planning commences. Coffins will be selected, an outfit for the body chosen and music decisions suddenly feel paramount. Adding to their decisions and distress is the current health climate and restrictions in place. Choosing only ten people will leave behind a group of much loved family and friends whose own grieving process will be drawn out further due to not having the opportunity to share in the goodbye these police officers so deserve.

Following the funeral, “normal” life will come for them. It will be nothing like the life they once knew.

The impact of their sudden loss will really begin to hit home as they scramble to pick up the pieces and put back together some kind of foundation.

The days, weeks and months that follow will bring a myriad of challenges.

Being the partner of someone that has died is isolating enough. It’s hard to comprehend how much further isolated the partners of these police officers will feel given the current health crisis. There won’t be hugs, a house filled with people, or shoulders to cry on. Some may find it a welcome relief to be able to hide from prying eyes, others will struggle with the loneliness. 

On the surface, it may look like they’re holding it all together, however each will be dealing with the mental, emotional and physical toll that grief takes, in their own way. It’s a toll that’s completely individual and hard to imagine, until you find yourself in it. 

Research will take place on the stages of grief  – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. However, they will quickly learn that grief is far from linear and just as they think they’re moving forward and hope looks in sight, they will be dragged back kicking and screaming to the very beginning. Feeling the frustration, anger and unfairness of it all.

There will be no such thing as a simple trip to the supermarket. For widow/ers, supermarkets are exposing. Exposed to people delivering positive platitudes or to people who have nothing to say at all, because there often are no words. Exposed to meals that no longer need to be cooked, reaching for favourite ingredients that will never be shared again. 

Work and social catch ups will resume and the energy required for both of these will be exhausting as people ask “how are you really?” A simple social event will take days to recover from.

In a world where grief is often hidden and misunderstood, there will be a lot of “I can’t even imagine what this has been like for you.”  

They can imagine, but they don’t want to. Because the person left behind has become an uncomfortable reminder of how fragile life is and they’re just hoping and praying it will never happen to them.

Eventually the meals dropped on doorsteps will stop, the “I just called or visited to check in” less frequent. A welcome respite at times, but a constant reminder of how life just keeps on going, whether it’s wanted or not. 

In time, healing will take place, some normality will resume, but life will never be like it was once before. 

What the partners of these much loved police officers will experience and what the true impact will be, no one will know. But one assurance is, they will be changed forever by this.

In the future, they too will see news, and have their own stomach lurch, with worry, concern and it will be a constant reminder of that moment in time their lives fell apart. 

As I scrolled the news yesterday, feeling nauseous as the events of this tragedy continued to unfold, a tribute was paid by our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. He said;

“To those families, who are knowing nothing other than terrible grief today, we stand with you.” 

It was a beautiful sentiment, and will offer some comfort. However, that terrible grief won’t just be today, it will be all the days. 

For those left behind, it’s a rough road ahead, because at the end of the day, grief is love. 

The most painful kind of love a person will ever know. 

 

Interested in knowing how to support someone while they are grieving? Here’s some advice.

 

Image courtesy of Miguel Á. Padriñán Alba