Today I attended a funeral for NYS trooper Jill Mattice.
Police funerals are some of the saddest, and emotionally draining experiences. On my job, if you want to attend a police funeral you go on your own time. The exception is when manpower permits, an officer may go on duty as long as it does not create overtime.
It was COLD today. Against better judgment we left our coats in our squad car. When we arrived at the church it looked as though everything was being done inside. I really should have known better, I have been to enough funerals to know that there is always a line up for the family and friends to see. All those police officers in uniforms from all over the country, in formation, is a sight to behold.
We head inside and meet with some fellow officers that we recognize. The state police brief everyone as to what is about to happen. Next we go outside for formation. It is cold and windy out today. This is the type of cold that makes your head hurt after only a few minutes. Since we don’t have a true class A uniform, we are dressed in long sleeves, ties, and Stetson. Within a few minutes we are all a little uncomfortable. Right then the first sergeant announces the procession from the funeral home to the church is about 25 minutes away. We are trying to think about anything other than how cold it is, and how long 25 minutes seems. Some guys I heard were joking around about having 25 feet of electric Jesus they called it, as a flask of Jameson was being passed around.
From the back rows we cant see much but we can hear the NYSP drum corps playing softly. As the drum corps gets louder we can see the flashing lights of the state police escort. As the drum corps and honor guard take their places on either sides of the main entrance, a bag piper begins piping. It is then that we know our sister has arrived to the church to being her final journey home.
Eventually we break formation and enter the church. It was so cold outside that I shivered for the next two hours of the service. I am dreading lining up outside again, but this is what we do when we lose one of our own. When a cop dies we give them that respect. We are there to “wow” people. It is an impressive sight and deep down we all hope that this is what our family would see if this were our own funeral. We hope that our family could behold this sight of 3000-4000 police officer lined up in formation, from all over the country, saluting your loved one while a piper pipes.
We go back outside as the funeral is just winding down, and we get into formation because our job here is not done yet. We stand there shivering but trying not to let it show, because we don’t want the family to see how cold we are. This was the coldest I can ever remember being.
As a way to distract myself from the cold I begin thinking about Jill’s parents. As a parent you invest thousands of hours of caring, worry, discipline, and love to try to make your child a well balanced, contributing member of society. Every milestone reached makes you breathe a little easier. When she is little your heart breaks every time she gets hurt. As she gets older you watch her learn to solve problems. You watch her start to turn into her own person. You still worry every day for her health and safety. You see her in her prom dress and realize what a beautiful young lady she has become. Your little girl is almost grown. College comes and goes. You always worried when she was away, but she always came home unscathed by anything. One day she decides that she is joining the New York State Police.
Once again you start to worry about your baby. You worry something bad will happen while she is a cop, without your baby ever having experienced love in her life. But time goes on and every day she comes home safe and sound, and you start to feel that all your worrying was needless. Then one days she tells you that she has met a boy, and he seems decent enough. This boy is still around a year later, this might be serious.
One day your little girls tells you that she is getting married. You are over-joyed that she has found someone to love. All that worrying was for nothing. She made it as a successful woman, trooper, and wife. You sit home one afternoon day-dreaming about how fun grandkids will be, there is a knock at the door. You are not happy to be shaken form such a pleasant daydream. You swallow your anger as you open the door. Your anger is replaced with ultimate sadness. You have opened the door to two high ranking troopers and a chaplain. They ask to come in but you hardly hear what they say. You ask the question even though you know the answer. Is Jill ok? The answer is “Sir there has been an accident. Jill was in an accident with a tractor trailer. She did not survive it." You world comes to a complete stop. This little girl that you watched grow and mature. You worked overtime to pay for her prom dress. You worked a lot more overtime to pay for her wedding. You tried not to worry, but couldn’t help it…you wanted to…..
TEN HUT, hand salute…. I don’t feel so cold anymore. Except for the fact that I am shivering again, I barely realize that I am outside. I can’t imagine the pain this family is in. This beautiful fun loving girl is gone forever. Uniform Detail Dismissed. We have been dismissed and it is now time to go to work for the next 8 hours. Hopefully that will be enough time to warm up.
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Misplaced appreciates your sharing your thoughts in this forum Lt. Myers.
See you tomorrow.