April Katherman-Redgrave, Wife of Fallen San Jose Police Officer Michael J. Katherman, wrote for COPS, “Finding My Happiness Again”
Tuesday, June 14, 2016 began as a typical summer day. My two sons were out of school for summer and just finished 4th and 2nd grades. I was teaching elementary school at the time and was off for the summer with them. I had finished my master’s degree program the day before, so it was an exciting day and I felt like summer had truly begun. Mike was working a late day shift and did not have to leave the house until about nine that morning. We were in the middle of remodeling the hall bathroom. The tile guy was there with his crew, working away.
As he left the house, Mike went into the bathroom and made sure the tile guys were set for the day and I specifically remember one of them asking what color grout he wanted. He told them, “Whatever my wife wants!” Mike thanked the guys for their hard work, hugged the boys, and as he always did, he told them, “Be good to your mom.” He then kissed me goodbye, so handsome in his police uniform, got on his police motorcycle and drove away.
The roar of the engine, which always comforted me when I would hear it pull into our garage at the end of a shift, could be heard for a while as he rode down our country road. Little did I know, it would be the last time I would hear his motorcycle engine roar in our garage or down our street. The last time our boys would get a hug from their dad. The last time I would get a kiss from my husband.
Hours later I received the call then the knock on the door. The one every police spouse fears. The call and the knock which changed our lives forever. The hours, days, weeks, months and even years to follow are all too familiar to any law enforcement surviving spouse. It is hell on earth. The endless responsibilities, obligations, events, memorials, media, and worry are overwhelming. If you have children, all your focus and energy go into making sure they are okay. So often we forget about ourselves and our own healing. I know I did.
I was thrown into this new role of being the widow of Officer Katherman, which took up all my time. My new role of being a single mom to two broken hearted little boys took up all my energy. There was nothing left to give for myself. I was depressed, unhealthy, exhausted, broken hearted and not willing to admit any of it. On the outside I looked like the poised, strong widow and mom yet on the inside I wanted to die. Literally, wanted to die.
Then, as if life were not already a living hell, the winter storms of 2017 flooded our home. Our perfect little farmhouse in the country, which was in the finishing stages of being remodeled was destroyed. The boys and I were rescued by firemen who carried us on their backs through the water rising in our home. We climbed through a bedroom window into a boat which took us through the lake which was once our country road to safety. Our belongings were ruined, our home was deemed uninhabitable by the county and we were never able to live in it again.
Within the first year of losing my husband I had been through hell and high water… literally. It did not take long before the people closest in my life, my family and my best friends realized what a good actress I was, trying to portray to everyone I was okay. Their support allowed me to finally admit I was the complete opposite. I was an absolute mess and I needed help. I needed therapy, I needed help with my children, I needed help dealing with all the horrific details of the natural disaster which took our family’s home, I needed to cut back on my obligations and I needed to begin focusing on myself and my own healing.
So many of us survivors try to be strong for everyone else and we too quickly forget about ourselves. It is almost like we need permission for it to be okay to not be okay. Let me tell you, it was not until I gave myself the permission when I started my healing process. Finally caring for myself and my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being is when my smile started to return. I was more patient and understanding with my children. I opened up more in therapy. I was able to talk about Mike with a smile and laughter instead of sadness and tears. I had the strength to make our new house a home and I even began to open myself up to the idea of dating again.
Eventually, I started becoming myself again, but not the same woman I was prior to losing my husband. I was a better version of myself. More passionate about living the life I had been blessed with to the fullest all while honoring God and my husband in Heaven, Mike. Once I began to heal, my sons began to heal as well. As parents, we lead by example. It was if my newfound happiness gave them permission to be happy again as well.
We are now over four years past Mike’s End of Watch. I have found love again and married David, my husband on earth. We have built a life together with my boys who are thriving, his two children and our miracle little girl who completed our family this past December. Do I still struggle with my grief? Do I still miss Mike? Do my boys still display anger and sadness? Absolutely! We rely on our faith in Christ, our memories of Mike and our consistent efforts to work through our grief together so we may continue to find the joy and happiness in our lives.
Working through grief and heartache after loss will look different for everyone. It may take therapy, EMDR, COPS retreats, faith, support from family and friends, exercise, hobbies, traveling, work, writing, reading, whatever if may be for you to help make your way up each new step of the ladder of grief. The first step starts with giving yourself the permission to recognize it is okay to need, to ask, to want, to receive help every step of the way. Each step you work through is going to bring you closer and closer to bringing the lost smile back, the joy sparking and the happiness in your life to return.
It is not going to be easy. I often slip and fall off the ladder and down a couple steps. It is inevitable. Loss is hard. The grief road is long, unending. Keep reaching up for whatever it is giving you the strength to continue the climb. Do it for your children. Do it to honor the loved one you lost. Most importantly, do it for yourself. Because once you heal your own heart, your happiness will radiate to those around you.