I remember having a sinking feeling of dread as I dispatched officers to a “trailer, fully engulfed in flames”. It was the middle of the night, so I knew all inside would have been asleep. The fire department was already en route, but our officers arrived first on the scene. There was nothing they could do but watch it burn to the ground, as it was too involved to make entry. To everyone’s heartbreak, all inside had perished, eight members of one family. It was devastating, to say the least. I made it through the rest of my shift, because it was my job. I knew how to hold it together, suck it up, keep my head in the game, and keep my composure. I did it, and I did it well, just like the officers I worked with.
When I got home, I sobbed for hours. I also talked about it, and cried again the next afternoon when I realized one of the victims was a little boy in my daughter’s 1st grade class. The Police Department brought in a counselor for the officers who had responded to the fire and offered the service to me as well. I declined to meet with the counselor for two reasons: First, I had allowed myself to cry and to share all my feelings with my family, so I thought that was sufficient; and second, I didn’t want to appear “weak and emotional” to the officers. I thought it was a trick, that the department said they supported receiving counseling, but would secretly ding me for it. It’s a story I made up, I’m sure. Now I know better.
Grace isn’t always passive or religious or sweet. Sometimes it’s messy, and assertive and firey. There was grace in my tears and in the rambling, terrible words I poured out on that first morning. Taking care of myself was important, so I understood that sharing and releasing rather than holding it all inside would be better for me in the long run. But that was all the context I could put on it at that time. Now I can share so much more!
Grace can simply be understanding what your personal values are and doing an inventory of your life to ensure they are being lived and honored. It can be practicing good physical health habits, or having strong relationships that you can lean on in times of pain or frustration (as I did in that scenario). It can also be having a hobby or love for the outdoors or a favorite spiritual practice.
As First Responders in any area, medical, fire or law enforcement, having your own definition of grace and how to implement it in your life and work is an invaluable part of self-care. It can move you from the feeling of dying inside to thriving in the work you love.