Travis J. Vanden Heuvel
Police Week 2019, A Different View: Part 1 - Getting There
Contributed By: Kelly Masterton
This past Mother’s Day weekend was completely different than the last 14 that I had celebrated. Instead of making the usual reservations for brunch and then heading to a Chicago Cubs game with my son, which I have done almost every year since I was pregnant, my son and I flew to Washington D.C. for the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial Week.
The C.O.P.S Foundation (Concerns Of Police Survivors) each year makes arrangements for families to attend Police Week if they have an officer whose name has been added to the memorial wall due to a Line of Duty Death (LODD). They make all hotel arrangements, shuttle services from the hotels to the memorial wall, the Candlelight Vigil, the actual Memorial Service, and all events that only the children of the fallen officers are allowed to attend. We were very grateful for their invitation this year.
Both of us were excited, but anxious, to attend this trip and all the scheduled events that the week would hold so I thought it was smarter to fly out the day before so I could wake up and celebrate Mother’s Day instead of chancing any weather delays that May can frequently have. I was relieved that I planned it that way since our layover in Texas was delayed about 6 hours due to a hurricane and storms that popped up that weekend. Instead of being stuck in an airport Sunday I was able to enjoy an amazing brunch at The Warehouse in Alexandria, VA.
Oddly enough, while in the Dallas airport we met a really nice mom from our town whose child attends the same high school as my son. She and her husband were on their way to Police Week as well but not for the same reason. The dad is an officer and he wanted his wife to see how for one week he and so many other officers from around the nation honored the lives of police that have died. She recognized the school emblem on my son’s jacket and struck up a conversation.
When I said we were on our way to the same event but that my son’s dad’s name was being read at the memorial service, I immediately recognized the look I had been given for the last 4 plus years. It is a look of shock, pity, gratitude, and disbelief. For some reason I always apologize to the person because it’s as if I have just hurt their feelings by answering the question honestly.
Immediately after, the conversation tends to end, and I try and make an excuse that we need to go somewhere else but that it was a pleasure to have met them. It’s not an easy thought to get your head around. You spend years struggling with the idea that your officer may not come home from duty and even put a plan of action in place in case it happens, but at the same time you have to be in denial or it will consume you. Then you meet someone that it has happened to and it takes your breath away. I’ve been on that side of the conversation as well. I’ve attended Police Week in previous years and cried just at the thought of raising a family on my own while trying to grieve and that was before we even had a child. Maybe that’s why I try to just politely leave the conversation so the person can process what they just heard.
After that my son and I set off on our separate ways to explore the airport and process our own feelings of angst and excitement and guilt of being excited to attend the memorial service.
I found a great little wine bar that I could enjoy a tasting and finish the book I was reading. I highly suggest you read and go see the movie “Wish Man.” (WISH MAN: Kindness, Close Calls, And The Magic of Making Wishes Come True). It’s a really inspirational story about how a retired police officer started the Make-A-Wish Foundation. It allows for a cathartic cry and restores faith in humanity.
About 5 hours into our delay, and 20,000 steps walked around the airport, I decided to head to our gate in hopes that we could take off for the 2nd leg of the flight soon. If the weather hadn’t delayed us, there would have been honor guard officers waiting with our luggage at the airport in order to escort us to the shuttle and hotel. I was happy enough when our Uber showed up at 11:59pm.
Part of the instructions from C.O.P.S. was to tie the blue ribbons that they sent to us on each piece of luggage so we could be noticed easier. Once at the gate we spotted other families with those same ribbons. Some introduced themselves while others clearly wanted to stay in the shadows. A big shout out to the San Diego Sheriff's Office members that walked over, shook my son’s hand, and gave him his first challenge coin, as well as a patch. That was the exact moment that he started to feel the bond of the Thin Blue Line and how complete strangers consider him family and would help him honor his dad that week.
Kelly Masterton is originally from Morton Grove, IL and now lives in Temecula, CA with her son Michael and their 3 dogs. Kelly was married to Glenview, IL Police Officer Owen Masterton for 15 years. Ever since Owen died on duty Dec 6, 2014 she has been fighting the wide grey area of death benefits that is within the Thin Blue Line. Her hope is to be able to help other first responder families by creating a smoother process and preventing children from being forgotten after the death of their parent. She is also working on a way to provide free legal access to families who need help in death benefit litigation. Kelly has a determination to educate first responders and their families on the importance of having basic inexpensive amenities such as life insurance, living trusts, and both medical and mental health providers with private services 24 hours a day. Kelly will continue to write about her and her son's experiences at Police Week 2019 in future articles.