A thanks for the thankless tasks

A thanks for the thankless tasks

My son is a police officer. He gets spit at, criticized and called names as he gets out of the police car when he responds to a 911 call before he has had opportunity to speak a word. People “oink” at him as he is doing paperwork beside his car, having just intervened in an encounter to de-escalate a potentially violent situation. Bystanders who are just walking by curse him, not knowing that he has just had a beautiful 30 minute conversation with someone who immediately before had a weapon in his hand threatening to harm my son. Folks pull out their cameras to video what they assume will be police mistreatment.

I understand that police have a history of abusing their power, and many have been harmed by police. I’ve had folks in my office who have genuine fear of police because of stories of harm in their community at the hands of law enforcement. There is a historical reason for the hatred. I get that.

So does he. This is part of the job.

My son is a young man who chose to earn the badge because he wants to help people. And he does. He understands the underlying reasons for much of the ridicule. However, it can be discouraging and difficult work as he endeavours to do a good job in a cultural climate that is suspicious and critical of his every move.

But he keeps at it.

Recently, he received a letter from the family member of one of those folks. I’ll let the letter speak for itself:

Dear Constables,

First, my apologies for this taking so long to get to you. I’ve been hesitant because I didn’t want this to sound too sad; I want to convey the overwhelming gratitude I’m feeling. This email has also been very difficult for me to write because these have been the darkest, most difficult days, weeks, and months I’ve ever had.

You both attended my brother’s residence in response to a check on welfare on or about Month/Day, 2023. His name was Billie. He had his struggles, and we didn’t have a perfect relationship, but he was my baby brother. I love him more than I can possibly say with words.

When Billie’s friends went to his apartment and he didn’t answer, they called police. You both responded. And I’m so, so glad it was the two of you that came.

I was a constable myself for 14 years, until recently. In XXXX, while on patrol in with my squad, I went to a type one diabetic, alcohol-dependent male who died in his apartment. The setting of it all terrified me. I can still remember every detail of that scene: his Xbox was still on, his couch and chair was a mess, and he had been sick for a while. I thought to myself, “This is my brother. This is how Billie will die.” It was a scene that has haunted me and my dreams ever since. I’ve lived with this idea that my baby brother was destined to die alone on his apartment floor, forgotten until the smell of a body made people complain.

But you–you went the distance– you activated your lights to signal the ambulance, you held open the door, and you did everything you could to save his life. Running. Rushing. “No time to talk.” Treating the moment with the urgency it deserved.

I am so incredibly thankful that it was the two of you that showed up that evening. You did everything right. You rushed to get in to the apartment. You checked his pulse. You got an ambulance in there as fast as you could. You literally saved his life. Even though Billie eventually died in the ICU after 35 days on life support, it was your quick action and doing absolutely everything right that gave me the most rewarding days of my life at my baby brother’s bedside.

In those 35 days, he got better. We laughed and cried together, shared memories, and watched movies. We forgave one another. I held his hand for 14-15 hours a day reading books to him when he was having bad days and couldn’t wake up. There was one day where my partner, my mom and dad, and I stayed until 9 PM because Billie was so engaged with us and we were all having such a good time. We still remember that day as “the good Saturday.”

Every morning, I came to the hospital, was able to walk in and kiss him (and some mornings he could kiss me back) and tell him I loved him. I was able to show him that I loved him.

You responded to that “check on welfare” as if Jonnie was somebody’s brother and son. And it’s because of you that my baby brother eventually died surrounded by the people who loved him most, and not by himself in his apartment the way I saw in my nightmares. The same way as that sudden death I saw in XXXX.

Some might say of you as constables: “It’s what you’re expected to do,” I guess that’s true. But, I just refuse to accept that you both didn’t do something remarkable that day.

I hope that as the smallest token of my appreciation, you both would let me take you out for lunch or dinner so that I can meet you and say thank you face-to-face. I’d understand if you don’t want to, but it would mean a lot to me. It can be on shift or off, whatever you’d like. I’m out of town, but will absolutely make the time to come up to the city according to your schedule.

I hope I do hear back from you, and get to meet you, but even if I don’t – thank you so, so much.

"you literally saved his life" on backdrop of police car in the dark. "Even though Billie eventually died in the ICU after 35 days on life support, it was your quick action doing absolutely everthing right that gave me the most rewarding days of my life at my baby brother's bedside.

(Shared with permission. Edited for anonymity.)

This letter was written to my son and the fellow constable that served as his partner that evening.

He called me after he received it and his voice cracked as he read the part about “the good Saturday”. He had trouble remembering the specific experience because they do a lot of these, but he had checked back in his notes. But what he did mattered to this man and his family–and he got to find out about it.

If you receive help from someone in a thankless job–would you thank them? It matters.

We are wired for connection–and gratitude connects.

My son was moved by this letter. So was I.

I asked him (and the person who wrote it) if I could share it. This is a letter that other first responders need to read. They know this story. They can literally smell this story in an apartment of used needles, excrement and vomit. These folks have families who struggle and ache because of this situation.

This letter is for you, too. You have also created these moments for other families.

First responders, your work matters–and we are grateful.



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