Life can change in an instant. During the last year and a half, four significant people in my life passed away. Those losses changed my life.
Those losses largely kept me from writing my PoliceOne column in support of police officers and their families who must deal with catastropic loss — line-of-duty injuries that have ended the career they love.
I want to share with you what I learned so you can benefit from my hard-learned lessons.
1.) People matter. Stuff does not. The relationships you make during your lifetime matters. The hearts you touch during your lifetime matters. The size of your flat screen TV doesn’t matter. The kind of car or truck you drive doesn’t matter.
2.) Make good memories. Spend your time and money making good, fun, happy memories with the people you love. Those memories will sustain your loved ones long after you are gone and help them heal from the grief of losing you.
Good memories last, don’t have an expiration date, and can’t be lost in a fire or flood.
3.) Eliminate regrets. If you died today, what would you regret? Fix those regrets now. Don’t carry regrets to your grave. Deal with them while you are alive. Leaving regrets behind only complicates the grief and pain of those who will mourn your passing.
4.) Show people you love what they mean to you. Go beyond telling people that you love them — show them. Demonstrate it. Show people while you are alive, while you can, how much they mean to you.
This can be hard for law enforcement families because of the demands on your time and the unpredictability of the job. Many officers miss their children’s recitals, plays, and ball games because of work. Take advantage of the times when you can be there and really be there. Leave work at work. Turn off the cell phone. Make those you love know they are important to you. Make quality time with your loved ones, family, and friends. Make good memories.
5.) Think about where you invest your time. None of the loved ones I lost died wishing they had spent more time at work, watching TV, cleaning the house, or buying stuff. They regretted what they hadn’t done or said.
In my calendar book, I keep a page torn from a magazine containing an excerpt from the book, Live and Let Love to remind me what is important in life. In the article, Lee Woodruff, wife of ABC news correspondent Bob Woodruff who sustained a traumatic brain injury while covering the military in Iraq, states, “If I could do it over, I would leave more dishes in the sink. I would worry less about the to-do list and keeping the kitchen perfect for the next day. I’d spend more time sitting on my husband’s lap.”
There are no do overs in life — you have the opportunity now to decide how you spend your time. Next time you put chores before making memories, think again.
When was the last time you spent time in the arms of your loved one, or held them in yours, just because you can?
Invest your time wisely, because of lesson #6.
6.) You are dying. We all are dying. We have been since the day we were born. No one knows how many moments they have on the planet. Live like you are dying.
Ask yourself: what would you do and what would be important to you, if you had six months to live? Then go do those things. Don’t put them off. Work on your bucket list now. Live now. Live today.
7.) Health is fragile. More officers die from physical and mental health issues than in the line of duty. Take care of yourself emotionally and physically. You only have one chance maintaining that body of yours. Don’t screw it up. There are no do overs.
8.) Happiness is a choice. Happiness doesn’t fall into your lap. Happiness is a choice and an attitude that comes from within. Each day you have the opportunity to live happy. Choose happiness and share the gift.
9.) All who love you live with fear. Through this column on PoliceOne, I’ve had the privilege to meet and hear from many officers who have sustained disabling injuries in the line of duty. I have heard from their families, caregivers, and children.
Not one was prepared for what happened to them, prepared for the changes in their lives, or the impact to their family members.
In law enforcement, all who love you live with the fear, the dread, that something could happen in the course of your workday.
Do you tell those who mean so much to you exactly what they mean to you?
Do your children know that you think they are wonderful, cool, incredible individuals? Have you told them that?
Does your spouse know that he or she is the reason you breathe? Have you told him or her that? Repeatedly? Every day.
Don’t wait until you have that “whew that was close” moment. Don’t wait until you are diagnosed with cancer or heart disease.
Implement my lessons learned today.
In an instant, life can change.