Boy Scouts and Moonlighting:

Unremembered-2

Because God focused my thoughts on the Dad I had, I was blessed as the events that ended his life would never overshadow the wonderful memories I had of Dad. Just as it states in Romans 12:9: “…Hold tightly to what is good” (NLT), and 1 Thessalonians 5:21: “…Hold on to what is good.” (NLT); I was able to hold onto these memories of the man my dad was. As I share more of these memories, I hope others will find the wisdom of these verses and hold on to their own memories of what made the person they lost so very special to them. By holding onto these wonderful memories and focusing on them, we each are making a choice not to let the tragic painful lose of a loved one overshadow the gift of wonderful memories they gave us and the remarkable impact they had on our lives.

Boy Scouts

My memories of are full of how Dad taught me how to fish, taking me rabbit hunting, and going on family camping trips. It was the love of the outdoors that led me, as it did for a lot of the boys my age, to join the Cub Scouts. Although there was already a leader of the pack I joined, Dad loved helping out whenever and wherever he could. Dad enjoyed working with scouts so much that a year or two before he was murdered, Dad volunteered to be in charge of all the Boy Scouts in our area when our local Boy Scouts organization needed someone to step forward. Likewise, when they needed someone to take over as the leader of a group of Webelos Dad volunteered for that too.

I was too young to appreciate the impact Dad had on others through his willingness to get involved in the Boy Scout program. As a former volunteer football coach, the following post is particularly meaningful as I know first hand that to make this kind of difference on the life of someone that was not as fortunate to have a father encapsulates why Dad volunteered:

“I was a fatherless youth growing up in Lafayette, Colorado. Officer Tom Carpenter was our Boy Scout Leader and one of the more significant influences on my youth. I remember the cloud over Christmas that year. I attended the funeral and I will never forget the image of all the law enforcement agencies that showed their support. Husband, Father, and Scott Leader Tom Carpenter will always be a positive memory in my thoughts.” -Warren Charter (December 7, 2013)[2]

Dad was good about making sure I learned how to do everything myself and made sure I earned my merit badges on my own. I specifically remember how frustrating it was when he was trying to teach me how to tie all the different knots. I was born with a minor birth defect in which I am missing the last joint in my fingers. This has never given me much trouble with the exception that I struggle a bit with the dexterity of fingers. Consequently, I struggled some with learning how to tie, and untie, knots. I would get so frustrated when I would struggle handling the string or small rope the way it was taught, I would test the patience of Dad as he would try to keep me from getting overly frustrated with my fingers. Thanks to his quiet patience, I was able to learn to tie all the knots and earned my merit badge for knot tying.

One of the highlights as a Cub Scout was the pinewood derby. In the pinewood derby, each Cubs Scout builds and races a car made from a block of pinewood with plastic wheels and metal nails for axles. At first Dad insisted that I would need to build my car myself with only minimal guidance from him. After I did most of the work on my car before we tested it and it just did not do very well. At this point Dad, like a lot of dads, took over and “my race car” became “our race car”. I remember him drilling holes in the back of the car, adding small metal bearings to increase the weight of the back of the car, covering the hole with glue and sawdust, and painting over it. Next Dad worked on the getting the best nails and added graphite to the axels so the wheels would roll as free as possible.

I still remember the day of the race. Most of the kids cars were tricked out and looked a lot flashier than my car. You could tell most of the other kids dad’s had done most of the work on the cars. My car was bland and plain. You could tell I had done almost all of the design work on the car myself. I remember feeling a bit embarrassed and wishing my car looked as cool as all the other cars. Yet, it was “our car” that won each heat and advanced to the finals. I still remember how surprised everyone there was, none more than myself, when my car won the final race. No one could see the work Dad had done to help “my” car roll faster, I was the only one that knew.

DerbyCar

I know Dad did not cheat, as everything he did to make my pinewood derby car faster was within the rules. Nonetheless, I am left to wonder why he did so in such a way that it did not look as though he had done much to help me. Looking back today, I cannot help to wonder if he was trying to encourage the other dads to let their kids do most of the work on the cars. Perhaps he just wanted to help me win so I could feel good about building a winning car. Maybe he just was like the other dads and wanted “our car” to win. All I know is I was so proud of that car and Dad that day and it still makes me smile when I see my car and think of that day!

Moonlighting

Like most young law enforcement officers, my dad did not earn a large salary so Dad would work second jobs on his time off, something they called “moon lighting”. Some of my best memories of dad were of him taking me with him to the gas station and wrecking yard when he was moon lighting. To me, the best place in the world to watch an Army-Navy football game was sitting on an old rickety stool in the backroom of an old gas station watching a portable black and white TV while dad work on cars!

When I read the following tribute to Dad, I think back to the time I spent with Dad at this gas station and wonder if I ever met this high school kid. This type of response reminds me how you never know when a “little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love” will have a lasting impact on another person:

“I think of you often even though I barely knew you. I was in high school and worked at a gas station. You would stop by and say high occasionally. About a week before your tragic death I asked you what it would take to become a Colorado State Patrolman. You told me that I should just work hard and stay in business. You where special and will never be forgotten. I continue to pray for your family.” -R. T. Elder (Admirer – May 21, 2014)[2]

One of the greatest adventures in the world for a young boy might be to investigate and rummage through old wrecked trucks and cars with his friends! Mom hated the wrecking yard and made Dad promise he would keep us in sight and out of trouble. Nonetheless, after I promised Dad to be safe and stay outside the wrecks, as soon as we were out of his sight we would go crawling through the wrecks looking for the coolest piece of junk we could find. I remember several times when climbing on the stacks of three wrecks on top of each other that we would cause the wrecks to shift and move as we climbed through them. Luckily for us, and perhaps luckier still for Dad, despite this exercise in extremely poor judgment nothing serious ever happened to us. For me, this is but one example which proves that David was right when he had written in Psalms 121:8 “The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.[4]

 

 

[1] The Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP),. 2016. “Patrolman Thomas Ray Carpenter”. https://www.odmp.org/officer/reflections/2820-patrolman-thomas-ray-carpenter.

[2] The Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP),. 2016. “Patrolman Thomas Ray Carpenter”. https://www.odmp.org/officer/reflections/2820-patrolman-thomas-ray-carpenter.

[3] New Living Translation (NLT).

© C. Carpenter and Surviving December, 2017. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.
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A Man of Quiet Christian Faith:

Surviving December

QuietMan

I was fortunate to have been raised in a home with loving parents that instilled in me my Christian faith. Dad was quiet about his faith, letting his actions speak louder than his words. At the same time Dad was careful never to be judgmental or demeaning of others, he always tried to treat everyone with respect as he took it to heart when Jesus said in Luke 6:31 to “treat others the same way you want them to treat you”[1]. Not only did he teach this, Dad lived it, and as a result everyone that knew him, were well aware of his Christian faith and respected him for it.  

Just as Christ asserted in his Sermon of the Mount, “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”, Dad believed it was your actions that spoke…

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A Man of Quiet Christian Faith:

QuietMan

I was fortunate to have been raised in a home with loving parents that instilled in me my Christian faith. Dad was quiet about his faith, letting his actions speak louder than his words. At the same time Dad was careful never to be judgmental or demeaning of others, he always tried to treat everyone with respect as he took it to heart when Jesus said in Luke 6:31 to “treat others the same way you want them to treat you”[1]. Not only did he teach this, Dad lived it, and as a result everyone that knew him, were well aware of his Christian faith and respected him for it.  

Just as Christ asserted in his Sermon of the Mount, “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”, Dad believed it was your actions that spoke louder than your words. Dad did not just believe this, this was the example by which he lived his life. In an article written after Dad was killed in the Line-of-Duty, Dad was described as “quiet about his religion and very non-condemning, the people on the patrol respected him very much for what he believed.”[2] 

For example, Dad rarely would drink alcohol or use foul language. Yet he had many friends that would drink alcohol and use some harsh language at times. Nonetheless, I never recall Dad speaking negatively in any way of their choices. It was in this way Dad was able to convey to me that I could live by his example without judging others for their choices. Moreover, I came to understand that not drinking alcohol did not make you a good person no more than using harsh language affirmed a person was bad. Despite my occasional failures, I continue to try to live by this example and always remember to look past the facade of a person to see what is in their heart.

Today as I read the words of Saint Peter in 1 Peter 3:15-16, I see Dad lived his life by them and I can now see how prophetic they would be:

“Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ.”[3]

My granddad was a minister that preached loud and hard. Many people would find the grace of Christ through the preaching of my granddad. Yet, God would use Dad another way that too would have an immense impact on the lives of others. Following his murder, several of his friends and co-workers would let it be known to Mom that they became Christians due to the impact Dad had on their lives, including one of his very best friends and his wife. Even today, I only need to go to one of the memorial pages and I will find a post like the one below reminding me the actions of Dad were heard and are still heard today:

“Tom was instrumental in my Christian conversion and will always be remembered honorably in my memories for his service as a dedicated officer”. -James C. McClung (Former CSP Trooper – May 8, 2010)[4]

Dad was quiet and I was not, which tested Dad at times. As I have previously stated (Blog: Learning to Control My Anger), I never saw Dad lose his temper or outwardly show anger. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for me when I was a young boy as I had quite the temper and was head strong. I remember many times Dad would stop everything to make the point to me if he felt I had done something that was not in line with treating others the way I would want them to treat me. Not only did Dad live it, he made it crystal clear that he expected me to live it too. In this way, to this very day I can see how Dad made certain I understood James 1:19-20:

…Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” [5]

Likewise, as I previously stated (Blog: Do not Lower Yourself to their Level), Dad taught me that I should hold myself to a higher standard. Just as the Apostle Paul contended in Romans 12:14-21:

“If someone mistreats you because you are a Christian, don’t curse him; pray that God will bless him…Never pay back evil for evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honest clear through. Don’t quarrel with anyone. Be at peace with everyone, just as much as possible…Don’t let evil get the upper hand, but conquer evil by doing good.”[5]

Dad made it clear both by his example and his words that I was to conduct myself with self-control.  I am reminded of this when I read Titus 2:6-8, where the Apostle Paul advises Titus to teach young men how to conduct themselves:

“Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.”[6]

Although I am far from perfect, to this day very few people have seen me outwardly display anger or lose control of my temper. This temperament would serve me well in my career in law enforcement and would not have been possible without the persistent lessons bestowed on me by Dad.

These are but a few of the memories I am blessed to have of Dad and how his faith was imparted onto my life. If it had not been for God guiding me to focus on the good memories I had of Dad, just as he had lead the Apostle Paul to focus on the good things about people as he taught in Philippians 4:8, I could have lost these irreplaceable memories forever. Not only did God preserve for me the dad I was so fortunate to have, in this way I see how God was leading me away from the anger I could otherwise have focused towards the men that had brutally murdered Dad in cold blood. I am so thankful for God’s guidance and comfort during that time in my life, as I walked “through the valley of the shadow of death” I learned to “fear no evil”, for God was “with me” along with his “rod” and his “staff” to comfort me.

It would be the loving memories of Dad and the man that he was that God would use to guide my moral compass each time I would misstep or make a mistakes that would cause me to veer off the course God had intended for me to take. Although I would be blessed with a number of phenomenal mentors throughout my life, these memories of Dad would continue to impact and shape the very core of my character. It is this central core that has had the greatest impact on the person I would become. Notwithstanding my many mistakes and missteps, the best things I have ever accomplished are by virtue of staying true to the core of my character that has been infused with these loving memories of a man I am honored to call my dad.

Furthermore, it is through these loving memories of Christian faith that I will always know what guided my Dad. Subsequently, it is in this faith that God continues to guide me, showing how I can apply these loving memory in my everyday life as I continue to realize and appreciate what it is that I have gained. As it states in Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.”[8]. Through his example, as well as his words, in less than ten years Dad had passed on to me the character of his Christian faith. It is by this faith, I continue to find guidance over forty years after his life tragically ended. For his Christian faith I was blessed to know, I am eternally thankful as it has made all the difference in my life.

 

[2] New American Standard Bible (NASB).

[2] “Tom Carpenter Off Duty”. 1974. Patrol 829 Volume 1, Number 1 (q): Page 3.

[3] New Living Translation (NLT).

[4] New International Version (NIV).

[5] The Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP),. 2016. “Patrolman Thomas Ray Carpenter”. https://www.odmp.org/officer/reflections/2820-patrolman-thomas-ray-carpenter.

[6] The Living Bible (TLB).

[7] English Standard Version (ESV).

[8] New American Standard Bible (NASB).

© C. Carpenter and Surviving December, 2017. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

My Dad the Patrolman:

Dad-Academy

My memories of Dad are forever flawed in a beautiful way as they are forever frozen in time, the time where a nine year old boy sees his dad as his hero that can do nothing wrong. I understand Dad was not a perfect man, yet my memories of him will never be tainted by trials of teenage years when I would have grown to question him, challenge the boundaries he set, and magnify any flaws I might perceive he would have had. Like many boys my age, I believe I had the best dad and there was nothing Dad could not do. Although I would struggle with understanding why my hero did not prevail and survive that fateful December day, I would grow to discover the strength and power of the quiet love, along with the faithful lessons,  I was blessed to have received from Dad in the time that he was alive.

As a nine year old boy, the fact that my dad worked in law enforcement weighs prominently in many of my pronounced memories of Dad. I was inthralled by every aspect of his job. One of my favorite things was to sit and watch as Dad meticulously shined his boots, belt, and badge. I never had seen a belt with so many holes, all aligned so Dad could position all of the equipment he carried while he patrolled in his assigned car. Of course the fact Dad drove a marked patrol car was perhaps the coolest thing of all. The flashing lights and siren were riveting to a young boy. I often imagine the thrill of driving fast, chasing down spending cars with the lights and sirens. I just knew driving a patrol car with flash lights and sirens blaring had to be one of the coolest things there could be.

Dad would write many of his reports at home. I remember watching Dad in total fascination as he used the stencils to recreate diagrams of the accidents on paper for his reports. He would even let me try to do the same on some of the scrap paper which made me feel so important. At times, Dad would use my little Matchbox and Hot Wheel cars to figure out what happened during the accident. I would mimic this when I played with my toy cars, creating accidents like I had seen Dad prepare reports on.

One of my favorite memories was Dad using my Hot Wheel set to demonstrate how the new Colorado State Patrol radar guns worked at one of the county fairs. I remember helping Dad pick out the best cars to use. This was serious to me so I tested each car to make sure the wheels were not bent and made sure the each track had not been bent or broken. I was so proud as Dad made me feel like I was part of something new and important. It is the love Dad demonstrated by including me, letting me feel I was important and able to contribute, that makes moments like this stand out to this day.

Dad was always extremely careful to take care of his sidearm when us kids were not around. It was made extremely clear to us kids that we were never to touch his handgun and I have few passing memories of Dad with his Colt .357 Magnum revolver that he carried for work. My dad was a hunter, and I remember him teaching me about his Remington .22LR rifle and even recall taking it rabbit hunting. I even recall watching Dad get his .270 hunting rifle from Sears ready for hunting deer or elk. Yet, the Colt was off limits, kept out of sight and out of mind. I do not know if it was because of this, or due to the fact Dad was murdered with the Colt. Regardless, I have little memory of the sidearm my dad carried when he went to work.

I would carryover these lessons to when I worked in law enforcement. Over the years I carried three different sidearms and I would be surprised if my kids saw anyone of them more than a split second at any time throughout my career. As soon as I was home I would quickly take off my gun and lock it in the gun safe without anyone around. As my dad had, I made it crystal clear that the gun was off limits and my kids were never to discuss it with their  friends. I had no issue carrying a handgun at work, it was just part of the job. Yet, I had a healthy respect for what could happen when a gun falls into the wrong hands.

As a member of the Colorado State Patrol, Dad was selected to serve on the first Governor’s detail after it was created. Known as the Executive Security Unit, this detail provided security for the Colorado Governor and dignitaries visiting the state. This detail was reserved for the best Colorado State Patrolmen. Dad was honored to be selected and would serve for at least two years of his career on this detail. Serving on a rotating basis, Dad would spend one month out of every three to four months providing security for Governor John Arthur Love[1] and Governor John Vanderhoof[2]. The elite detail served two weeks at the Colorado Capitol and two weeks at the Governor’s mansion. For a young boy like me, this was awesome and validation of just how incredibly important my dad was.

When President Nixon and his wife Patricia (Pat) traveled to Colorado, Dad was assigned to the motorcade that traveled with them along with the Secret Service. On one occasion Dad let my mom know that Pat Nixon, along with Governor Love’s wife Ann, would be stopping in our home town to visit a child care facility. Mom decided to take us kids to see if we might be able to see them. Mom was amazed to see so many people and the number of Secret Service on the detail. Mom was shocked when just before getting back into the limousine, Pat Nixon turned to Mom and asked her how old her baby was. Mom was holding my baby brother who was a few months old. After Mom answered her question, Pat Nixon said “she is sure cute” and shook my mom’s hand before she climbed back into the limousine to leave.

Mom said I was quite impressed as I was standing next to her holding the stroller where my sister was resting. When Dad came home he brought a lot of extremely fancy and very tasty hors d’oeuvre from the luncheon they had for Pat Nixon. I was extremely impressed as I never recalled having seen fancy hors d’oeuvres like this before. When Mom and I told Dad what had happened with Pat Nixon, Dad was a little bit jealous as he had not had a chance to meet her as he was too far back in the motorcade. As I think back to the times I was called on to assist on Secret Service protection details I feel a kind of bond with my dad. Even though Dad is gone, I identify with what Dad experienced by recalling my serving on similar details.

Governor Love’s wife, Ann, apparently really liked Dad. When Dad was at the Governor’s mansion, Ann Love often enjoyed spending time talking to Dad. On one occasion, she gave my dad a belt buckle to give to me. I can remember getting the belt buckle, yet neither my mom nor I could recall why Ann Love thought to give it to Dad for me. The Love’s daughter, Becky, would also like to talk to Dad while they each had a piece of pie in the kitchen in the Governor’s Mansion. Becky Love would go on to serve as a Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court from 1995 to 2006.

Earlier in 1973, Governor Love resigned the governorship to become the nation’s first Director of the Office of Energy Policy in the administration of U.S. President Richard M. Nixon. Despite the fact that her husband was no longer the governor, Ann Love quietly came to out to see Mom and us kids after Dad had been murdered to personally offer her condolences and to see how we were doing. Ann Love personally wrote Mom about every year until she passed away in 1999.

Colorado Governor John Vanderhoof stated the following when the legislature honored Dad after he was murdered:

 “Tom Carpenter exhibited a combination of the finest qualities of a law enforcement officer both in daily routine and in time of stress. While on assignment to the Executive office, he was a favorite of the staff for his pleasant and considerate manner…“[3]

In recognition of Dad’s service with the Executive Security Unit along with the Colorado State Patrol, the Colorado General Assembly passed resolution H.J.R. 1019 honoring his service and extending their sympathies to our family. One of the sponsors of this resolution, State Representative John Buechner stated:

“I very rarely sponsor resolutions, but I think Patrolman Carpenter deserves to be commemorated by the General Assembly for his exemplary work as a patrolman, and a state official of the highest caliber.” [4]

These are a some of the memories I am grateful to have of my dad, memories I draw upon for my resilience to this day. Even the memories that have been passed on to me from others like my mom, or stories written about Dad, enrich this core of inner strength my positive memories provide. It is not ideal, and I would gladly trade these memories if I could still have my dad with me. Nonetheless, I am extremely thankful for the time I did have with the dad I was bless with.

I do not know all the answers anymore than I am able to go back and prevent the loss of my dad or the painful losses others have had to endure. Yet, as I look back over my life I can now see more clearly what I have gained following the painful loss of my dad. Today as I read Ecclesiastes 6:9, “Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have…” (NLT), I believe this choice is part of the picture that God meant for me to gain and understand. As I share this part of my story, it is my hope others too will find something that will help them with their choices, so they too can find resilience as they move forward in their journey so they too can become a survivor. God bless!

“The grief of losing my father has come in waves over the years, as it does with most people. His love and devotion as a father provided my closest, most intimate relationship. Dad, and our time together, is in my bones. While reflecting on him, the memories themselves seem to boil down into certain ‘essences of Dad.'” –  Jennifer Grant

 

[1] Governor John A. Love was elected to an unprecedented three terms as the Governor of Colorado from 1963-1973 (www.nga.org).

[2] Governor John D. Vanderhoof was Lieutenant Governor in Colorado from 1971-73 and he succeeded Governor John A. Love as the Governor of Colorado in July of 1973 (www.nga.org).

[3] “Tom Carpenter Recognized By Legislature”. 1974. Patrol 829 Volume 1, Number 1 (q): Page 4.

[4] “Tom Carpenter Recognized By Legislature”. 1974. Patrol 829 Volume 1, Number 1 (q): Page 4.

© C. Carpenter and Surviving December, 2017. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Positive Memories Can Help Us Be Resilient:

Christmas1973

Last Picture – December 26, 1973

 

As the shock of learning of how Dad had been murdered began to subside, God guided me to instinctively make the decision to focus my thoughts on remembering Dad for how he lived and not on how his life had ended. As a result, I have spent little, if any, time thinking about the men that ended his life. I simply felt it was wrong to give into them, to hate like them, to allow them to have a greater effect on my life by allowing what they had done to Dad in a moment in time to overshadow what Dad had done in my lifetime. It was incomprehensible to me to allow them to take away any more time from me, time I could spend focused on Dad.

Likewise, my mom rarely said anything to us kids about the men suspected to have so brutally ended my dad’s life. Instead, Mom would focus on the man Dad had been and the memories we shared. The fact that the suspects were never arrest, and there never was a trial, no doubt helped to allow me to remain solely focused on Dad and what he had meant to me. Some people benefit from the sense of “closure” a trial can give them, and I did want the suspects caught so they would face the justice they deserved. Yet, that did not happen, so I will never know how that could have impacted the way I had chosen to focus my thoughts.

Today as I look back on this choice I made as a young boy, I can see how God was guiding me away from the pitfall of remaining focused on pain, anger, and resentment. Although it is completely natural to feel these emotions after this type of loss, if I had remained focused on these strong negative emotions I could have easily lost sight of the memories of the dad I had and what Dad had taught me. If I had remained focused on the pain, anger, and resentment, of what these men had done I could have become hopelessly lost on the path that leads to hatred and bitterness, the path of a victim.

Instead, God focused my thoughts, the thought of a young boy, on the memories of a loving dad and what my dad had taught me. In Philippians 4:8-9, the Apostle Paul encourages us to focus on what is good, what is right, so we would find peace:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these thingspractice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”[1]

Likewise, in 1 Peter 1:6-9 the Apostle Peter, the Rock Jesus had chosen to build the Christian Church on, encourages Christian believers to focus their thoughts on the positives when they experience trials so they can be rewarded for trusting in Christ:

“So be truly glad! There is wonderful joy ahead, even though the going is rough for a while down here. These trials are only to test your faith, to see whether or not it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests gold and purifies it – and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold; so if your faith remains strong after being tried in the test tube of fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day of his return. You love him even though you have never seen him; though not seeing him, you trust him; and even now you are happy with the inexpressible joy that comes from heaven itself. And your further reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.” [2]

In his devotional, “An Attitude of Gratitude“,  best selling Christian author and pastor at Oak Hills Church (formerly the Oak Hills Church of Christ in San Antonio, Texas) Max Lucado explains:

“Gratitude gets us through the hard stuff. To reflect on your blessings is to rehearse God’s accomplishments. To rehearse God’s accomplishments is to discover his heart. To discover his heart is to discover not just good gifts but the Good Giver. Gratitude always leaves us looking at God and away from dread. It does to anxiety what the morning sun does to valley mist. It burns it up.” [3]

Dad had been a survivor and had taught me to be a survivor. Dad had passed on to me his Christian faith, a faith that had led him to focus on what was honorable, what was just, what was good, and what was commendable. Dad taught me to be positive, not to allow my negative emotions to get the best of me and to never lower myself to level of others. Instead of memories dominated by how Dad was murdered, my memories are packed with irreplaceable memories of how Dad lived his life and the invaluable lessons he taught me. God would use these memories of Dad to help me discover an endless supply of inner strength, a resilience I would otherwise never have known I had. I would need this strength to overcome the difficulties, many made worse by my own missteps, I would face along my journey. In this way, God had set me on the path to be a survivor.

When I first shared my story at a Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.) workshop, I did not know how to adequately express the significance of focusing on the memories of Dad has made for me during my journey. Each time I would tell my story, I felt I was never truly able to relate the significance of this choice in a manner that would resonate with others as they dealt with their own pain of loss. As a result, I was fascinated when I discovered experts in psychology have conducted research that demonstrates just how this type of positive focus can be a constructive method in coping with any traumatic loss.

One example of this can be found in an article by Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of California-Davis and the founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology. According to his article, How Gratitude Can Help You Through Hard Times, Dr. Emmons refers to the way I had focused on positive memories of Dad, as focusing on what a person has to be grateful for. Dr. Emmons asserts his research has shown:

“In the face of brokenness, gratitude has the power to heal. In the face of despair, gratitude has the power to bring hope. In other words, gratitude can help us cope with hard times.”

“…being grateful is a choice, a prevailing attitude that endures and is relatively immune to the gains and losses that flow in and out of our lives. When disaster strikes, gratitude provides a perspective from which we can view life in its entirety and not be overwhelmed by temporary circumstances. Yes, this perspective is hard to achieve—but my research says it is worth the effort.”

“…Why? Well, when times are good, people take prosperity for granted and begin to believe that they are invulnerable. In times of uncertainty, though, people realize how powerless they are to control their own destiny. If you begin to see that everything you have, everything you have counted on, may be taken away, it becomes much harder to take it for granted.

So crisis can make us more grateful—but research says gratitude also helps us cope with crisis. Consciously cultivating an attitude of gratitude builds up a sort of psychological immune system that can cushion us when we fall. There is scientific evidence that grateful people are more resilient to stress, whether minor everyday hassles or major personal upheavals…” [4]

Dr. Emmons insight of the power of “gratitude” captures the profound impact my focus on my memories of dad has had on my life. Other researchers have also concluded that the focus on positive memories can have a positive impact on our ability to recover from tragic events in our lives. In an article by Chris Woolston, Resilience: Bouncing Back From Hard Times, psychologists referred to this ability to bounce back from trauma as “resilience”:

Resilient people feel distressed just like anyone else. But even in the darkest times, they manage to buoy their spirits with positive thoughts. “Even the most dire situations aren’t always completely one hundred percent bad,” says resilience researcher Barbara Fredrickson, professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of Positivity (Crown, 2009), a book about the power of positive emotions. “The worst situations are often mixed with feelings of relief and an outpouring of compassion.”

…Resilient people, it seems, can find solace even while dealing with overwhelming loss. As reported in the journal Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, studies have found that people who coped best with losing a spouse didn’t try to “make sense” of the death or spend a lot of time mulling over regrets or lost opportunities. Instead, while grieving, they found a measure of comfort in happy memories of their lost partner.

Positive emotions are more than just a short-term fix. Experts have found that feelings of love, gratitude, and relief can reverberate for years after a crisis. Why are these emotions so powerful and long-lasting? On a basic level, Fredrickson says, such feelings help keep the mind free and flexible. “You see the bigger picture. There’s a greater openness that allows you to connect with other people.” Now think about the alternative. As Fredrickson explains, people who are grief-stricken, anxious, or depressed tend to draw inward and limit their interactions with the world.[5]

The word “resilience” captures the essence of inner strength my positive memories of Dad have given me. Anytime the journey seems to becoming overwhelming, I can feel these positive loving memories deep inside my core and my resolve is somehow bolstered. As a result, I am able to regain my focus and work to get myself back on the course God has set for me with the knowledge God is with me. Just as the following quotes assert, we can find the “resilience” I found by choosing to be positive and having a grateful attitude to find the inner strength to bounce back from adversity:

“Choosing to be positive and having a grateful attitude is going to determine how you’re going to live your life.” – Joel Osteen

“One thing about championship teams is that they’re resilient. No matter what is thrown at them, no matter how deep the hole, they find a way to bounce back and overcome adversity.” – Nick Saban

“From separation and loss, I have learned a lot. I have become strong and resilient, as is the case of almost every human being exposed to life and to the world. We don’t even know how strong we are until we are forced to bring that hidden strength forward.” – Isabel Allende

“Resilience isn’t a single skill. It’s a variety of skills and coping mechanisms. To bounce back from bumps in the road as well as failures, you should focus on emphasizing the positive.” – Jean Chatzky

It does not matter what caused your painful loss, the pain is the same if the loss is due to cancer, an accident, drug addiction, suicide, military action, or murder in the Line-of-Duty. The pain felt in the loss is due to the love we received from, felt for, and gave to the one we tragically lost. To understand my journey is to understand the dad I had. It is with this in mind that I share some of the precious memories I have of Dad, as I hope to give you a sense of the man Dad was. It is my hope this will help provide context and some of the perspective of the “gratitude” and “resilience” I have gained from these memories. From this I hope others can find the inner strength from their own loving memories so they too can develop into a survivor and avoid the path of victimization.

 

[1] English Standard Version (ESV).

[2] The Living Bible (TLB)

[3] Lucado, Max. “An Attitude Of Gratitude”. Faithgateway.com. N.p., 2013. Web. 11 June 2016.

[4] Emmons PhD, Robert. 2013. “How Gratitude Can Help You Through Hard Times”. Greater Good. http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_can_help_you_through_hard_times.

[5] Woolston, Chris. 2015. “Resilience: Bouncing Back From Hard Times”. Consumer.Healthday.Com. http://consumer.healthday.com/encyclopedia/depression-12/depression-news-176/resilience-bouncing-back-from-hard-times-644999.html.

© C. Carpenter and Surviving December, 2017. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

After the Unthinkable Happens:

Funeral

Social Media, Fox News, and CNN did not exist at the time my dad was abducted and murder.  Nonetheless, with limited knowledge of what had happened and the murderers still at large, this was extremely dramatic news, even for a metropolitan area the size of Denver. I do not remember the first news reporter coming to the house, Mom remembers someone came to our front door within an hour of our notification and they were politely asked to leave. Of course as anyone that has seen these events play out today on television or on the internet knows, this does not end until someone gets a story.

This leads into one of my next memories, the memory of lights, cameras, a reporter, and a microphone all in our house focused on Mom. This was completely foreign to me, I had never known anyone that had ever been on television, let alone having someone in our house to interview Mom for television. I remember wanting to watch to make sure Mom was safe and okay. I knew this was all still very emotional for Mom and I wanted to protect her, even if I had no idea how I could do that. This may be why I have always been wary of the media, circumspect of their motives. Sensing my apprehension, someone quietly ushered me down stairs to our basement.

The television crew must have wanted to film us kids too. Mom was protective of us kids and I knew I did not want anything to do with talking to them on camera. I recall the camera crew came down stairs where I had been taken to play pool to keep me busy and out of the way. The camera crew decided to add a shot of me making a pool shot on Dad’s new pool table. As I was lining up the shot, all I could think about was not scratching the felt. Even at that moment, I could still hear my dad’s voice telling to me to in a stern voice to be careful with the felt.

On my first try I was nervous and I shot the cue ball straight off the pool table. I was so embarrassed as everyone scrambled to find the cue ball and someone set it back up on the pool table so I could have another try. As I recall I made the second shot in the corner pocket, seems like it was the yellow ball, the nine or one ball. Best of all, the cue ball stayed on the pool table and I did not leave a mark on the felt. I was so relieved to be done with my only time on television.

It seems like things were happening so fast. Everything was a blur with more people than I ever had seen coming and going in an endless stream of humanity to and from our home. Mom was busy with so many details so there was a continuous line of faceless people that us three kids were handed off to so Mom could deal with the stressful decisions that had to be made. During this blur of slight memories I only have only a single clear memory of the mortuary as Mom was doing her best to protect us from everything that was going on.

In this memory I was in a car parked in front of a building that seems to have been the mortuary when Mom ask me if I wanted to see dad to say goodbye. Strangely, this is not one of my more vivid memories as it is not something I have never felt was that important to me. Mom felt I was the only one of us kids old enough to make this decision for myself and while I appreciate the fact that she gave me the opportunity, I had no interest in seeing the lifeless body of Dad to add to my memories of him. My life was full of memories of Dad full of life and that was how I wanted to remember him. I wanted to remember him how he had lived his life, not how he had died, so I told Mom I did not want to go into the mortuary to see Dad, that I did not need to say goodbye.

I was interested to see that in 2010, the University of Oxford interviewed eighty bereaved relatives in an effort to determine if it was appropriate to encourage bereaved relatives to view the body after a traumatic death. According to their research, the answer varies from each individual, so my decision that was right for me and yet may not be the best thing for someone else:

“While viewing the body matters for some people, others felt that it might interfere with their memory of the living person…Professionals need to be sensitive to the different needs and preferences of people bereaved by traumatic death and to the social, familial, cultural, and legal context of the death…Some people may see the dead body as an empty shell, but others keep a bond with the social identity of the person, and they may see the body as continuing to harbour a spirit or at least some “lingering energy.” The language used by people who have been bereaved offers a powerful clue to the nature of their sense of relationship with the dead body. We therefore encourage professionals to pay attention to how family members refer to the body: if they talk about it by name or use a personal pronoun this should alert clinicians to the continuing sense of social bond, and it would be advisable to follow suit rather than speak of the “body,” “remains,” or “deceased” and risk offense.”[1]

My next vivid memory must have taken place later that evening. I remember I was in our bathroom taking a warm bath the night before Dad’s “Line-of-Duty” funeral at a church in Longmont. It was an uncomfortable feeling taking a bath with so many people in the house at the same time. As I was cleaning myself I began to notice red blotches were beginning to appear on my stomach, arms, and legs. The more I tried to wash my skin, the more they itched, and more and more were emerging all over of my body.

At this point I was becoming alarmed! I had never seen anything like this before and had no idea what was happening to me. Like any young child that thinks they may be sick, I called out for my mom to come to the bathroom. Mom came in and thought it was the hives due to the stress of everything we were all going through. I recall that she had someone else look at me, which was even more horrifying, and they thought it could be the chicken pox. Since chicken pox are so contagious, Mom decided to take me to see the doctor the next morning before dad’s “Line-of-Duty” funeral, adding even more stress to an already incredibly stressful day for her.

I remember I was feeling miserable and I was trying my best not to cause Mom any more trouble as I knew the funeral was going to be very difficult on her. I do not know if it was the stress of being sick, my concern about Mom, my decision to not cry, the funeral itself, or most likely a combination of all of them. Whatever the reason, I have almost no recollection of anything that took place the day of Dad’s “Line-of-Duty” funeral. Most of what I know about this day is what I have learned from others.

According to Mom, early the next morning she was amazingly able to get me into see the doctor. The doctor took one quick look at me and told her I did not have hives and confirmed her fear that I did indeed had the highly contagious chicken pox. Mom asked the doctor what she was suppose to do, the funeral was that afternoon and there were so many people in town that would be stopping by to offer their condolences. The doctor realized contagious or not, there really were no options so he suggested that Mom cover me up the best she could and not say anything to anyone about my having the chicken pox. Mom felt terrible as she knew this was not right, but with only a few hours she decided to follow the doctors advice pray that God would protect everyone from the potential exposure.

With all this going on, Mom had to make all the final decisions about a funeral she thought she would not have to think about for decades. Like most people their age, my parents had not spent much time at all thinking about the fact their lives would end someday, let alone what they wanted done when that time came. About the only thing Dad had ever said to Mom was that he wanted to be buried in Grand Junction and he did not like the cemetery where his dad was buried. Based on this information, Mom decided to have Dad buried the at the same cemetery in Grand Junction where her brother was buried. This present a problem as Grand Junction was about 250 miles from where Dad had lived and worked for the past five years.

Mom never felt there was any choice, that Dad deserved to have a “Line-of-Duty” funeral service and it needed to be close enough to where Dad lived and worked so the people he lived and worked with could attend. So Mom decided to have two separate services, with the “Line-of-Duty” funeral service in Longmont where we had attended church and the graveside service in Grand Junction. Since our church was too small, arrangements were made to have the “Line-of-Duty” funeral service nearby at Bethel Temple at 1:00 pm on December 31, the last day of the year. The graveside service would be in Grand Junction the following day.

Most “Line-of-Duty” funerals have a slow procession following the service lead by the departments motorcycle escort preceding the hearse and followed next by one or two vehicles with the family. Following the family is generally a multitude of law enforcement vehicles representing various departments, fire trucks, and ambulances, all with lights flashing in silence. Since the graveside service was in Grand Junction, it was decided that the procession would proceed the “Line-of-Duty” funeral in Longmont escorting the hearse to the church. Curiously, no one can recall where the procession started, though it must have taken over ten miles to get to the church. As mom thought back to us three kids riding in a limousine, she recalled she had never seen so many flashing lights and it felt as though the procession lasted an eternity.

I am astonished that not only did I not have the slightest recollection of what must have been such a powerful moment from my past, it had never even occurred to me that there could have even been a procession as part of the “Line-of-Duty” funeral in Longmont. It was not until after I had attended a “Line-of-Duty” funeral in December 2015 while I happened to be working on this section of this book that I even thought to asked Mom if there had been a procession as part of the “Line-of-Duty” funeral for Dad. I was dumbfounded as Mom recounted the details of the long procession that not only took place, it was the only time in my life that I have gone for a ride in a limousine, and it was right out in front of hundreds of flashing lights.

I was just stunned that it had never even occurred to me to ask Mom about this, it simply never crossed my mind. I had always just assumed if there had been a procession, it just had to have taken place in Grand Junction on the way to the graveside service. I had thought this would account for why I would not have any memory of it as I did not attend the graveside service due to my having the chicken pox. Memories are such a curious thing and even more than forty years later I can no more explain how or why I can remember some things so clearly and yet have no recollection of others, particularly as I seem to remember the most painful memories so vividly.

Inexplicably, I do not even remember seeing a procession for a “Line-of-Duty” funeral until about six months before I secured a position in federal law enforcement. It had been almost 15 years since Dad had been murdered when I happened to drive by the procession of law enforcement vehicles, fire trucks, and ambulances following a “Line-of-Duty” funeral for a Colorado State Trooper. I still recall how stunned I was as I momentarily experienced a split second of a flash of white emotion which was gone in almost the same instance. Curiously, I have gone on to attend numerous “Line-of-Duty” funerals both as an agent and a representative of C.O.P.S. and I have never again had a sensation anything like this.

The “Line-of-Duty” funeral for Dad in Longmont was attended by over 1,600 family, friends, co-workers, and fellow law enforcement officers. This included Governor John D. Vanderhoof and his wife. As this was far too many for Bethel Temple, there was no doubt a large number of officers that had to remain in formation outside the church on this extremely cold wintry December afternoon where the temperature never made it above sixteen degrees Fahrenheit.

I do not recall arriving at the church or the Honor Guard carefully carrying the casket to the front of the church. It is when the casket has been placed in front of the church adorn by the Colorado State flag that my memory flashes back to life. I can still see the flag as it covered the casket as I found it strangely fascinating and confusing both at the same time. I believe this may have been the first time I had seen a flag covering a casket at a funeral.

I remember struggling to stay still. I did not want to embarrass Mom, yet the urge to itch and scratch were unbearable. Not to mention the fact that I felt just plain miserable. Despite my best efforts, I was losing the battle and I just could not sit still. So as if on cue, one of my oldest cousins quietly guided me up the aisle and out of the sanctuary for the remainder of the service. As the last great honor was paid to Dad, I sat miserably rubbing and scratching missing it all in an empty foyer of the church. I did not get to hear our pastor state Dad was “probably the most moral person I have ever know” or the Chief of the Colorado State Patrol assert dad’s “moral integrity was absolutely impeccable”. This was one of the most frustrating memories I have. To this day I hate that fact that I was not there for my mom, for my sister, or my brother.

Again, my memory goes blank and I do not recall anything that happened after the “Line-of-Duty” funeral service ended. According to paper clipping Mom kept, of the 1,200 law enforcement officers from the 20-25 different agencies that attended dad’s funeral, 500 stood at attention in formation in ten degree weather as the casket was carried from the church to the hearse followed by our family after the service. This is one memory I do wish I could recall. I think back to the day God guided me to attend the “Line-of-Duty” funeral of the Denver Police Officer and believe it is not an accident that God would choose this moment, one that mirrored a blank space in my memory, to reach out to me regarding the meaning of why these men braved the cold to stand the post to honor Dad and our family (see my blog: “Why We Stand Together“).

My next memories are after we had been driven to the old Stapleton International Airport in Denver that same evening of the “Line-of-Duty” funeral. In a strange twist of fate Stapleton International Airport was located not far from where Dad had been murdered. Mom had made arrangements for us to fly from Denver to Grand Junction with the casket so we would not need to worry about traveling in the wintry conditions across the snow covered Colorado mountain passes.

When we arrived at the airport we were taken to a special holding room generally reserved for VIPs as we waited for the plane. They served us soda pop, nuts, and candies. My sister asked if I could have another Pepsi while we waited to get on the plane because I had a sore throat due to having chicken pox. Mom was horrified as no one was suppose to know as she was afraid they would not let me fly. Mercifully, no one said a word and everyone acted as though nothing had been said.

We were loaded on the plane prior to the other passengers. I remember sitting in the bluish-grey seats looking out the window wondering what it would be like to fly. This was all a lot to take in for someone that had never traveled on a commercial plane before. I had only been on a plane once before, when my uncle gave mom and I a ride on his Cessna plane before I had even turn two years old. I guess I was just too young to remember what must have been a very cool experience.

I do not remember much if anything about the rest of the trip to Grand Junction, just as I do not recall arriving at my grandparents house. There was a viewing at the mortuary in Grand Junction for family and friends the following day before the graveside service which was attended by an estimated 600 people. After everything we had been through Mom wisely had decided all of us kids would not attend the graveside service so we stayed at my grandparents house with a family friend which would lead to one of the most extraordinary events of my very young life (see my blog: “God is Always there for Us“).

Despite attended numerous “Line-of-Duty” funerals and memorials over the years nothing has ever trigger any latent memories I have neatly hidden away. Even as I write this blog, the memories that have been hidden away remain hidden without even the slightest recollection. As strange as this seems, it I have never sensed any pain or anguish over this, just curiosity of how and why I could have so many vivid detailed painful memories from this same time of my life and other memories are forever gone as though I was never there when they happened. Oddly, this has been the same since the time it all happened. Yet, I am amazed of the apparent impact the memories that are lost to me would have on shaping the character of the person I was to become.

As I now have the benefit of time that God has patiently given to me to find my way through this process with His help along with so many wonderful people He would send my way, I have come to understand just how fortunate I have been. Not only would I come to understand how God has been with me throughout my journey, I would appreciate that so many others have experienced far worse trials than I could ever imagine. I was blessed to realize early on that although I my had lost Dad, for nearly ten years I was blessed to have more positive loving experiences with Dad than many sons encounter in a lifetime. I may have lost Dad, yet I still had a loving Mom, maternal grandparents, and a maternal side of our family that was in many ways so close that my cousins at times felt like siblings and my aunts and uncle were more like surrogate parents.

Most of all I now realize how fortunate it is to know the pain and grief I so desperately wanted to avoid. Though nothing could have made me understand it at the time, the only way I could experience this amount of anguish, grief, and pain, was to have been loved that much and more by Dad. I was so incredibly fortunate to have a Dad that had both loved my mom and us kids, as in this way both my parents taught us kids how to love them too. This is why it hurt so much to lose Dad, as the amount of pain and grief we feel is close to the converse equivalent to the amount of love that we have received. This is why I have come to see that I was so incredibly fortunate as I know it shows what I had and that is where I maintain my focus.

“We matter, not because of our achievements but because we are loved by God and loved by the people around us. That love may not shield  us from pain, death, and loss, but will make them more bearable, and that will be enough.”[2]

[1] Chapple, A., and S. Ziebland. 2010. “Viewing The Body After Bereavement Due To A Traumatic Death: Qualitative Study In The UK”. BMJ 340 (apr30 2): c2032-c2032. doi:10.1136/bmj.c2032.

[2] Kushner, Harold S. Living A Life That Matters. New York: A.A. Knopf, 2001. Print.

© C. Carpenter and Surviving December, 2017. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

The Unthinkable Happens:

Unthinkable-2

The last thing you can imagine when you are a nine year old boy is that anything could ever happen to your dad. This is a magical time in the life of many young boys, a time when you do not just believe, you know that your dad is the best. My dad was one of the good guys, he helped people when they had a car accident, and arrested the people that had done something wrong. Not even my favorite football player, the great Dallas Cowboy Quarterback Roger Staubach, was as cool my dad. My dad was my hero, I believed there was nothing my dad could not do. So it seemed at the moment I learned Dad had been murdered in the Line-of-Duty.

It may have been over forty years ago that Dad was kidnapped after he stopped to try to help someone with a stalled car and then was murdered in cold blood, execution style, on that cold winter morning. Out of all the days of my life, I remember this day as if it had only happened yesterday. This day I wish could have never had happened. The moment I realized Dad was not invincible just because he was a patrolman, had a badge, and a gun. This day I learned Dad was not perfect. This was the moment I learned just how cruel the world truly could be. The point in life I came to understand we all have a time to die, even my dad.

These memories are different than most any other memories I have ever had. I can still recall vivid frame by frame details of images as though I am still there in the moment, as if I can travel back in time and relive every detail. Although I can still remember the same emotions that were felt when these events firsts took place, as I recall these vivid memories today I am only reminded of the acute pain and anguish. Thankfully, the gift of time now spares me from reliving the pain of these intense emotions of the events from my past. Yet, the emotions and images are there to playback as I think back to that fateful day.

In my first vivid recollection from the morning of December 27, 1973, I am able to stop and pan around the front living room of our old house on E. Cleveland Street. I can even stop and see out the front window of the living room that looks out onto the street that runs in front of our old tract house across from the trailer park. It is strangely silent in my memory, as though it is an opening scene in a movie as the camera pans to set the stage. I am kneeling in the living room, rolling newspapers along with a friend who lived in the house across the alley behind our house. Mom watched my friend and his younger sister while both their parents worked during the day.

As my friend and I were rolling the newspapers for my weekly Thursday newspaper route, Mom was in the kitchen. As I was facing the growing stack of rolled newspapers, my younger sister seemed to be behind me along with my little brother and my friends little sister playing. At this moment everyone and everything seemed just like any other normal Thursday morning when we did not have school. It is at this moment in time that everything begins to change, slowly, as though it is all happening in slow motion.

It is at this point in time that my attention along with the other kids in the front living room was drawn to the window in the living room from which we could see the street in front of the house as one to two cars drove up and parked in front of our home. I remember being confused as I did not know what this meant at the time. I must have sensed something was wrong as it is at this moment that my memory flashes back and forth from a man in a Colorado State Patrol Uniform that was walking up the sidewalk toward our house and Mom moving from the kitchen in the back of the house to our front door.

As this all seems to be all so surreal, slowly frame by frame I become aware of the memories of my other senses and feelings. Most of all the my emotions are becoming more pronounced. In addition to my personal feelings and emotions, I am becoming aware of the emotional energy and the tension of the other people in the house, Mom most of all. The silence of my memory is shattered the moment Mom makes it to the front door and opens it, recognizing it is the Colorado State Patrol Lieutenant that has come to our house.

It is at this instance that the emotions of Mom instantly change. As she recognizes it is my dad’s Lieutenant that had come to the house, she hears him tell her that he needs to talk to her about something that has happened to Dad. Mom was quickly overwhelmed with emotions and started crying out “no!” and saying “he is dead, isn’t he!”. As the Lieutenant reached out to her, Mom pulled away and was so overpowered with emotion she was shaking, crying, and screaming all at the same time. Dad had told Mom that if something ever happened to him on the job, a supervisor would come to our house to personally tell her. Although she never truly considered it would happen, when she saw the Lieutenant she instantly knew something terrible had happened to Dad.

I was so focused on the Colorado State Patrol Lieutenant that I do not even recall seeing our close family friend who was right behind him. She had heard on the radio that Dad had been killed, jumped in her car, and drove across the small town to arrive at our house seconds after the Lieutenant. This must have been why I seemed to recall there was one car and then there were two. Mom recalls seeing her friend standing off to the side, behind the Lieutenant when Mom opened the door. All I remember is Mom was screaming and more people seemed to arrive from nowhere.

The slow frame by frame detail recall of a stressful or traumatic event is extremely common. When David Eagleman was eight years old he experienced a fall from a roof in which he remembered every detail as though it was happening in slow motion. David Eagleman would grow up to be Dr. David Eagleman, a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine and one of his specialties is exploring how our brains perceive and understand time. According to his research, our minds are not slowing everything down, instead our memories are saving all the details that we normally discard:

Think about walking down a crowded street: You see a lot of faces, street signs, all kinds of stimuli. Most of this, though, never becomes a part of your memory. But if a car suddenly swerves and heads straight for you, your memory shifts gears. Now it’s writing down everything – every cloud, every piece of dirt, every little fleeting thought, anything that might be useful.

 Because of this, David believes, you accumulate a tremendous amount of memory in an unusually short amount of time. The slow-motion effect may be your brain’s way of making sense of all this extra information. “When you read that back out,” David says, “the experience feels like it must have taken a very long time.” But really, in a crisis situation, you’re getting a peek into all the pictures and smells and thoughts that usually just pass through your brain and float away, forgotten forever.”[1]

As I recall this painful event of the notification of the cold blooded murder of Dad in the Line-of-Duty, I realize my mind processed my memories of all the details of this event just as Dr. David Eagleman describes. I believe God has helped me remember these painful details to help me learn lessons that would help shape my character and help guide my survival later in my life. I particularly believe this because of what happened next.

As everything continues in slow motion, I can remember frame by frame seeing Mom being overwhelmed with emotion, she was pulling back away from the front door back in the direction of the kitchen. As I can hear her screaming and crying hysterically “no”, I realize all of us kids are now crying as we are just beginning to grasp that something terrible has happened to our dad. I remember beginning to feel overwhelmed, not knowing what to do. I had never seen Mom in this much pain, so out of control, and just wanted everything to stop. Even as I type these words today, I feel a tremble in my hands as I still find it difficult to remember what Mom was going through and that gut wrenching hopeless feeling that I could not help her. It was the worst feeling in the world, even worse than the pain I felt for the loss of Dad.

It is at this point my memory begins to cut out. It is a strange sensation to have such a vivid frame by frame memory and then have everything go black with no memory at all. According to Mom, I became so upset that I ran past her and went down into our basement which was just past the kitchen. Mom said I was scared, was crying, and she felt I was going into shock. According to Mom I refused to come back upstairs and remained hiding in the basement until Mom came downstairs to get me. Afterwards, Mom gathered all of us kids together and she said we cried and prayed together as we all regained control of our emotions. I have no doubt this is true, I just have absolutely no memory of any of this ever happening.

I find this so remarkable that not only would God create us with the ability to recall certain events in vivid slow motion so we could learn all the we needed to from it, God would also design us with the capacity to turn off our memory when our emotions are about to overwhelm us. In Psychology this is known as “Dissociative Amnesia”, and I understand this can be particularly common for children that experience an emotionally distressing traumatic events such as I did. For me, the vivid details of the intricate memories I do have more than make up for any of the memories I appear to have repressed so I have never felt as though there was much that I was missing, just more of the same. Yet this experience helped me be more open minded and has given me a greater understanding of what others may have gone through themselves. This would allow me to be more compassionate with greater empathy than I may have otherwise had.

I do not know exactly when my next vivid memory from this day took place, I just imagine it was a short time after I had come up from the basement. It is at this point when I remember crying my last tear that day. As I was crying, a man, possibly another law enforcement officer, had is arm around me and told me that I was the man of the house now so I would need to be strong for my mother. I remember looking around and all I could see was my mom, my sister and my brother, crying as they were in this emotional hell that naturally comes with this type of tragedy. I did not understand that all this crying and emotion was normal, I just wanted it all to stop.

I wanted to be strong for my mother, brother, and sister. I wanted to be the man Dad had raised me to be, so I felt I had to make a difference. It was at this moment I simply made the choice to stop feeling the pain I was experiencing from the loss of Dad and stopped crying. Instead, I buried the pain with the thought I could ignore it and never have to deal with it again. As idiotic as it sounds, I somehow thought this would help Mom, she could see I was okay, giving her one less thing to worry about. It is hard to express how desperately I wanted Mom to stop hurting, for everyone to stop crying, for everyone to be okay again. Of course this is not how it works, it was just how a nine year old boy wanted it to work.

Over the next several days, I remembered numerous people commenting on how strong I was being for Mom and how well I was handling everything. This just reinforced my resolve that I was doing the right thing, making me feel better, and giving me a false sense I had some control over what was happening. I liked the feeling that I had a choice on how I allowed this tragedy to effect me. I had no idea why this choice I had made was a bad choice, that there was a terrible price to be paid by your body for repressing strong emotions like these. Nonetheless, I felt empowered at the time for how I had chosen to deal with my pain, and most of all how I thought I was helping Mom!

 

[1] Abumad, Had, and Robert Krulwich. 2010. “Why A Brush With Death Triggers The Slow-Mo Effect”. NPR.Org. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129112147

© C. Carpenter and Surviving December, 2017. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.