When I got home that evening, Tuesday, May 17, 2011, about 7:30 PM, I found people assembled at my home. There were representatives from the Fraternal Order of Police, folks I had worked with and folks that I knew by reputation, and few co-workers. The FOP set up a table of food, treats, and beverages in the living room. Tasha, Jun’s wife, went to-and-fro picking after the kids and playing with my daughters. Condolences were offered with hugs, hand-shakes, man-hugs where the arms are crooked in with the handshake to keep the formality of masculinity. I stepped into the kitchen and saw my co-worker, Michelle at the kitchen sink. I watched for a moment as she scrubbed a dish, rinsed, and placed on the dish rack.
“What are you doing?” I asked, partly embarrassed my dishes were being washed by a friend – and from thinking how it was Timmy’s one and only chore during the week. I was about to turn around and call upstairs for him to come down and do the dishes. I stopped. Timmy’s not coming home.
“I’m washing the dishes.” Michelle said as she rinsed her hands and dried them. Michelle hugged me and said a prayer for Jesus to ease my pain.
“My Timmy is dead, Michelle.” I cried. “My son is dead.”
Michelle comforted me. I had known her since I got out of the academy. She was and is a constant friend as well a knowledgeable cop and detective. There were times we didn’t agree with each other. There were times I said something to piss her off. There were times other people caused a rift. But as with anyone that is a true friend, Michelle was there in my home to help.
“I have a dishwasher you know.” I said pointing at the dishwasher that stood un-used under the counter.
“I know,” Michelle said wiping either tears or dishwater from her face. “I don’t mind, and I like knowing the dishes are clean because they were done by hand.”
John McGrody pulled me aside. I had also known John since I was a rookie. John was now the Vice-President of the FOP #5; despite his status he was still a cop and advocated strongly for his brothers and sisters in blue. “I want you to introduce you to someone. Meet Ronnie Sypherd, or as we call her the Ronnie-ator.”
Ronnie is an older lady who is well spoken, has the face of a Mother Superior, and the grace to match. “I’m Ronnie. I am here to help you plan Timmy’s funeral and get you through this week. This is going to be the hardest week in your life. I hate to say it, but you will hate me by the end of the week.”
Ronnie is the coordinator with the FOP to help arrange Police Officers funerals. However, it’s not just coordinating (and this is where Ronnie’s demeanor can match that of a Gunnery Sergeant), but to run interference with well-wishers wearing the skin of a vulture and keep them away from the family. Ronnie was very fierce, but graceful, from that moment protecting me and my family. People wanted to help in many ways, and that was appreciated – but Ronnie made sure that the help was genuine and not a sham. For that I could never once think of hating Ronnie. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have gotten through that week. She pushed me to focus on the task at hand, and that was to lay my son to rest and shooed away the vultures – that meant overzealous reporters, memorial headstone companies that called the FOP or my home offering a monument at a “special discounted rate.”
The owners of Katie O’Donnell’s Irish Pub, Sandy and Dave Greenhalgh along with their friend Phil Consolvo offered to help with a benefit. Ronnie, along with the Greenhalghs and Phil as well as a few other people, formed a committee to bring the benefit to fruition. Ronnie had experience with benefits – cops have them all the time to help one another, a charity, or a child in need for an operation, special medical equipment, or to help their parents bring expenses under control. Although at first it was proposed to have the benefit shortly after school let out, but it was agreed it would be too soon after Timmy’s death. The only thing I wanted was that I wanted it oriented towards the kids and to be focused on Timmy. Ronnie negotiated what was proposed between me and Gi. Even though I appreciated the thought and what was to come a few months later, I wanted it to be like a county fair – clowns, balloons, stuff that kids will eat like hamburgers and cotton candy. That was something I was told not to worry myself about and to get through the week.
Every morning, Ronnie came to the house – once or twice ordered me to the shower, to get dressed, because we had a meeting with the funeral home, ran interference or negotiated with the cemetery, made suggestions, and kept me focused on the task at hand – from deciding on readings from scripture, who will be a pall bearer (despite my stubbornness, Ronnie was not allowing me to carry my son because it would be have been too much on my psyche; looking back I am glad she won that argument), who would read the Eulogy, and what to wear - the three squads at Southwest, along with Lieutenant Walker and Captain Naish, bought me a new suit for the viewing and funeral.
Ronnie didn’t push me, but nudged strongly and protected me. She was right it was the hardest week of my life; she was wrong about hating her. I am so grateful to her getting me through the week.