Lucas F. Chellew died on February 22, 2017. He was part of the law enforcement family. He died in the line of duty, an end that was way too early, violent and sudden. It shouldn’t have happened, to anyone, to him.
He was also part of my family. I am in the third circle away from the direct experience. I am not the wife, the mother, the sister or the grandmother. I am not the aunt or the first cousin; I am the second cousin. I still feel pain.
When you are part of such an extended family of this profession, this calling, you are part of a ritual of leave taking. From the Bell Ringing Ceremony, to fundraising events for the family; the wife and children, to the memorial there is an exquisite choreography to the celebration of life, the mourning of the death.
Each of these is a coordinate on the GPS of grief. The events are structured, the locations are preset, often the journey is escorted and there are many people there to walk you through. Every step has its own purpose; its own heart wrenching moment.
Most chilling to me were three symbols of his passing. The first, as I entered the church for the memorial was the backward boots on his horse; he had been part of the mounted patrol in Sacramento. The final call from dispatch, calling out to Officer Lucas Chellew, “1, 12, Mary, 10”; call sign that will be retired forever from the South Sacramento squad. (You can hear the waiver in the dispatchers voice as she signs him off. “We have the watch from here.”) And after the speeches, after the singing, after the playing of the bag pipes and the transport by horse and wagon of the casket to the hearse we hear the roar and whir of helicopters flying over head. A formation of five pass over the crowd- one helicopter peeling off to the side as the rest fly on. I thought I had cried myself out before, that wasn’t the case.
Now we are on our own. More specifically the wife and young kids, the sister, the mom and dad, the aunts and uncles, the grandmas and grandpas, wake up today with no agenda for the grief. For the past ten days there has been a road map, a list of things to do, people to meet with, decisions to be made. Yes, there will be a few more of those lingering bits, but over all today is the first day of a life after E.O.W. without the push and pull of ceremony. This is the part with no GPS.
I feel for the family: I don’t want anyone to hurt this much, to be in that surreal space of suspended time, a life with no flavor, a sun with no brightness. I don’t want the people who love the mom, the wife, the grandmother, the aunts and uncles, to worry about them and their pain. But there is no way to be but present, no way to rush time or push away the grief.
Each one of us will process it differently; we will think about him at different times of the day, with different cues, for different lengths of time. There is nothing to do but go through it. And we don’t have to do it alone. None of us in the circle of care, of family, of extended family, nor law enforcement family have to be alone. We can do this together, keeping him alive in memory and influence, and supporting one another through this uncharted future without him.
Let our love be all the GPS we need.