My friend died. He was killed in what is sometimes referred to, in a quasi-heroic manner, as`the line of duty`. If he'd keeled over and croaked behind his desk at his computer screen it wouldn't be referred to as `in the line of duty` even if he was at work. He was fit, healthy, hilarious, a half decent drummer, a quaffer of fine ales, a good rugby player and a bit of a handful on a night out in the West End. He was a Bow Street policeman and he was killed doing his duty. Do I miss him? Yes, in that he was denied the right to a long life, but then so are lots of people. We wouldn't have kept in regular touch, for our lives were different outside of work. We may have served together again, but we never had the chance to, as somebody killed him. We would probably have gone to the occasional reunion and laughed at his fat belly, our excess of grey hair, or lack of any hair. I haven't got a fat belly, never had, still exercise, still keep in shape. Perhaps he would have too. I think he would have. Do I think about him? Yes, but not every day, not every week, I just can't predict when his grin, or the echo of his voice will pop into my thoughts. I was hit bloody hard when he died. Could have been me. A few months earlier it nearly was, in exactly similar circumstances, but I'm here and he's gone. His killers served less than 4 years in prison. Will I get over it? That question is far too vague. Get over what, exactly? Only time will tell.
PC Michael Anthony WHITING QPM, killed after clinging to a car which had driven off after he had stopped and questioned the driver. May 5th 1973
On a different tack, but still sailing into the winds of bereavement, I was thinking about the time, many moons ago, when my doctor's wife took her own life. A troubled soul, no doubt, to do something like that. She took prescribed medication along with three quarters of a bottle of Scotch whiskey, a blended variety although I can't remember the brand, but I do remember that she drank it from a heavy cut glass whiskey tumbler, for it is in my minds eye as I type these words.
I remember, vividly, one part the transcript of the Coroner's report that my colleague prepared; it was an extract from the emergency `999` call made by one of her daughters, aged about seven. Her older sister, aged about nine, was desparately doing CPR as her sibling spoke to ambulance control. Good kids, well trained by Daddy for such things. They had just got off the school bus and walked into the house to find their mother, dead, on the lounge carpet. "Can you help us. I think my Mummy has died".
Some time later I was given the job of returning that bottle of scotch and the glass to the bereaved doctor, my doctor, in my village. My sergeant said it was cluttering up `crime property` and must be returned, against a signature. The glass and bottle sat in my office drawer for weeks. I got several memo's from my sergeant and several verbal orders for the register to be completed and to return the property against a receipt, a signed receipt. I knew that I would be re-opening an awful wound, but my sergeant was muttering disciplinary action, neglect of duty and other threats. I wound myself up and headed off, making it the last call of the day, after all, he was a near neighbour a mere half mile from the village police house, my office, my home.
Deep breath, long walk up a short drive, knock on door. Greetings, brief mutual exchange, explanation, open the bag, a peep inside, the change of his expression, a pain in my heart, business-like response, `Yes, of course` a quick scribble, `there you are... thanks H... bye` door closed.
I agonised beforehand and I agonised afterwards. Why isn't there an easier way of doing this? Should I just forge his signature and spare him the pain, no one would know, he'd never want this stuff back anyway. I should've just phoned him, offered to dump the stuff and get a signature without having to hand it over. Stupid stupid stupid. Then I considered the alternatives; awkward investigative questions asked months later, neglect of duty reports, a discipline hearing, a career blighted or worse, he may have actually wanted the glass. Allegations of theft would follow and criminal prosecution. I did my duty and hated it.
For nearly twenty years after I would be jabbed by that doorstep encounter at random times. I'd be sitting down watching a film at home and suddenly the thoughts of that afternoon would bust it's way out of my mental filing system and into my consiousness and I would say "Oh no" out loud or under my breath. Until one afternoon at police HQ, when I'd been sitting on a selection board and had taken a break for tea. I found myself in the canteen and padre, the Reverend Mike, came over and joined me. Greetings, mutual exchange, small talk, then the subject changed and I thought of my doctor. I told padre my story. Without changing tone he said that if I could spare him two minutes he'd cure me.
`OK Rev, Go for it.`
"Look at you now, a senior officer with twenty five or more years experience in all sorts of ways, blaming a poor kid with a mere six years under his belt and faced with something he hadn't encountered before and with so much more to learn before he gets to where you are now. Why are you blaming that person. That person wasn't you, he was a different person. Don't blame yourself for something someone else did. Give him a break, forgive him his lack of experience.". Cured. Oh wise padre.
Someday I'll forgive myself for everything else that gets to me. But not today. Not just yet.