Caroline was standing in her open door, trying to breathe. She was staring out at the two people on her step and couldn’t stop her head from shaking, “No.” She saw her hand reaching out toward one of the officers as her vision began to turn black. She crumpled into a pile of pain at his feet and she finally was able to take that breathe. It was followed by an ear splitting scream as his words finally hit home. Her husband was gone.
Caroline had been married to Jack for over twenty four years. He had been in law enforcement for the entire time and had been a cop for about 10 years before they had met. They had raised their kids together and had moved to this quiet town when Jack accepted the job as Chief of Police. This wasn’t supposed to happen to him. He should have been safe now.
She had been helped to her couch and the Commander was trying so very hard to tell her what had happened, but with the tears running down his own face, was having a hard time getting the words out. She looked at the other officer and didn’t see much help there, either. These men had been close to her husband and they were taking this almost as hard as she was. The Sergeant did not have any tears, but she could plainly see the shock that had him in its grasp. She turned to Commander Stone and said, “Just tell me.”
“Caroline, I’m not sure yet, exactly what happened, but the secretary said that a man came in to complain about one of the officers and the next thing she heard was shouting and then gunshots. She called me and by the time I made it to Jack’s office, he and the other man both had been shot. The man who Jack shot was already dead, but Jack was still fighting.” The Commander stopped and tried to gather himself together again. Caroline was beginning to feel a coldness inside, surrounded by an almost unbearable pain. The tears ran unchecked down her pale face.
Commander Stone wiped his eyes with a tissue and continued. “I rushed over to his side and he was having such a hard time breathing. The blood was bubbling out with every breath he took. I tore open his shirt and he had been shot at least twice that I could see, both in the chest. I don’t know why he wasn’t wearing a vest.” Absently he shook his head. “He knew I was there and could barely talk, but he told me to tell you that he loved you, Mrs. Marshall. Then he just stopped breathing. The paramedics came and tried and tried, but he was gone.”
Caroline felt as if she were living her worst nightmare. Jack should have been safe. He was the Chief. He was in his office most of the time, not out there in the line of fire. She didn’t know what to do, or who to even start to call. She stood up and thanked them both for coming. “I need to call the boys. I need to call his family. I need…” Her words trailed off as she had been about to say, “I need Jack.” The tears had never stopped and were still falling silently down her cold cheeks as she looked around the room for her phone. Her movements slow, she felt like someone trying to walk underwater.
“Caroline, we aren’t going to leave you alone. We’re going to stay with you until your family gets here.” Commander Stone took her gently into his arms and she finally let it go and cried and cried until she was exhausted. At some point, Sgt. Ramirez had found her phone and was waiting patiently for her to regain some composure. She took a couple of tissues and dried her eyes and nose. She took her phone with a shaking hand and sent a text to her oldest son. “Your dad has been shot. I need you all.” Was what it said. Within seconds, her phone rang and she had to tell her son the awful news. With both of them crying now, she asked him to please tell his brothers. She needed them close and they would be there.
Commander Stone and Sgt. Ramirez stayed and as soon as the boys began to arrive, they left. They had some unfinished business at the police department and wanted to make sure the investigation went by the book. While it looked open and shut, Commander Stone wasn’t going to take any chances and would ride his detective’s hard. They would turn the investigation over to another agency, but these first few hours were critical. He had put in a call to the Sheriff’s office and they had people on the way to assume command of the scene. No one wanted any mess up’s on this one.
Caroline and her son’s were trying to understand the change in their world. Joseph, the oldest, had been the one she had sent the text too first. He had rallied his brother’s and now they were busy sending calls out to other family members and friends. Her daughter-in-law’s were trying to give what comfort they could, but seemed to be as devastated as Caroline herself. She has curled up into a little ball in one corner of the couch and was watching her son’s in action while wiping the tears away every now and then. Eyes red and swollen, makeup long gone, she looked much younger than her 52 years.
The doorbell rang and Andrew, her middle son went to answer it. The word had started to spread and it was a well meaning neighbor from down the street. Caroline forced herself to go to the door for the hug they offered and the well meant offer of help and condolences given. She thanked them gracefully and promised to call should she need anything. She also promised to let them know about the services. As the door shut, she was overcome with a fresh feeling of pain. “I can’t plan a service, I just can’t do this. I was supposed to go first.” She turned into the arms of her son, Andrew. “Mom, you aren’t alone here. We’re going to help you. Why don’t you go lie down and try to rest. We’ll keep making phone calls and run neighbor interference for you.”
Caroline nodded and allowed him to help her up the stairs to her room. At the door, she stopped and the tears overwhelmed her again. “He isn’t ever coming home, again. What am I going to do without him, Andrew?” Andrew was a big man, almost 6’6″ and he finally could not hold back the tears any longer himself. As the sobs shook his big frame, he held his little mother and cried. “I always thought he was invincible. Bigger than life. I never thought he would go out this way.”
Pulling himself together, he helped his mom to the bed and gave her a sedative she had and a sip of water. “Try to rest, Mom. There isn’t anything you can do right now, anyway. Just text one of our phones if you need something. We will be right downstairs, ok?” Caroline nodded and dried her face again with a clean tissue. “Thanks Andrew. Please send Jacob up when he gets here.” Jacob was her youngest son and she knew he would take the death of his father the hardest. So far, the other boys had not been able to get through to him, yet. He was going to school, and was probably in class. He would be in touch, soon.
Andrew left and closed the door behind him. Caroline laid in the big king size bed that she had shared with Jack and cried. How does one get through this? The pain was a physical thing, in the middle of her chest. It felt like a sharp knife stabbing through her heart. No wonder it is described as heartbreak. It felt just like her heart was being shattered into a million pieces. She turned onto her side and pulled Jacks pillow into a hug. She could smell him on it and she breathed in his essence and held her breath as long as she could. They had always planned on spending their golden years together, rocking on the porch, as Jack put it. But now that dream had been shattered by a mad man’s bullet. As the sedative began to take effect, Caroline held onto Jack’s pillow as hard as she could, her tears soaking the spot where he had laid his head only a few short hours ago.
Caroline knew she was asleep but she still felt the bed dip as if someone had sat down beside her. She figured it was Jacob and he had finally arrived. She didn’t want to wake up to the nightmare and to the pain, again. She tried hard to slip back into the comfort of darkness. She felt a hand stroke her arm and she felt Jack’s familiar kiss on her neck. “I am so sorry, Baby. I was careless. Now I have to leave you and the kids and I know you aren’t ready. I will be watching over you, though. I will always keep you safe.” She opened her eyes and turned at the sound of his voice. He was there, sitting on the bed. She reached out wordlessly to him and he took her in his arms. Together they cried and he told her again how much he loved her and would always love her. “I have to go now, but just remember that you will never be alone, Caroline. I love you.” She had time enough to whisper, “I love you, too.” And he was gone. She lay back against the pillows and could feel his arms around her and the feeling of safety he brought with him still infused the room. There was a knock on the door and her youngest burst through, seeking his mother’s comfort.
Jacob was in tears and couldn’t even talk. Caroline held him close and they both cried. Caroline told him what the Commander had told her. “Why wasn’t he wearing his vest, Mom? Why? He trusted too many people. Damn it.” Jacob was almost inconsolable.
“I know. I asked myself the same thing. He preached officer safety to his guys and when it came to himself, he didn’t practice it like he should and it cost him.” She couldn’t go on. Even after Jack’s visit, the loss of his life was still too much to bear right now. So they held each other and tried to comfort each other. Joseph came to the door. “I think I have all the family notified, Mom. They all want to be here for the memorial service. I told everyone it would be about a week. That should be enough time for them all to get here.” Joseph’s wife had come up with a sandwich and a glass of juice. She ducked under his arm and came around the bed.
“Here, Mom. You need to eat and drink so I made this for you. Try to take in a little bit, ok?” Caroline thanked her, and took a bite of the chicken salad sandwich. Any other time it would have tasted wonderful, but she was only able to choke down two bites. She did drink most of the juice, though. She patted the bed in an invitation for her sons to join her. Andrew had come up behind Joseph and they looked like lost little boys again. They came and sat down with her and Jacob.
“Your dad came to me while I was asleep. I know you probably think I dreamed it, but it was real. He apologized for being careless and promised to be here to help keep me safe. It made me feel a little better but I am going to need you all for a while. I don’t want to be alone yet.”
Joseph said, “You know we will be here for you, Mom, as long as you need us.” The other boys nodded in agreement. Caroline looked at her young men and was so thankful for them. She didn’t know what she would have done if she would have been alone.
Andrew chimed in, “People have started to bring food by, so you won’t have to cook for months probably. Good thing Dad got you that freezer last month.” His eyes teared up again at the mention of his father. He turned away and into the arms of his wife. Caroline envied her.
“People in this town loved your father, so I’m not surprised at the outpouring of those feelings. We need to take that into consideration when looking for a church. It needs to be a big one.” Caroline was so tired. “Are you guys staying here tonight?” She did not want to be alone.
Jacob finally spoke up. “Angie and I are gonna stay with you, Mom. She is going to go get some clothes and stuff, and then she’ll be back. We’ll make sure there is someone here with you until you feel like you don’t need us like that anymore.”
“Thanks. I really do appreciate that.” Her sons came and gave her a long hug and said that they would be back early in the morning. More tears were cried as they went back home to deal with the loss of their father in their own ways. Jacob made Caroline scoot over and he turned on the television and they watched until Caroline surrendered to her dark dreams. Jacob joined his wife in his old room and he cried for both of his parents.
Caroline found sleep hard to find that night. She had slept for only about an hour before jolting awake out of a nightmare, reaching for Jake like she always did, and the pain crashing over her again in a huge wave as the realization hit, again. She had tried to cry quietly so she wouldn’t disturb Jacob and Angie, but in her grief it was hard to keep her feelings reigned in. There was a light tap on the door and Jacob came in. “You need some company, Mom? I can’t sleep anyway.” She nodded and he scooted in beside her. She laid her head on his shoulder and he put an arm around her. “Angie asleep?” She asked. “Yeah”. He whispered back.
Caroline could hear the tears in his voice and just accepted the comfort he was offering. Her tiny little baby boy had grown into a strapping young man. He and Angie had gotten married just this last summer and she and Jack had been so proud. They were waiting for their first grandchild and now, it would be just her, left to wait alone. She tried to remember the feeling of Jacks arms around her earlier that day as he came to say good bye, but it was like a dream, fading quickly. She felt Jacob’s breathing change and knew he had fallen asleep and with his comforting presence beside her, she was able to finally drift off herself.
Caroline woke to the sun streaming in the window and for a short moment, all was well. Then she remembered and the tears began again. She tried to cry quietly so as not to disturb her son and she quietly moved to the edge of the bed. She glanced behind her and just for a moment, a smile slid across her pain-streaked face. Sometime in the night, Angie must have missed her husband and come looking for him. She was sound asleep in his arms and he had cuddled her next to him, seeking comfort from her familiar form.
She managed to slide out of bed without disturbing her sleeping children and slipped into the bathroom. She took stock of her face in the mirror and thought she had aged 10 years over night. Her eyes were swollen, puffy, and red and still had tears spilling over. Her nose was red and still running. She looked over at Jacks side of the sink and his things were still scattered about just like he left them yesterday morning. She picked up the washcloth he had left on the vanity and cried into it, trying to muffle her sobs. It smelled so much like his skin. She made a mighty effort and pulled herself together. She washed her face and brushed her teeth and headed downstairs in search of coffee. She was just grinding the beans when she heard the front door open. It startled her for a moment and a rush of excitement was quickly squashed as Joseph called out for her. “In here.”
He came into the kitchen and gave her a hug. From the looks of him, he hadn’t had a very good night, either. She looked behind him for his wife, Clair, but she wasn’t with him. “She had to go to work, today, Mom, but she will arrange to take the rest of the time off to be here with us.” Caroline just nodded. “You want some coffee?” He just shook his head and she poured herself a small cup. After adding some flavored creamer, they went outside to the café table on the patio. “Did you sleep?” Joseph asked.
“A little. Jacob and Angie ended up sleeping with me. I think your brother is going to have a very hard time with this, Joe. He always was his dad’s little baby, no matter how big he got. I don’t know how strong I can be for him.” She took a sip of coffee and put it down.
“I’ll help all I can, Mom. I just don’t know what to do. Andrew and I talked a little last night, and neither one of us know what to do. We just never expected this at Dad’s level of work. He should have been safe.” Tears had started to glisten in his eyes.
Caroline reached over and gave his hand a squeeze. “I know. As soon as Andrew gets here, I think we should make arrangements for the church and the time so people can start making travel arrangements. Then that part will be taken care of and we don’t have to stress about that any more. There is that big church just off the highway about 10 miles up the road. We can call them and see if we can have the services there. “
Joseph was nodding and had taken a small notebook out of his jacket pocket and was writing things down. It made him feel better with something to do. Andrew had walked out onto the patio and had heard the last part of the conversation. He had some coffee in hand and pulled up a chair. He leaned over and gave Caroline a hug. “You ok, Mom? I mean as ok as you can be?” She looked into his haunted eyes and nodded. “I’m hanging in there, Sweetie. Where is Ellen?” Just then the door opened and Ellen came through the door. She was Andrew’s wife and the oldest of their daughter-in-law’s. She had been crying and came over to give Caroline a hug. The two women hung onto each other and cried for a few moments. Caroline was so grateful for her family and the support they offered, even in their own grief.
They were quietly talking about making the arrangements when Jacob and Angie joined the group. Caroline greeted them both with a hug and Joseph brought them up to speed. The doorbell rang and Caroline went to answer it. Commander Stone was standing there in his street clothes. “I just wanted to stop by and see how you were doing and to take you to the funeral home if you are ready.” He seemed uncomfortable on her porch and she invited him inside.
“Let me tell the kids where we are going and see if they want to come. I’ll change into something appropriate and be right back. There’s some fresh coffee in the kitchen and then I’ll show you where the boys are.” She poured him a cup, showed him where the boys were and went back upstairs to change. Going into her bedroom was so painful. It was the room that held the most precious and intimate memories of her life together with Jack. The room where they had loved each other and where he had let down his guard and had been himself with only her. The room in which he had been only a man, not the chief. It was in this room that she had truly loved him the most. It was in this room that she got to see the most private man, the real man, the one she fell in love with, not the professional side of him, the one that everybody saw, but her man. Because she had to share him with so many people, she was very selfish of this room and their intimate times together. It was not just the love making, but it was here, in their sanctuary where he felt safe enough to let down his guard and be the man she had fallen in love with, again.
Pulling herself together, she showered quickly and spending as little time in the closet among his clothes as possible, put on a pair of jeans, and a blouse, and hurried back downstairs. She found everyone still outside and that only the boys were going with her to the funeral home. The girls had decided to stay home and help by straightening up for her. She didn’t blame them. She wished she was going any place but the funeral home. They got into two different cars and headed out. Commander Stone told her that the Sherriff’s office was now in charge of the investigation and so far it looked like what it sounded like. An angry man pulled a gun on Jack and he had shot the man in self-defense, but not before the man had gotten off his own deadly shots. She was just glad the other man was dead. She didn’t know if she would be strong enough to go through a trial.
They got to the funeral home way too fast for Caroline. She dreaded going into the place and when Joseph came around to help her out of the car she was shaking so badly she could hardly walk. “I don’t know if I can do this, Joe.”
“I know, Mom. I know. We’re here to help you.”
Andrew got on one side and took her arm in his, Joseph held onto the other arm and Jacob was right behind them. Slowly they made their way into the lobby of the funeral home. Unsure of what to do next, they waited in a tight, nervous group, with Caroline trying very hard not to take in very deep breathes. She had always hated the underlying smell of funeral homes. A deep, baritone voice startled them and they all jumped and turned. Coming toward them was the funeral director. He was a tall, good looking man in his forties with dark brown hair and kind eyes. She thought it probably was a requirement for the job. “Mrs. Morris? I am Max Harris. I took care of Chief Morris personally from the time he came into our care. I can promise you he has received nothing but the utmost respect from my staff and me. I am so sorry for your loss.” He had reached them and had taken both of her hands in his. She politely thanked him and removed her shaking hands from his. “Can we see him, please?”
“Yes. He is ready for visitors. Please follow me.” He turned on his heel and the little group grimly made their way down the brightly lit hallway. Mr. Harris stopped and opened the doors to a chapel. It looked like it was one of the larger chapels in the facility and there, laying in the front, was the casket. The lid was open and Caroline felt her vision start to go dark again. A firm squeeze on her arm brought her back. “Come on, Mom. Let’s go say good bye to Dad.”
She reached behind her and took Jacob’s hand in hers and linked together, the grieving family slowly made their way down to the dark cherry coffin. Since Caroline had not spoken with the funeral home, she wondered for a moment who had chosen the casket, but it flitted from her mind as her beloved husband came into view. He looked like he was sleeping. She reached forward to touch his face and was shocked at how cold he was. “He needs a blanket. He’s so cold. Can you get him a blanket, please?” She turned and was addressing Max. He had enough sense not to argue with her. He only nodded. She turned back and looked into her beloved husband’s face. “He’s going to get you a blanket, Baby, then you’ll be warmer. I missed you last night. It isn’t the same in that big bed without you, you know.” Caroline was oblivious to the looks of pain on the faces of her boys. They didn’t know what to do with her. They weren’t sure if she was going to be alright or not. The shock of seeing their vibrant father lying so still in the coffin was almost too much for them to take. Jacob had to sit down and was crying quietly. Andrew was still standing by his mother but looked like he was going to pass out at any second. Joseph was looking anywhere but at his father, his eyes brimming with tears.
Caroline was lost in the moment. She knew Jack was gone, but he looked so alive. She leaned over the casket and put her head on his chest. She didn’t hear the gasps of the boys behind her as they braced for what was coming. She closed her eyes and listened. She used to tell Jack that when she would lay her head on his chest and listen to his heartbeat, that was when she knew she was safe and at home; where she was meant to be. She listened and listened and heard nothing. Slowly she raised her head and as the tears fell onto her husband’s body, it finally hit home that he was gone. Really, really gone.
With her family surrounding her, Caroline made it through the viewing and the huge funeral that followed. There were delegates from many of the state’s law enforcement agencies present and some from other states as well. Along with her husband’s large family, the church was filled to capacity. Finally everyone was gone and it was the first night she would be alone since Jack died. Her boys had their own lives and needed to get back to living them again. Family had left and was on their way home and Caroline had never been more tired in her life.
She was standing in the door to her bedroom. The girls had helped her box up Jack’s things and move them to the spare room. When her pain permitted, she would go through all of it and decide what to keep and what to give away. She could not face that challenge now. The girls had thought it might be a good idea to redecorate the room and at the time, she didn’t argue with them. Now, standing at the door, it was as if she were looking at the room of a stranger. New bedding, curtains, rugs; the works had transformed their bedroom into her bedroom. The only thing she insisted on keeping was a picture of her and Jack that had been taken last summer during their “honeymoon” voyage. They had looked so relaxed and happy in that picture and they had been. Slowly she walked into the silent room, missing Jack so much it hurt, but that was how she felt every waking hour of every day now. She took in a deep breath and even his smell was gone. It was too much and she turned and fled back downstairs to the corner of the couch where she had been living for the past couple of weeks. She grabbed her afghan and pillow, swallowed a sleeping pill and turned off the lights. She didn’t want any visitors tonight no matter how well meaning they were. She just wanted a few moments of oblivion.
As she was about to drift off, she smelled his cologne. “Jack?” She whispered. “Are you here?” She thought she could smell his cologne a little stronger and she lay still and held her breath. As before, she felt the couch give a little as if someone sat beside her. She reached out and touched a smooth arm. It was warm and firm to the touch. She felt his hand cover hers and heard him whisper her name. “Caroline, My Love, I miss you so much, but you need to move on Baby. I can’t move on while I know you are hurting so badly.”
“I thought you would be here to watch over me, always. That’s what you said.” Caroline could hear the panic in her own voice.
“I will be watching over you, Sweetheart, but from above, not here. Your pain is keeping me here. I can’t go while I know you are in so much pain.”
“How do you stop this kind of pain, Jack? How? Everything around me reminds me of you, of the things I’ve been robbed of, of the time we could be spending together. I don’t know how to begin to let you go.” Sobbing, Caroline threw herself into Jack’s arms.
Jack held her close and prayed to God to help his grieving wife. He was so afraid that if he left her now, she would not get over her pain and would take her own life just so she could join him. He couldn’t bear the thought of his loving, vibrant wife doing anything to harm herself.
“Baby, you have so much to live for. Our beautiful boys and their families. I just know that soon, one of them will make you a grandmother and I know how much you have been wanting that. You have some of the best friends around and they are afraid for you. My time is done, but yours is not. Our love is very special, but you have so much to give. Perhaps there is someone else out there that will benefit from that love as I did.”
“I can’t think of that. Not now. Not ever.”
“Not now, perhaps, but someday you may be able to. I want you to be happy, Caroline, not like this. You know I am no longer in pain or feel bad in anyway. Where I need to go, I only feel love from that place and I want to go there. But I need to be sure you will be ok. “
Caroline quieted in his arms and thought about what he said. He was right. If her being in such pain was keeping him here then she was being totally selfish. He needed to move on and she needed to let him. “I will try, Baby, but I have no idea how long it may take me. It won’t be a quick thing. I know that.”
“I know that, too, but as long as I know you are trying and not going the wrong way, then I will be good. I love you and I will always love you.”
“I love you, too. I will try very hard for you, Baby. Only for you.” As she said those words, she felt herself slip out of his arms and was lying back on the couch. She was drifting swiftly off to sleep and didn’t feel the kiss he gently placed on her lips.
As the weeks slowly passed Caroline found herself falling into a routine of sorts. Every morning, one of the boys would call to see how she was doing. She then would give the house a quick going over, although it didn’t need much anymore. She would make a grocery run, or go to the library for the latest book to read. Every couple of weeks, she had lunch with one or two of her close friends. Life went on. Every night, she cried herself to sleep, holding Jack’s pillow close, trying to keep his scent as long as possible.
She didn’t wake up every morning with the sharp pain in her chest anymore. It had settled in as a dull ache that she thought would probably never go away. As the months past, the boys stopped calling every morning and she was glad they seemed to be getting on with their lives. Then came the day that Joseph called with the exciting news that she was going to be a grandmother. They were both laughing and crying at the same time. She had wanted this for so long, and finally, it was to be. A grandmother at last.
That night, she sat quietly on her bed and thought hard about Jack. She wanted to tell him so badly. She said a quick prayer and asked God to let him come to see her just one more time. She waited until her eyes wouldn’t stay open any longer. It was past midnight when a gentle touch on her cheek woke her from a sound sleep.
“Hey Baby Girl. How have you been?”
“Oh Jack. I still miss you so much. But I’m getting better. I wanted to tell you that Joseph and Clair are finally going to make us grandparents.”
“That is terrific news, Baby Girl. I am so happy for them and for you. Please be sure to tell them for me, ok.”
“I will, My Love. I just wish you could be here with me to help spoil him or her rotten.” Caroline giggled.
Jack was relieved to see how far she had come in her recovery from his death. He gave a quick prayer of thanks. “I will peek in often on the little one. I promise not to miss a thing.”
“I know you will.”
Jack held out his arms and Caroline snuggled in and felt so peaceful and at home. She heard his heartbeat and his gentle breathing and it lulled her to sleep. When she awoke the next morning, he was gone, but the peaceful feeling she had remained. The healing process was progressing nicely and Jack finally felt ready to answer the call he felt coming from above. He turned to go into the warm, loving light and knew his wife and family would finally be ok. Their love was eternal.