For anyone who has ever attended a law enforcement funeral, it is impossible to leave without a profound sense of humility, gratitude and fraternity. Many civilians, especially those experiencing one for the first time, even as an ‘outsider’ with no relation to the fallen, often get caught up in the emotion. This is not an accident. More importantly, it is a crucial part of the healing process for the family left behind.
One of the most unique aspects of a law enforcement funeral is the haunting sounds of the bagpipes. Incorporating bagpipes into police funerals in America is a tradition that can be traced back well over a hundred years. Early Irish immigrants flocked to police and fire jobs, as they were discriminated against in most other areas. They basically were forced into professions that no one else wanted; the dangerous and unpleasant. As a result, you had police forces filled with heavy amounts of Irish/Scottish-Americans. So, it’s no surprise that they brought their traditions with them, one of which the usage of bagpipes at a funeral. While the most commonly heard song on bagpipes at a police funeral is ‘Amazing Grace’, each pipe band has their own unique approach. For example, the New Jersey State Police Pipe and Drum Band can often be found leading a funeral procession away from the church, only to march back to the sound of “The Bells of Dunblane” past the Troopers and officers who have gathered. One of their members referred to this as their attempt to “lift and rally the troops back to battle”.
While, obviously, the drill and ceremonies surrounding a police funeral are a show of respect for the fallen, they are so much more than just that. No matter how supportive our families and friends are of our chosen profession, unless they have ever worn a shield and stood shoulder to shoulder with others who have, they will never quite understand it. In a lot of cases, they might not even care to. We chose it. They did not. As such, understanding the sacrifice of a line of duty death and what that sacrifice means to our profession comes easy to us. However, for people who may have never had an interest in this line of work and simply spent a lifetime supporting someone they loved, our families need to be shown that their loss and their sacrifice wasn’t in vain. As a police officer, your presence at a police funeral is as much for the ones left behind as it is for the fallen. The parents, the siblings, the spouses, the children ALL need to know that their loved one was a hero; and they should leave that funeral with that cemented in their brain.
Sadly there have been no shortage of opportunities for a police officer to attend a law enforcement funeral. Often times, when that opportunity arises, it will be on behalf of someone you may not have known well or even worked with at all; it could be on behalf of someone from another state or even country altogether. I would encourage you to go. We go because we would want it done for us and our families. You will be remembered in the same manner in which you remember. It may be hot. It may be freezing. It could be raining or snowing. But every individual who puts on their dress blouse and takes the time to honor our fallen is giving a gift so much greater than they could imagine; and it is one that pays dividends that you may not even realize.
You are supporting family. You are supporting coworkers. You are supporting a department and a community. Most importantly, you are keeping yourself grounded and humble. While we may be disposable to the machine, we are NOT disposable to each other. No matter what your rationale for attending a police funeral is, I assure you that your gift of self and time is noticed and valued.
When a police officer is killed, the law enforcement community doesn’t riot or protest. They simply quietly continue to go about their business, providing uninterrupted service. When it comes time to lay one of our own to rest, we rightfully remind the rest of the community why there really is nothing else out there like a law enforcement family; and absolutely no one takes care of a cop like a cop.