Death is uncomfortable. No one wants to think about it or talk about it. Imagine losing a loved one, a parent, a child, a sibling, a significant other, a spouse, an in-law, a co-worker. But what about those lost too soon?
Families and friends lose loved ones in the line of police duty every day. Those families then have a funeral to plan and attend, memorials to attend, Police Week to participate in — all of which can be very overwhelming.
Friends and other family members come and go, but then what? What is the family supposed to do and how are they supposed to cope when the dust has settled? That is where a locally-based organization, Concerns of Police Survivors — or C.O.P.S., comes in.
C.O.P.S. has 55 chapters across the country that step in and walks the families through their tragedy. They explain what will happen at the funeral so that it is not as overwhelming as it can be. They let them know what benefits they have access to and get them involved and around others who are going through the same situation.
Madeline Neumann knows first hand how life changing C.O.P.S. can be. Neumann had been married to her childhood sweetheart for six weeks on August 31, 1989 when the unthinkable happened. He was shot and killed in a drug raid. Her late husband worked as a police officer in Essex County, N.J.
"No one knew what I was going through," Neumann said. He was 24 and she was 22.
She recalled family and friends trying to help but no one really knew how to help a 22-year-old widow. She learned about C.O.P.S. during National Police Week nine months after her husband's death. When she met other people involved in C.O.P.S. she described it as an "instant connection" and said the others validated her feelings for the first time.
"It was a huge life saver," Neumann said of C.O.P.S.
A few years later, she started a chapter in her town in New Jersey and has been actively involved since 1996. She has held positions on the local and national level and is now serving her second term as the National President.
The national organization has it's headquarters at Lake of the Ozarks.
For Neumann, C.O.P.S. "offers the resources to help rebuild shattered lives."
One of those lives was Tami McMillan's. McMillan is a surviving sibling. Her brother was killed in the line of duty by gang members on Jan. 7, 2006.
"C.O.P.S. was there for us," she recalled.
After her brother was killed, McMillan remembered taking care of her parents, her sister-in-law and nieces but neglected to take care of herself.
Page 2 of 2 - "It never even occurred to me that I was broken," McMillan said.
She then went to a sibling's retreat hosted by C.O.P.S. and started the healing process.
"I was amazed that such an organization was there to help," McMillan said. "It's a safe haven for those family members and co-workers. I know I wouldn't be able to stand an function today without this organization."
By 2008, McMillan was already on her local chapter's board. She is currently serving as the President of the Northern California Chapter and was recently elected as the Southwest Regional Trustee on the National Board. She oversees chapters in California, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and Hawaii.
C.O.P.S. offers seminars, children's camps and retreats for spouses, parents, significant others and co-workers through out the year. All of the programs are free.
"The price already paid is too high," Neumann said.
A grant from the U.S. Department of Justice gives them about 1/3 of their budget. The grant is only committed to them for two years. There is always a chance that they will not be able to renew the grant or that the funds will have to be taken away. Because of that, C.O.P.S. must raise funds for the rest of the budget.
Private donations are crucial. One fundraising effort that has been extremely successful is the C.O.P.S. National Golf Tournament held at Lake of the Ozarks. This year, the tournament is set for Sunday, August 4 at Old Kinderhook Golf Course. The funds from this event will benefit the spouse's retreat.
C.O.P.S. is offering "In Memory of" flags to put on display at the golf tournament. The flag will include the fallen officer's name, photo, End of Watch and agency. The cost of the flag is $150. For more information about how to donate to this cause or purchase a flag, call (573) 346-4911 or visit http://www.nationalcops.org.