The first days of COVID seem to be forgotten already. They were not easy, especially for those of us in public service. I’ve said it many times to anybody who would listen: We couldn’t Zoom to our calls for service. It certainly would have made life easier for all of us!
We were robbed of those few years. The effects, some of which won’t be known for years to come, were not easy to navigate. Compounded by the death of George Floyd, our nation’s law enforcement was pushed to the brink. Many chose to not finish their careers. Many others chose to leave earlier than they planned. Those effects have had a stunning impact on our industry.
Personally, the funerals for officers lost during COVID affected me most. I remember the first COVID line-of-duty funeral like it was yesterday. We lined up our cars in a school parking lot. No hugs of grief. No handshakes from old friends. No gathering at a canteen for coffee or water.
“Stay by your cars, and when we leave, follow the car in front of you past the home.”
The drive past the home was surreal. An urn on a table near the street. Two honor guard members, masked of course, standing at brisk attention six feet from each other. The family to the right in lawn chairs. Also masked and also sitting the requisite six feet from each other.
That was it, the very best we could do at the height of the pandemic. A drive-by line-of-duty funeral. A simple nod to the family as you drove by. That was it. At the end of the street, you went right or left. Service over. That was it. It is not how those of us in the police or fire service honor our fallen. There were many similar services after that, most of them outside.
It stuck with me so much that we are finally going to make it right for those families. On Wednesday, April 26 we are going to provide those families the services they (and their fallen) deserve.
“A Proper Tribute” will be held at 11 a.m. at Epic Church in Sayreville. The families of those first responders lost during the pandemic will meet at the PNC Arts Center in Holmdel and be escorted north on the Parkway in a large procession most of them never have had the opportunity to experience. They will arrive at the 2,200-seat church and receive the tribute that is long overdue. They will be greeted by dignitaries and hear the words of appreciation they deserve.
Proudly, this event is sponsored by every public safety union and virtually every public safety organization in New Jersey. As far as I know, it is the first in the nation of its kind.
More details will follow soon and approximately 40 invitations will be going out to the families by the end of January.
I hope you mark your calendars and join us on April 26. The families will want to see you there.
We will make it right!