National Victim Rights Ceremony in Tallahassee with Attorney General, Pam Bondi on 04/11/18

Feeling a little taller now that this day has passed. Reading my impact statement in front of our Attorney General, Pam Bondi, at the National Victim Rights Ceremony in our state capital was a HUGE step for me but I DID it!

I'm happy my blue family is still by my side and ALWAYS supports me.

Links: 

https://thefloridachannel.org/videos/4-11-18-national-crime-victims-rights-week-ceremony/

 


Marsy's Law for Florida, 2018

Marcy's Law for Florida, August 2018

I was willing to share our court and trial experiences and be the Pasco County Advocate for the Marsy's Law for Florida campaign. My purpose was to help future families and victims of violent crimes. We didn't have a voice and we didn't get the opportunity to be heard during trial and that was so hard for us. It's my hope that victims are afforded the same rights during trial so that the impact of their lives are shared in the courtroom with the jury present instead of an empty jury box as my family had to do.

 

On November 6, 2018 Amendment 6 was passed, giving victims equal rights as the offenders. I was honored to attend and speak in Ft. Lauderdale following the election results. I was also honored to meet more victims and hear their story as well. 

Bay News 9


Governor Scott's assistance with city pensions

With just three years to retire, Charlie gave his life serving his community. He worked twenty-three years to build his pension so we could support ourselves and live the life we worked so hard for. At the time of Charlie's death, the city pension ordinances were outdated - leaving me only half of Charlie's pension.

With the help of Governor Rick Scott, Congressman Gus Bilirakis, Representative Amber Mariano, NY PBA, FL PBA, NAPO, and the national C.O.P.S. Organization, we were able to work with the city and make the changes needed to give the surviving spouse of murdered officers 100% of thier pension, just as SB 7012 did in 2016 signed by Governor Rick Scott.

Our Governor set a great example that day and continues to support our first responders and fallen familes. It was a bittersweet day for sure.

Nothing will bring my husband back but at least some of the financial burden was lifted for me. It was NOT a penny more than what Charlie worked for and it was the right thing do for my family and those still serving.

Links:

http://www.suncoastnews.com/news/slain-tarpon-officer-s-family-to-get-full-benefits/article_ef9e7328-b5e0-11e8-b888-131f7860132c.htmlp>

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2018/10/11/rick-scott-challenging-childhood-shaped-florida-governors-outlook/1565074002/


Pasco County Sheriff's Law Enforcement Spouse Academy, February 2019

I was beyond honored to attend and speak at this academy to share so many important things. I met a lot of amazing LEO spouses and heard some very familiar stories. I'm so Proud of Sheriff Nocco and the leadership his team provides to not only the LEO's, but the family as well. 


My notes for speaking at the Pasco Sheriff Spouses Academy - Part one of three

I want to thank the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office for inviting me here today. I would’ve loved something like this when I became a cop’s wife. I may be a little emotional today because this church is where I married my best friend and started the best chapter of my life. Right where I’m standing is where our story really began.

When I come to events like this I don't want to be a reminder of what could happen to your family and I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. I share our story because everything that I’ve struggled with in my life brought me here today. Sharing our story is healing for me and it's brought so many amazing people into my life that I never would’ve met. I want to tell you a little about my family since not many of you knew him before he became the "officer that was killed" in Tarpon Springs.

I met Charlie when we worked at a juvenile residential facility together. He asked for my number a few times, but I wasn't in a place yet in my life to start dating. I was always very independent and guarded most of my life. I was able to take care of myself and never opened up to anyone before him. He was the same. When I finally caved and agreed to just one date with Charlie, my life changed immediately. He became the ONLY calmness and security I ever had in my life.

Because Charlie and I had horrible marriages prior, we struggled with a lot. We talked about so many things over the next few weeks. Everything from our childhood to the damaging marriages we walked away from. Charlie taught me what trust was all about. I married him months later. I always said he was my favorite yes, but we had our share of stress. We later raised five kids and had to budget every dollar and had little to no help, but we managed. Charlie shared all the responsibilities from changing diapers and cleaning vomit to covering doctor appointments when I had to work. He taught our boys about respecting girls and working hard. He taught our girls about being confident and always told them how pretty they were. But to me, he was my entire life and he treated me like a queen...every single day.

Our friends were limited, and we rarely had money to do anything. Arguments seemed to happen more and more. I packed his bags more times than I can count but he was so much faster at unpacking them with a smile telling me he wasn’t going anywhere. Even on those days, he reassured me that everything would be okay. We negotiated and compromised a lot. Even vacations and chores were worked out. I did the "now" stuff and he did the future planning with pensions and savings. He was GREAT with those things. Charlie wasn’t a great swimmer, but I loved the water. So, when I wanted to go on fun trips that involved snorkeling and diving, he suffered through them and tried his best to keep up while I promised to sit through and entire hockey or football game and not ask one single question. Little things like that that made everything so fun.

Learning to be a cop’s wife was a struggle for me in the beginning. I felt like a single mom and learned how to juggle every job under our roof. Having holidays on a different day or week was an adjustment. Charlie was good at not bringing work home and he rarely wore his full uniform to and from work. In the beginning I would ask what his nights were like, but he was careful with what he shared with me. He told me once, “I don’t want you to picture the bad things that are stuck in my head. Both of us can’t live like that.” When he had a bad night, he would come home and sit at the edge of the bed and not say a word. I would just hug him until he was ready to get up and get ready for bed. He never left mad or in the middle of a fight and if I started a conversation or debate he would tell me, “Is this something we can deal with later? I need to have my head in the game when I go out there, mama.” I’ll never forget his face when he said that. I never thought of things that way before he said that.

On Charlie’s last night home, he was so consumed by the news of two NYPD officers that were murdered that day. He kissed my forehead and told us he loved us and walked out the door. Never in a million years did I think that would be the last time I would see him alive. Just hours later, my doorway was filled with officers waiting to escort me to the hospital. All they said to me was that he had been shot and we had to leave NOW. That morning was the end of our story, but it was just the beginning of mine.

A few days after Charlie was killed, a LEO widow came to my house to offer her condolences and help. She told me that all I had to do was just breathe and that one day I would realize I made it one minute, to five minutes, to thirty minutes and then a whole day. She was right, but it took another two years to fully understand what she meant. Grieving consumed my life and I had no idea how much I was about to learn about myself. My world stopped that day while everyone else carried on with theirs. No matter how many times I prayed to hear Charlie walk through the door or hear his laugh, it was never going to happen. I knew that I would never be the same person I was before – and I’m not.

I’ve always been a very social person. I love people. But feeling SO alone in a crowded room was something I struggled with for a while. I understood what people meant by saying silence is the loudest sound in the world when you’re alone. The hard part was accepting his death and then actually saying he was gone. The first year was absolute shock, panic, and denial. I had no control of anything. I felt numb ALL the time. I was making decisions for everything with no time to consider anything. Organ donor, funeral arrangements, flights, memorials, everyone needed an immediate answer. I was overwhelmed with texts, mail, letters, cards, visits, and phone calls, and I was having a hard time processing it all. Just like being sick, it all felt worse at night. I sat outside at all hours of the night just crying and begging for everything to be a mistake.

I started sitting in my closet reading cards and letters Charlie wrote me and cried myself to sleep many nights on the floor. I had to adjust to a life with no privacy because our private little life was now plastered all over the media and Internet. Every single part of my life was affected from the way I cooked, the things I watched on tv, the laundry, where I sat in the living room, the places I went, the people I talked to, and how people looked at me. Death changed everything about me. I didn’t belong in places I did before. Being around married couples just reminded me of what I lost. I was treated differently by my own friends, and for the first time in my life, I had no idea how to fix things or even cope with my life. I was no longer the “go to” person.

As a mom, watching five kids just crumble over and over while I stood by helplessly was a horrible feeling. I couldn’t help myself much less my kids. That crushed me. I learned real quick that there are people who will never leave your side or give up on you no matter how hard things get and then there are some who will just disappear because your life is now too awkward for them….not you.

I didn’t want to leave my home, so I started isolating myself and cancelling plans. It was the only control I had left of my life. I learned how to fake a smile and convince people that everything was fine. Showers became the perfect place to cry and it helped when my eyes were swollen. Carrying tissues and wearing waterproof makeup every time I left home became my new normal. Being in shock that long changed me. It changed the trust I once had, it changed the way I looked at people, and it changed how I looked at myself.

My notes for speaking at the Pasco Sheriff Spouses Academy - Part two of three

The second year was hard because it was the real "firsts" without him. Realizing my life would never be the same was traumatizing. I still hated the new life I was forced to live. Everything started to sink in when the phone calls and messages slowed down. My life was a constant struggle and I felt like a robot. I was tired of being called strong because I would've loved the opportunity to be weak, just for a little while, but life didn’t give me a choice.

I was sick all the time and I started losing my hair. I wasn’t taking care of myself and it was really starting to show. I was exhausted, couldn’t focus, forgot things and just walked in circles most of the time. I prayed for direction but felt like God left me too. Nothing helped no matter what I tried and there weren't too many people that understood the helpless and empty feeling I carried with me EVERY single day. I hated that. I hated depending on people because I was NEVER one to ask anyone for anything. I hated not being able to make things better for my kids. I hated crying all the time and I hated sitting in a cemetery cleaning my husband’s head stone. I think that's when I became angry about it all.

Some days got better but the bad ones knocked me on my face again...back to the day it happened. All those days finally hit me. I struggled and never spoke to anyone about what happened next. I spent more and more nights on my closet floor reading cards and letters from Charlie. I was terrified I was going to forget his voice, so I watched home videos until I cried myself to sleep.

I started spiraling at that point.

That’s when my anger toward God started to escalate. I blamed God for not saving Charlie and for allowing an honest man who did so much good in this world to just gasp for air in the street the way Charlie did. I blamed God for taking an amazing father from our kids. I blamed God for abandoning me and taking the only security and stability I ever had in my life. I remember asking why would a God with so much power allow so many bad things to happen.

I blamed Charlie too. I blamed him for voluntarily taking that call. I blamed him for not seeing the criminal who shot at him seven times in the dark. I blamed for being a cop for twenty-three years with so much training but couldn’t shoot fast enough to save his own life. I blamed him for not fighting hard enough to live. I blamed Charlie for breaking his promise to me that he would never leave. I blamed my husband for dying.

I gave up on everything I believed in - even God. I felt like I was living two lives. I was able to convince everyone around me that I was doing fine, and I was NOT fine. I made myself sick trying to hold everything in all the time. I didn’t want to reach out and seem needy or weak. I tried counseling numerous times with several counselors, but I felt like they were just telling me the same thing over and over and I wasn’t interested. I was consumed by feeling guilty for being alive when Charlie wasn’t.

I didn’t see my life getting any easier like everyone said it would. I couldn’t do a thing to help my kids get through the heartbreaking days of missing their father. I was tired of being a widow and I honestly had no interest in life at all. I was composed at work and in public, but I was a spiraling mess inside.

So, I started to get things together. I set up a trust, paid for my funeral, and did everything possible to plan for the “what if” for myself. But as time went by…. death wasn’t scary anymore. I didn’t know if I was depressed, had anxiety, PTSD or if I was just grieving still. I tried meds and didn’t like the way I felt so I tried more counseling and I just couldn’t get it together. No one seemed to get it.

I realized at that point that I had the choice to make it all stop and give up anytime I wanted to. I wouldn’t have to watch my kids struggle and break all the time. It didn't matter how many people wanted to help. I didn't care. With all the support and people so close to me, not one person knew what was going on or how far I had let myself go. Not one. I finally hit bottom.

I was always the person people called for help with anything and everything. My door was always open and I always had kids in my home who needed help. I was always so good at getting people on their feet but I was no longer the person who could help anymore. I was the one who needed it and didn’t know where to go.

As the weeks went by, I felt numb I guess. I remember staring at the ceiling one night just sobbing until I had no more tears. I was just tired. Tired of being angry and I was tired of hearing things would get better. I felt like I had nothing left and I was scared because that empty feeling was devastating.

The next morning changed my life. I woke up DIFFERENT.

I don’t know how to even describe what I felt but it was peaceful. I felt so grateful and light and all I could do was cry. I cried all day. I remember just thinking, GET UP and that I didn’t struggle and fight through my ENTIRE life to quit now. I started praying and begging God to forgive me for being so angry at him. I apologized for demanding answers that weren’t owed to me.

I don’t know why God didn’t save Charlie, but that morning He saved ME.

It's amazing how something so traumatic can bring so much peace in your life. I wake up now and I'm thankful to be a mom one more day. I'm happy to share what a beautiful marriage and life I had and I'm thankful for the life I’m living. I started realizing how lucky I really was.

From that day forward, I see life in a different way. I appreciate things I didn’t pay attention to before. God didn’t owe me an explanation and I feel selfish now for not appreciating the life I still had – life that Charlie should’ve had. I push myself to make the most of the life I still have. I can hug my kids & do things that have been taken away from so many people. I want to honor my husband, my kids, and MYSELF.  l'm trying to live the way I want to be remembered. 

As weird as it sounds, I was so thankful for everything that happened in my life.

But 2018 pushed me backwards again. Trial was coming, and I had to prepare myself. I had to force myself to watch the videos and photos from that night and I lost it. I watched my husband die. It brought all those desperate feelings back that I thought I had under control. When I left the police department after watching everything that day, I felt so horrible for not seeing Charlie’s death through the eyes of his brothers and sisters in blue. Just listening to them working on Charlie and talking him through it killed me. Every single bit of their training was used that night but there wasn’t anything anyone could’ve done to save him. I am so grateful they were with him. I’ll never forget the sound of panic in their voices while they tried to save him and I’ll never be able to thank them for all they did. They held Charlie’s hand and he knew he wasn’t alone. That means the world to me.

Then in March 2018, I had to sit in Charlie’s murder trial the exact month he was supposed to be retiring. I had to once again, relive that day and watch Charlie take his last breath during trial. I had to watch my kids fall apart AGAIN. Sitting in the same room with the animal that crushed so many of us was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

All the anger and hurt came back. Reading my victim impact statement to the criminal was a big relief. And as I told him that day, I will no longer give him any more of my life than he already took from me and I meant it. I don’t wish him harm and I don’t think about him ever but I’m not in a place to forgive yet. Maybe one day but not now. This wasn’t an accident so it’s hard to forgive. I’ve always had issues with forgiveness, so I SURE wasn’t starting with him. That’s between me and God anyway because I know that one day he will face the God my husband stands beside and that’s enough for me.

Following trial, I (along with a ton of support) was able to get some pension changes made for widows/widowers left behind. That was the beginning of my accomplishments and drive to find positive things through all of this.

 

My notes for speaking at the Pasco Sheriff Spouses Academy - Part three of three

Now that things have settled down for me I still have some really tough moments, but not days. I still cry and I still wonder what our life would be like if he were alive. I still miss him when I need to hear him tell me things will be okay.

I go to all the annual memorials just like the years before, but now I see them as honoring Charlie, not mourning him. I can call myself a wife, widow, and surviving spouse and now, I don’t cry saying it. I feel stronger, but I still feel a little broken on the inside on bad days. I’m taking care of myself a lot more now and I’m talking more at the cemetery and doing a little less crying on my knees.

I found a little more balance in my life and I’m trying new things and I’m okay failing sometimes. I’ve made mistakes and I’m sure I’ll make more but it’s on my terms. The toughest part for me as a widow is I'm no longer Charlie’s wife. I'm no longer the center of someone's world. I can't make him dinner, I can't do his laundry, I can't yell at him for leaving his socks on the floor and for not putting his disgusting vest in the laundry. The last shirt Charlie wore that he left on the floor is in a bag in my closet. I can still smell him when I open it. So, the aggravating things you still deal with is something I wish I could do now.

I’ve learned that suffering can steal ALL the happiness you have left inside if you let it. I've learned to cry, be angry, hurt, lost, and feel defeated but I don't stay in those places too long. It's a constant battle but I'm doing it. I'm doing it for me and I'm doing it for Charlie.

On the tough moments that still come around, I know it doesn’t last. I’ve learned that bad days bring some really good days. I have no doubt that I was destined to meet Charlie. He taught me everything that I didn’t know about life. He taught me so much about trust and opening up when I didn’t want to but he's taught me even more in death. So has God.

Everything I’ve walked through in life lead me to the place I am now. I look at hard times as a challenge, even when I don’t like it, and I find a way to use it to make me a better person.

If you take anything with you today, it’s you NEED TO WAKE UP. Everything around you is so temporary and in our family, time is so important.

Who cares what holiday it is on the calendar, celebrate when you can.

• Make new traditions that fit YOUR family.

• Talk about the “what if’s” and WRITE it down. Put it away and leave it.

• Always update your beneficiaries with changes. (Discuss our experience with this)

• Think about the last thing you told your LEO today. Would you be okay if it was the last thing you said?

• Pick your battles. Don’t entertain the small stuff because I promise, it won’t matter later. The simple things is what stays with you.

• Listen to your LEO, watch for changes, BE A PLACE they want to go when things are bad. Most of the time, having someone to go home to that gets it...is all they need.

I will always do whatever I can to support your family and my door is always open for any of you – day or night.

Thank you!