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Facing the possibility of every police family’s worst nightmare

And what we can do today to show love and appreciation.

By Melissa Littles

I was going to write something lighthearted and humorous today. However, there are days when thoughts weigh heavy – and somehow releasing them through my fingers seems to help get them off my chest.

I was perusing Facebook yesterday evening, and there it was: a video that stopped me cold. My eyes locked on the image of 13-year-old Jack, lying across the casket of his slain father, Officer Doug Barney.

Jack, 13, says his last goodbye to his father, Officer Doug Barney.

Posted by Fox 13 News on Monday, January 25, 2016

I watched as he lingered. My eyes instantly welled with tears at the image of that brave, broken boy. No one should have to endure what that child is enduring.

My thoughts then turned to my own children, my LEO, and that one thought that every police spouse keeps buried away in that dark place. My deepest fear. I then turned my attention to my LEO and began to take inventory of our lives. Where are we as husband and wife? Where are we as parents? What if something happens? Are we in the best place of our lives?

I’m blessed to have a marriage that works. Trust me, I’ve experienced the kind that doesn’t. I look at my marriage as “easy.” No drama, no fighting, no abuse, no sweating the small stuff. That doesn’t mean my relationship doesn’t need constant work.

As a special needs mom, so much focus is placed on our son. I struggle to remember myself in all the madness of autism, intestinal disorders, seizures and such. I know I’m guilty of putting myself last for the sake of our son’s progress. I’d be deluding myself if I said that I put my husband and our marriage in a priority spot at all times. I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t struggle with delegating some of my son’s illness to those willing to help, in order for me to take time for my marriage and husband. Owning your own role and need for improvement – that must be somewhere in this 12-step version of self-help.

As I ponder, that vision of the little boy Jack refuses to escape me. I’ve opened my phone several times and made myself look again. I prayed for the Barney family, their community, the brothers and sisters who are mourning a loss of their own. I prayed for Jack. I then prayed for my marriage and promised myself to follow through with my inventory check…

When was the last time I said, “I love you?” Not just as part of our day, not just as he walks in and out that door. Not just in a text, because that’s expected. When is the last time I walked away from something I was in the middle of, when he didn’t expect it, and truly said “I love you?” I will do that more. LEOs, when was the last time you did the same for your spouse?

Erika Barney, left, hugs her daughter, Matti, at the gravesite of their husband and father, Unified police officer Doug Barney.
“Erika Barney, left, hugs her daughter, Matti, at the gravesite of their husband and father, Unified police officer Doug Barney.” (Photo/Tom Smart, Deseret News via

How often do I make the chaos stop for the sake of our family? How often do I carve out even thirty minutes when we’re all together, just for us as a family? No homework, no TV, no electronic devices, no sports, no chasing bad guys, no take home work. How often do my husband and I commit to making our family come before any of life’s daily happenings? Today, I will commit to doing that.

LEOs, what can you do to prioritize your spouse and your children?

I look at Jack and I wonder about all the memories he has of his dad. I think about Jack, a teenager – at a time when a boy needs his dad the most – and I know those memories are what he will hold on to. Those memories of the special times with his dad, those little moments, those looks they had just between them, their own understanding of one another – that is all Jack has now.

Uniform Stories features a variety of contributors. These sources are experts and educators within their profession. Uniform Stories covers an array of subjects like field stories, entertaining anecdotes, and expert opinions.