Michaela Burns with her daughter at the COPS spouses retreat. Photo Courtesy COPS
FEATURED IN LEADERSHIP
“I got off the plane in St. Louis and immediately started to look for flights back to Dallas. I did not want to be there,” remembers Michaela Burns. “But I promised myself I would go. I look back now and I am so glad I did.”
Burns arrived in Missouri in September 2008 to attend Concerns of Police Survivors’ (COPS) Spouses Retreat just four months after her husband was killed in the line of duty. Her husband, Trooper James Burns with the Texas Department of Public Safety, was shot and killed on April 29, 2008, after pulling over a suspicious vehicle. At age 28, Burns’ whole world changed instantly, and she was left alone to raise their 5-month-old daughter.
COPS’ Spouses Retreat is held each year in Potosi, Mo., at the YMCA Trout Lodge for surviving spouses of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. Counseling sessions are held in the mornings, and afternoons are spent in classes on archery, pistols and self-defense, among others. Because self-esteem is eroded when someone you love is suddenly, often violently, taken from you, activities challenge spouses to do things they never thought they could.
“It made me feel like I had a place in the world again,” says Burns. “It was like I had a family, a new family.”
Research conducted in the early years of COPS shows that the fewer number of years in a marriage, the more traumatic the sense of loss. Michaela and James had been married less than two years when he was killed.
Strong peer support is the foundation for all of COPS programs. You can actually see differences in the faces of the surviving spouses after just a weekend of support, counseling and challenges. They learn to live again while knowing that healing doesn’t mean forgetting. They develop a new sense of trust and inner strength, and they’ve made new life-long friends.
“I would encourage other survivors to attend so they can find out that they are not alone,” says Burns. “It’s definitely hard to make that first trip. But once you are there and see how many people care about you and have gone through the same struggles as you, it’s humbling.” She adds: “I am so glad I didn’t get back on a plane to Dallas that first year. The decision to stay was the best decision I have ever made.”
For more information on how COPS can help you or someone you know, visit www.nationalcops.org.