Military and Police

LEO Widowhood

It’s not the most popular club to be in, and I certainly didn’t ask for a membership to it, but here I am. I can’t opt out no matter how bad I want to, so I’m just…here. The first year was absolute shock, panic, and denial. My life didn’t seem like it was mine, and I had no control at all. I felt numb all the time. I was making split-second decisions for everything with no time to consider anything. I was overwhelmed with texts, email, letters, cards, visits, and phone calls, and I was having a hard time processing it all. I wasn’t interested in anything about my new life. Nothing at 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 this nightmare to be a mistake. I sat in my closet and read cards and letters Charlie wrote me and, many nights, cried myself to sleep on the floor.

I had to adjust to a life with no privacy because what was once my private little life was now plastered all over the media and Internet. Those who didn’t support law enforcement were quick to post horrible things online without knowing any of the details. Things my kids and I would eventually see. My husband’s face was all over the news, online, and in the newspaper constantly.

Death became a constant thought. I panicked just thinking about leaving my kids. I prepaid for my own funeral and did as much as I could so that my kids never had to worry, question, and stress the way I did when Charlie was killed.

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 no longer belonged 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 cope. I stopped trying at one point and gave up on being positive. I didn’t care about much at all. It wasn’t the life I planned, and it was so empty without Charlie.

I didn’t know when it was okay to talk about Charlie or when I brought him up too much. 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 because 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.

The second year was hard because it was the real “firsts” without him. Realizing my life would never be the same was traumatizing. It still is when I think about it for too long. I still hated the new life I was forced to live, but I pushed myself to at least try.

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 that 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 that I knew my entire life, and just walked in circles most of the time. I didn’t know where I was going or what I should be doing. Lost seemed to be an accurate description, I guess; lost with absolutely no one to help me find my way because that was completely up to me. I prayed for direction but felt like God left me too. I really struggled with that. I had a hard time not blaming God for letting Charlie die so violently.

As time went by, people moved on, but I couldn’t. It was basically, “Sorry for your loss but go be a widow somewhere else.” That’s when it was time to get myself together or fall apart. I couldn’t expect anyone to help sort through this new life because, once again, that was all on ME.

I started feeling like I wasn’t doing enough and then felt like I did too much. 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. That sure went out the window when Charlie was killed. I had no idea how much I would need people, even people I never met.

I was shoved into widowhood by violence, so it was hard not to be angry. Some days got better, but the bad ones knocked me on my face again…back to the day it happened. I was supposed to grow old with Charlie and never gave aging a second thought…until now.

(Credit: Teresa Kondek)

The third year was more than frustrating. I had to fight for a lot of things than was necessary. 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 on the dashcam video they played during trial. I had to watch my kids fall apart AGAIN.

I still had some really tough days, but not as many as the year before. I still got angry, I still cried, and I still wondered what our life would be like if he were alive. I still picked up the phone to call him when things happened or when I needed to hear him tell me things would be okay, and I still got a sinking feeling when I heard his favorite songs.

I went to all the annual memorials just like the years before, but this time I saw them as honoring Charlie, not mourning him. I was proud to stand and speak for Charlie instead of crying. I shared our story a little more and started to give back to the blue family that held us up for so long.

I could call myself a wife, widow, and surviving spouse…and sometimes I didn’t cry saying it. I felt stronger, but I still felt broken on the inside on the bad days.

I started taking care of myself and getting out of the house more. I talked more at the cemetery and did a little less crying on my knees. I found a little more balance in my life and tried new things. Some worked out, but most didn’t, and that’s okay because I tried.

I knew I needed a career change but wasn’t sure where to go or how to figure that out. I wanted to use my loss and all the struggles and challenges that came with it to hopefully help someone else with theirs. I just needed to find something that would allow me to do that.

I still have a hard time being introduced to new people without Charlie, going places without Charlie, and trying new things alone because no matter how much time goes by, I will NEVER be in the right place, I will NEVER be where I’m supposed to be or feel like I belong. Everything is different now and that’s been so incredibly HARD to figure out. I wish people knew or acknowledged that because being a widow isn’t something I ever planned for; I was forced to accept it and I still haven’t learned how to be okay with it.

Now that 2018 is here, I’m hoping to find my place. I’ve learned a lot about fighting for the right things and speaking out when I need to.

I’m still learning how to balance my old life that I miss and the new life that I still don’t like sometimes. I’ve lost more friends and witnessed the true side of people when I needed them the most. Because of that, I’m more determined to do what’s right for my family and theirs—no matter how they treat me. There are a lot of things that need to be changed for our law enforcement officers and the families they leave behind. Things I never even thought of until I became a widow.

Image Credit: Teresa Kondek

 

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Teresa Kondek

Teresa Kondek is a mother of five, writer, and an advocate for law enforcement. Teresa became a widow on December 21, 2014 when her husband, Officer Charles Kondek, Jr., was violently killed in the line of duty. After her loss, Teresa began working tirelessly with local, state, and elected officials to raise awareness and provide support for law enforcement families struggling with loss. While publicly sharing her grief to help others, Teresa became part of the C.O.P.S. (Concerns of Police Survivors) Organization where she joined thousands of survivors nationwide trying to rebuild their lives. In 2016 she completed the Florida State University Certified Public Management program following her seventeen years serving the Pasco County Clerk and Comptroller’s Office as an Operations Supervisor.  In 2018 she completed the Victim Services Practitioner Designation program from the Florida Crime Prevention Training Institute through the Office of Attorney General.  Teresa is honored to support and honor those left behind, retired, and still serving. 

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