In Death and In Life

by Robert Cubby

I am a retired Jersey City police captain. On 12/10/19, yesterday, my blue family of officers faced a hellish onslaught from two individuals hellbent on murdering the citizens of Jersey City. In their path of carnage, they murdered a brother officer and wounded two others. Not satisfied with that, they ran into a store murdering two innocent people before they were finally and fatally stopped by responding officers.

This story is not new. It seems it repeats itself over and over in city after city, town after town, rural and urban. I can’t speak of their losses although I feel them. I can only speak of my story, my personal loss. 

You see, ten years ago, a situation very much like this unfolded on a crowded Jersey City street and into a multi family apartment house. At that time I was the commander on the scene. I, too, lost an officer who was also shot in the head. I, too, had several officers wounded. I, too, witnessed a horrendous gun battle where hundreds of rounds were fired. When watching the live feed yesterday, the situation was eerily similar in many ways to my fire fight.

At the scene 10 years ago, and for days after, I broke down. Crying unconsolably, shaking uncontrollably. Finally, I was diagnosed with PTSD when I sought counseling because I had lost control of my life and emotions. 

But, as eerie as that reaction was then, it was more so this time. You see, watching this terrible tragedy unfold yesterday resulted in a flashback where I was 10 ago mentally and physically. I was back at the scene of my trauma. I was back at the fire fight ten years ago. The reactions were the same yesterday as they were ten years ago and I couldn’t pull out. It wasn’t, as in the past, a fleeting memory or thought. This was a full blown immersion in the midst of the tragedy. All the sounds and smells and sights all crashed in on me.

I tried walking around the house, away from the TV and the images. I tried doing household chores. Nothing was working. Crying uncontrollably, I bent my head in prayer asking God “who heals the healer when the healer needs healing?” You see I teach and give talks about pulling out of a flashback, of dealing with PTSD, of coping with the symptoms. Suddenly, now, all that knowledge eluded me. I was awash with grief and sadness, hit by a giant wave I didn’t see coming.

What made it even sadder, if that was possible, was that, just yesterday, I was enjoying the company of a dear friend. It was the happiest I’d been in many years and even danced with her, something I haven’t done in many, many years. I was feeling happy once more in my life. Now, in the matter of seconds, I went from the height of happiness to the bowels of hell. How is a person supposed to endure this? How do I pull out of this death dive?

Maybe it was a prayer answered or my brain regaining a foot hold, but I started to remember my own advice. I always told my pupils to breath, mindfully. Reset yourself, your body, your mind. So I did. A cold drink of water helped. Then I knew I needed to talk to someone because talking about what you’re dealing with helps.

Maybe we were on the same thought pattern, maybe we were just reacting the same at the same time, but a friend from the police department called asking if I was alright. God I needed that phone call, that talk. Two other friends shared more conversation. Some text messaging and social media posts. I was able to regain my footing once again, regain some normalcy.

Now looking at the tragedy, I sit here typing and hoping and praying that others affected by this can also pull through, can also cope and find solid ground to stand on. Sadly, there’s no established counseling in a lot of departments including Jersey City. Who will help these officers through this? As my dear friend suggested, all I can do is offer help or direct them where they can get help if not from me. Maybe visit with a friend, a pastor, a relative, anyone.

I say this because immediately after the news broke, many of my fellow officers posted they were all right, but they didn’t want to talk about the murder of that officer. I simply responded to them not to not sit on those thoughts, those feelings. Please don’t bottle them up, talk to someone. And if helping them entails me laying out my feelings during this, to let them know they are not alone in this, then I will. It is only in healing others that I’m healed. God bless my Jersey City blue family in this time of grief and sadness.

About the Author:

Robert D. Cubby graduated from Montclair State College in 1973 with a BA in psychology. After graduation he was sworn in as a police officer in Jersey City, New Jersey where he served for 38 years rising to the rank of captain 

As a result of his service, he was diagnosed with PTSD resulting from a shoot out where one of his officers died and 4 were wounded. 

After therapy for his PTSD, Robert vowed that he would never want to see anyone go through the hell he went through. Through the years Robert has administered several discussion groups online for PTSD and facilitates a support group for veterans and first responders with PTSD.

Robert is an accomplished writer, having co-authored two books and writing for several e-publications. He does presentations for various groups about PTSD.

Three years ago, Robert lost his beloved wife, Diana, after a prolonged illness. He has been trying to deal with his grief after her death and has attended bereavement groups trying to help others. Robert is a trained bereavement group facilitator. He embraces alternate modalities of treatment such as Reiki, mindfulness, total relaxation technique, meditation, forest therapy, drumming circles, music therapy and yoga.

Robert brings to his writing his education, his experience and his life lessons in the hope of helping those who’ve fallen into the dark hole of despair.

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