Fallen officer tree helps lift holiday spirits

Published 4:51 pm Wednesday, December 4, 2019


The Advocate-Messenger

The holidays can be a tough time for anyone who has lost a family member or close friend. All the holiday traditions can serve as reminders of the person who is gone.

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Recalling those memories can be painful — particularly for those who lost their loved one at a young age or in an unexpected way. But over time and with proper healing, it can become possible to enjoy the moments when those memories surface; the focus can shift toward what we loved about the person and away from the traumatic loss.

The Danville Police Department’s fallen officer tree is a great example of how we can turn loss into something beautiful and properly remember lost loved ones — with love and appreciation for what they gave us.

The Christmas tree is decorated with badge ornaments for each Danville officer, as well as long ribbons that list the name of every law enforcement officer who has died in the line of duty in Kentucky.

Officer Aaron Rainwater spearheaded the tree project, with help from many others, including Sgt. Brandon Record, Assistant Chief Glenn Doan, Officer Casey Whittle — and Whittle’s mom,  Angela, who made the officers’ ornaments at home while undergoing chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer.

Officers tried to pay Whittle’s mom for making the ornaments, in order to help cover her medical bills, but she just gave the money back to the police department’s “Shop with a Cop” program.

“Lots of days I didn’t feel like doing anything physically, or doing a lot of other things,” Angela said in our story on the tree in Tuesday’s paper. “But I can sit there and work on those ornaments. It was good for me.”

The end result is a beautiful evergreen tree decked out in sparkling lights, blue and black ornaments and a patrol hat on top. It brightens the police department lobby and no doubt helps lift the spirits of those walking through, even as it serves as a reminder of more than 800 lives that were lost too soon.

But the fact those law enforcement officers’ lives were cut short shouldn’t blind us to what they did with the time they did have; nor should we let the sad endings turn us cynical or angry.

The fallen officer tree and the story of how it came to be both serve as excellent reminders this holiday season to stay positive; to appreciate what’s good; to hold your loved ones close; and to be thankful for whatever time you get with them.