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Overcoming Grief and Tragedy with Love, Faith, and Honor:
An Interview with Cindy Ballman

   
   

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indy Ballman’s life changed drastically on February 7, 2008 when her husband, Police Officer Tom Ballman, was shot and killed during a mass shooting at a city council meeting in Kirkwood, Missouri. Tom—along with a fellow police officer, the public works director, and two city council members—died almost instantly in Kirkwood City Hall soon after the meeting had begun. Kirkwood’s mayor was in critical condition and survived for seven months before he died from his injuries. The shooting spree, by a man with a grudge against the city council, left loved ones and the entire St. Louis area full of shock, grief, and questions on how this tragedy could happen in such a nice community.

Cindy Ballman is left with her two small children, Josh, who is now 7, and Rachel, who is now 4 ½; but she has not let this incident break her loving spirit or faith. She is an inspiration to many friends, family members, and women who are going through their own struggles. Cindy currently lives in St. Louis and works as a mortgage loan risk advisor for State Farm.

WOW:  Cindy, thank you for taking the time to talk with WOW! today. We are very sorry for your loss, and I also personally know what a great man Tom was—a hard worker, a friend to all, and a loving father and husband. Why don’t we start with how your life changed when Tom was shot and killed in the line of duty. How did you deal with your grief and stress while raising your children and handling their grief?

Cindy:  Tom’s death was so public and so tragic. I was amazed at the outpouring of support that I received—not only from my friends and family but also from the community. First and foremost, my faith in God above was, and is, my strength; my church family was there with dinners for me and the kids and tons of prayers. Each day brings its own set of challenges; some more difficult than others, but you learn to take one day at a time.

WOW:  Tom was loved by so many—friends, family, and co-workers. Your strength during this time was an inspiration for many of these people. What did you draw on to stay so strong during this time?

Cindy:  When you are married to a police officer, you are also committed to the “job.” You understand the risks; you understand the daily frustrations that are a part of their everyday life. I don’t think people realize how much a police officer actually does in the average day. They do so much more than just write tickets. They help rescue an abused child, a battered spouse, contact a family member upon viewing the death of their son or daughter in a car accident. I have so much respect for these men and women who get up every day to help protect their communities. I feel it’s better to honor than to grieve. Don’t get me wrong. I’m terribly sad that my children will not grow up with a father, but I’m so proud to tell them of how their father lived his life—a real hero to so many.


“I feel it’s better to honor than to grieve... I’m terribly sad that my children will not grow up with a father, but I’m so proud to tell them of how their father lived his life.”

WOW:  I just want to repeat what you said because I think it could help several people who are dealing with grief—“It’s better to honor than to grieve.” That does seem to be the key. The local and national media covered Tom’s death and funeral. How did you survive this time when you were grieving and also in the public eye?

Cindy:  I tried not to watch any of the media coverage in the days immediately following the shooting. I especially tried to keep the kids out of the public view. I did, however, invite the media to record the funeral service and attend the “last call to duty.” I wanted people to see that Tom was a man, husband, father, brother, son, and a friend. He was more than just a police officer.

WOW:  With just these few words you have shared with us so far, it is easy to see why you are an inspiration to many. Do you have any advice for people suffering a personal tragedy in the media?

Cindy:  I think it’s important to be respectful—not to point fingers or lay blame. Every situation is different. I know for me, I wanted people to know how much I appreciated their support. For those who didn’t know Tom, their only impression of him comes from me and my children. I guess my advice would be that while “your” story may be the top story that evening, it can’t overshadow the life that you need to live today. It is okay to say “no” to the media and request that they respect your privacy.

WOW:  More great words of wisdom, Cindy, especially about trying to think about your future life and how you want to portray yourself to the public while in the middle of a terrible personal tragedy. Please share with us a story or two of people’s help or kindness that you especially remember during this time.

Cindy:  The evening of the tragedy, my best friend, Cindy Wester, and Tom’s best friend, Mike (her husband), were at my house, watching my children and letting me know that everything was going to be okay; and they would be there to take care of me and the kids. To this day, they are always there for me whether I think I need them or not. No one could ask for better friends. Whether it’s helping each other pick up our kids from school, making dinner for the nights when the kids have practice, or just going out with me to allow me to blow off some steam.

WOW:  It’s so nice to hear that you have such wonderful friends to provide a support system. Now, a year and a half later, how do you wake up each morning with such a positive attitude after a long, hard eighteen months?

Cindy:  I know that Tom would not want me to be living in solitude or misery. My kids are a huge motivator for me. I must continue to live the life that Tom and I would have wanted for our children. They are my focus now and for the future.


“I must continue to live the life that Tom and I would have wanted for our children. They are my focus now and for the future.”

WOW:  I think we can all learn from that, Cindy. When we focus on our children and the future generations, we all seem to make better and more positive choices! Are there any specific tools/outlets you use or have used when the entire situation just gets to be too much?

Cindy:  I continue to work, which helps get my mind off the day-to-day issues that we all deal with, and starting the foundation [The Fritz Foundation] really helped me during some of those “down” times. I was able to redirect my energy and/or frustration into something positive.

WOW:  As you mentioned, with some of Tom’s friends, you decided to start a foundation in his name. Why did you decide to do this?

Cindy:  I knew that I wanted people to remember Tom for how he lived—not how he died.

WOW:  What is the purpose of the foundation?

Cindy:  The foundation provides a scholarship to a Lindbergh High School student (Tom’s alma mater). The scholarship is given to a student who exemplifies qualities similar to Tom: a love of music and theater along with a commitment to community through active involvement with the Boy Scouts of America or other philanthropic activities. The foundation also assists a local National Law Enforcement Explorer with the costs associated with either their local or national conference. Tom was an advisor for [Explorer] Post 9131 in Kirkwood, Missouri, and it became a huge part of his life. The kids are between the ages of 15 and 21, and Tom really enjoyed working with those kids and inspiring them to do more. The third reason is to benefit an organization called The Backstoppers, Inc. This organization provides financial and emotional support to survivors of all police officers, fire fighters, and paramedics, whose lives are lost in the line of duty within the St. Louis Metropolitan area. It’s important for me to help give back to an organization that has helped me so much.

WOW:  : Those are three terrific ways to honor Tom’s memory and help members of the communities that he loved so much. What are some ways you raise money for this foundation?

Cindy:  One of Tom’s friends has a local band, Kickstand; and shortly after the tragedy, he coordinated an effort to hold a benefit concert. We continued that tradition this year with the proceeds going towards the foundation. In addition, we will be holding a golf tournament this fall and a Trivia Night in early February.

WOW:  You’ve been involved in many local ceremonies to honor Tom and the other community members that died that day. Tell us how it felt to attend these ceremonies. Do these events help with your grief?

Cindy:  Again, being married to a police officer, you learn to respect those involved in this line of work as well as all first responders. The memorials and remembrance ceremonies do help me. It helps me to know that Tom and the others are not forgotten—through their many friends and colleagues, their memory will live on.


“It helps me to know that Tom and the others are not forgotten—through their many friends and colleagues, their memory will live on.”

WOW:  It is so important to honor these people who risked their lives every day for our safety. We don’t remember these fallen heroes enough. It’s great to hear about these events. You also made a trip to Washington, D.C. to honor fallen heroes such as Tom. What was this event you were involved in?

Cindy:  The trip was for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. This memorial honors all officers who have been killed in the Line of Duty.  Tom and Sgt. William K. Biggs, also killed that evening, were honored along with two other St. Louis area police officers killed in 2008. The memorial honored 133 men and women this year from around the country, who lost their lives in 2008. To date there are 18,662 names inscribed on the Memorial Wall.

WOW:  That number gives me chills—18,662 names—18,622 fallen heroes! What were some of the activities and ceremonies on your trip?

Cindy:  There is a wonderful memorial wall in Judiciary Square in Washington, D.C. The men and women killed in the Line of Duty are memorialized there with their names inscribed on the wall. A candlelight vigil is held every year where the names of the fallen are read aloud. On May 15th every year, a ceremony is held on the Court House lawn. Thousands of officers from all over the country and even the U.K. come dressed in their finest, stand at attention, respecting the families of those who were left behind. In the past, the president [of the United States] is in attendance at this ceremony as well. Each family member is given a Medal of Valor from the Fraternal Order of Police. It was awe-inspiring and so beautiful to be a part of this ceremony. I was touched by the families and the officers who attended these events to honor, love, and respect these men and women.

WOW:  It sounds absolutely beautiful. Why was this trip important for you to take?

Cindy:  I knew that the significance of having Tom’s name added to the wall was important—I didn’t realize how special it was until I was there, surrounded by so many other survivors. It’s important to know that you are not alone in your grief. To be surrounded by so many others who are experiencing the same frustrations and feelings is helpful in getting past your grief.

“It’s important to know that you are not alone in your grief.”

WOW:  Looking back on the last eighteen months, what would you say you’ve learned about living life to the fullest?

Cindy:  Life is so precious. I’ve learned not to pass up an opportunity to help a friend in need, to make time for your children, and to share in every little triumph or pitfall. Tom’s death taught me how to live stronger, love more, care for others who cannot care for themselves. I try and continue to live my life the way Tom would have wanted me to. 

WOW:  You are staying so positive and strong for yourself and your children—it is truly remarkable! Some women reading this article may be suffering a great loss also. What is your advice to them?

Cindy:  Try and remember that you are not alone. Every situation is different but you must find the positives in your life and build on them. If you don’t already have a support system, find a church or community grief support group to help you discuss your feelings and concerns with others that are going through the same loss. Find a good friend who is willing to listen when you are having one of those tough days. If you have children, you must make some time for yourself every once in a while to recharge and help you appreciate their existence in your life.

WOW:  Cindy, thank you again for your time and sharing your life and lessons with us. You are truly an inspiration to us all.

The Fritz Foundation accepts donations for their scholarship funds and to help The Backstoppers, Inc. through PayPal or snail mail. To find out more information, see the donation page of the website.



***

Margo L. Dill  is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher, living in Mahomet, Illinois. Her work has appeared in publications such as Grit, Pockets, True Love, Fun for Kidz, Missouri Life, ByLine Magazine, and The News-Gazette. She is a columnist and contributing editor for WOW! Women On Writing. She is assistant editor for the Sunday Book page in The News-Gazette. Her first book, Finding My Place, a middle-grade historical novel, will be published by White Mane Kids. She writes a blog called, Read These Books and Use Them, for parents, teachers, and librarians. She owns her own copyediting business, Editor 911. When she's not writing, she loves spending time with her husband, stepson, and two dogs—Chester, a boxer, and Hush Puppy, a basset hound.

Find out more about Margo by visiting her website: www.margodill.com.


 

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