Leadership Lessons: When We Hurt, They Hurt

Jan. 1, 2018
Dr. David Griffin shares how a letter from his wife underscores the impact this profession can have on family members.

In 2010, my wife wrote me a letter when she was attempting to help me through my struggles after the line-of-duty deaths (LODDs) my department experienced on June 18, 2007. She was afraid to give it to me because she knew that I was already having a difficult time, but she did anyway, and it changed our lives. Now, almost eight years later, thanks to our growth and the work we do with organizations on post-traumatic stress, I wanted to share this letter in hopes it helps others. It speaks to the importance of remembering that the “Home Team” comes first and that your spouse and other family members struggle when you struggle. This is what she wrote:

The letter

My Love David,

Words cannot express what I believe you are going through and how badly I want to help you. I know that I’m not a firefighter and you think I don’t understand, but I want to listen. I want to try and understand with every ounce of my being. I can see when I look at you that you’re glossy-eyed and confused. You don’t know what or who to believe. You trusted a system that failed, and it makes you question everything. But remember, I’m here. Don’t take our love for granted while you try to figure this out. We are a team. Remember when we met, we always said we would be “Tag Team Champions”? Right now, I don’t feel like we are anywhere close to that. You’re living your life and I’m living mine. This is not who we are. We have a very special love that has grown through many trials and tribulations. Who took care of you when you were hit in the face by a baseball in college and had to have reconstructive surgery? Who was there with you when we lost everything in the flood two years ago and we had nowhere to go? Who has been there for you since the fire?

I know you’re hurting, but I am too. When you hurt, I hurt, and I don’t know what to do. If you don’t let me in, I can’t understand. I can’t help. I can’t show you how special our love is. People tell me to let you figure it out, but I can’t do that. You are my world, and I promised to take care of you in sickness and in health. I will not quit on you. I will not walk away. But you must remember I have feelings, too. When you’re upset at work, don’t take it out on me. Don’t take it out on us. Our love is too special. I am going to keep pushing you to understand that WE can get through this TOGETHER. You may hate me now for it, but I know in the future you won’t. I truly believe that, and I pray about it every day. 

When you pick up a drink to forget, remember that I am there watching you. When you go out to a bar, I will be there to make sure you get home. When you take so much medication you lose count, I will be there to make sure you wake up. When you don’t want to talk to me, I will be right there waiting to talk to you. When you get in the zone to fight another opponent in that cage I hate, I will be in your corner cheering for you, even if I don’t understand. When you can’t see or walk after a fight because of the beating you put yourself through, I will be the one to help you get undressed and hold you up in the shower while the blood washes down the drain, win or lose. When you can’t get out of the car after a fight, I will help carry you inside. When you must go to the ER again to get your face stitched up, I will be there with you no matter how many hours it takes.

I can go on and on, but I don’t know where to stop. I’m not going to let us turn into one of these couples that fights all the time, does hateful things to each other, and doesn’t cherish every minute of our life together. Life is too short for that. When I met you in 2001, I fell in love with you with every ounce of my being. I am more in love with you today than ever before, despite all that we have been through. Our love will grow from this if we stay together for the Home Team.

Next time you want to go boozing, fighting or whatever it is you need to do to blow off steam, think about our love. Just like Allie asked Noah in our favorite movie, The Notebook, “Can our love perform miracles?” I am now asking you that question. Can our love perform miracles? I know it can, but I need you to trust me and believe in me. We can do this, together. I love you and I am here for you every second. My world and my love for eternity and in heaven.

Your Wife,


It's not their fault

I thought long and hard about sharing such a powerful letter with the public. Trust me, the decision was not easy. Why did I do it? Because I assure you there are many spouses out there wanting to do the same thing to get their loved one to wake up.

When I read this, I was so disappointed in myself, but at the same time, I was so proud of my wife. I totally forgot about her feelings and what she was experiencing due to my struggles. I was very selfish. I was so consumed with my demons that I failed my marriage. Thankfully, my wife is a tough Italian woman and not a quitter. She is incredible. 

Next time you want to take out your frustration on your family, remember, it’s not their fault you’ve seen bad things in your profession. It doesn’t make you tough to take out your anger on them. It makes you a coward like I was.

Wake up and cherish your family because that is the number one item in life that matters. Without them, your profession means nothing.

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