COLORADO SPRINGS — DENVER — Call it a club. Call it a community. Call it a sisterhood no one wants to be a member of.
It’s a club Rachael Flick joined in 2018 — not by choice but by circumstance.
It’s a club of grief, anger, compassion and resilience. There’s no judgment, just love and the kind of understanding only someone else who’s been through this trauma can provide.
On Feb. 5, 2018, Rachael Flick’s husband, El Paso County Sheriff’s Deputy Micah Flick, was killed in the line of duty.
Micah was just doing his job. The sheriff’s deputy was part of an undercover team trying to stop auto thefts in Colorado Springs. During the apprehension of a 19-year-old suspect, Micah was shot. He died within a few minutes.
He left behind Rachael and twin 7 year olds.
“From that point our lives have been forever changed,” Rachael said.
The first news of her husband’s tragedy came in a flurry of phone calls. Then, the undersheriff showed up at the family’s home and confirmed the worst. Rachael was rushed to the hospital where she was surrounded by her husband’s colleagues, hospital staff, friends, family and strangers. All of it was overwhelming.
“I was just kind of immediately thrown into this experience that is line of duty death,” she said. “I felt immediately out of my league, like what is happening? Who are all these strangers? What is expected of me right now? Is this real?”
Quickly after, Rachael was thrust into a world of funeral arrangements, honor guards, social security paperwork and planning for a life without her husband. All of the responsibilities came while she was dealing with a crippling grief.
That’s when a community of law enforcement widows reached out to Rachael and asked to meet her.
“Several of the widows were in my home probably three to four days after the funeral — so maybe 10 days after Micah was killed — and I just remember just a softness and the compassion of their empathy,” Rachael said. “It was just almost supernatural healing to be in that space with women that I could look into their eyes and know that they knew my story.”
Among the widows that came to comfort her were Rachel Swasey and Natalie Jensen. Rachel's husband, Garrett Swasey, was killed in November 2015 in the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooting. Natalie's husband, Jared Jensen, was killed in February 2006 while apprehending a man who was wanted for stabbing his own sister.
The other widows understood and have experienced firsthand the depths of grief a line of duty death brings.
“To cry and to be ugly and to be angry and to feel lost and to say things to them that you probably wouldn’t say to anyone else, but they understand, and it gives you the space to be real and to grieve with this authenticity — that’s transformative,” Rachael said.
That camaraderie turned into friendship eventually became a foundation for Rachael to find stability. That year, the club no one wants to join was busy. Zackari Parrish, Heath Gumm and Micah Flick all died in the line of duty within five weeks of one another.
Rachael says she became trauma buddies with Gracie Parrish and Natasha Gumm, attending events together and supporting one another through their grief while leaning on wives who have been through all this loss before.
“The thing that I had saw from widows who had come through and were further along in their grief journey was I can do this. It feels like this pain is going to kill me. It’s excruciating. It is a living hell, but I am looking at you, and you have done the first end of watch anniversary, and you’ve done Christmas with your children without your husband, and you’ve done all these things that I fear," Rachael said. "That in itself is this model of hope and healing and resilience, and I needed that.”
Nearly three years later, Rachael started a podcast to help people learn to cope with loss and learn resilience. Rachael is a licensed professional counselor who specializes in trauma therapy, and she leans on her training and personal experience to help people cope.
The first three episodes focused on the circumstances around her husband’s death with one of the deputies who was also injured in the shooting. Now, she’s reaching out to the family of officer Eric Talley,penning an open letter to Talley’s wife saying she’s here for her.
“We're just a few steps away. When you are ready. We'll wear our hair in messy buns and put on our late husband's sweats and we'll come with coffee or wine or chocolate. And we will sit with you. And we will listen. And we will cry with you. And we will walk out this dark road with you,” the letter reads.
For others who are going through the grieving process or trying to reach out to a friend or family member who is, Rachael says there are a few things she’s learned along the way.
First, it’s okay to not know the right words to say and to choose to be silent.
“We have a lot of terrible grief-isms in our culture, like 'heaven gained another angel,' or 'it’s all for a plan' or whatever we say that tries to make sense of a loss, and those things are very damaging to the heart,” Rachael said. “That’s why we have to do our own work to get comfortable with silence.”
Second, instead of asking someone how they are doing today, acknowledge their grief.
“The question I learn to ask that I really love is 'how does your grief feel today?' You’re already instantly acknowledging that those people are hurting and that grief is real and it’s right there,” Rachael said.
Third, get rid of your expectations for how those who are grieving should act, and allow them to grieve in their own way and on their own time.
“I think the thing that was probably the hardest for me and people’s reactions to my loss were expectations of how I should grieve,” she said.
For now, Rachael says she wants Talley’s wife, his family and the families of the other nine victims of the Boulder shooting to know they are not alone.