Life is Precious

Submitted by Derek Alton on March 21, 2013 - 10:04pm
A reflection on a police funeral in Guelph

Life is precious. We innately recognize this and the loss of it affects us deeply, that is why a funeral is so important.  It gives us the space to recognize the value of the life that has been lost while at the same time allowing us to view our own lives with a new clarity of what is really important.  Funerals are full of dichotomies, though.   We want to celebrate our loved ones life but, at the same time, feel a terrible emptiness at their loss.  We feel overwhelmed with support and love, yet we also feel a deep sense of being alone. 

For my job, I get to have conversations with people about community: what it means to them, why it’s important, and when they have experienced deep connection.  Interestingly, one of the common events where people talk about feeling a deep sense of community is a funeral.

Today this was brought home for me in a big way.  I was blessed with the opportunity to attend the memorial service for Constable Jennifer Kovach.  She was a young Guelph police officer, with a big smile and bubbly personality who lost her life in the course of duty.  She was only 26 years old.  This loss really hit home for me; partly because I know many of the people who have been deeply affected by her loss, partly because she too had touched my life, even if just for a brief moment, but also because Jennifer was close to my age.  When you are young it is easy to feel immortal, and events like this remind you of your own mortality.


Loss brings people together, it is often the only time where people step forward and show appreciation for all the little things a person does.  Today was full of these stories; I remember laughing at the account told by her mother, Gloria, about when she stopped on patrol to buy lemonade from a kids lemonade stand, terrifying the poor kids mother with her siren.  I was also brought to tears by Constable Neil Moulton’s story of spending time with Jennifer in her final minutes.

Police funerals are something else.  The emergency services are a community, a family, and on a scale unlike you see anywhere else.  Our city was flooded today with emergency workers from all across the province, thousands of them.  They all traveled to pay their respects to a fallen comrade.  It didn’t matter that most did not know Jennifer personally; they were family simply by sharing the same calling.  The loss of one is a loss to all.  I was amazed by how deeply they had all been touched by this loss, many around me wept openly for a person they had never met, yet for this day in this moment we were all family.


In my research on community, sacrifice has been a common theme.  A deep community requires its members to sacrifice themselves for each other.  We saw this today, both in the sacrifice of Jennifer for her community and also in the sacrifice of many officers from all across the province who took one of their vacations days to participate in today’s memorial service.  Many of them took over the duties of the Guelph emergency services so they could take part in the memorial service.  This is sacrifice, this is community.

Funerals are never easy, but they remind us of our common humanity, our common connection with each other.  This humanity was palpable today, you could see it in the faces of all the people who came to celebrate and mourn, you could hear it in the beautiful stories and the heart wrenching songs and oh the bagpipes.  When the pipe band played amazing grace there was not a dry eye in the house.


To the Kovach family, I want to send my deepest condolences at this tough time.  To the Guelph Police Force, I am deeply saddened by your loss, each one of you is special and you are key part of what makes our community amazing though most days it is a thankless job.  To all the emergency service workers who came from across this country, your sacrifice is an inspiration to us all and your support for your comrade is equally admirable.

And to Jennifer, I wish I had gotten a chance to know you better.  You have touched so many people in so many different ways and have definitely been a hero in life.  In death, I wish you all the best on your new grand adventure. RIP



What can we learn from them?

I don't know the police or emergency services community at all but I'm wondering what we can learn from how they have created a strong community/family of colleagues. Is it the fact that they face risky and stressful situations together which bonds them so deeply? Is there more to it that that?

As neighbours we don't often face life and death situations together.

Any police officers out there who can share some thoughts on this?

Thank you for sharing your experience and reflections, Derek.

Its all about culture

Great question Nastinia, I think a lot of it has to do with the culture that is created by these organizations.  From the moment you start training you are taught that you are part of this larger community and taught to respect and look out for others who are part of the emergency services community.  Events like this funeral reafirm this but it is the day to day culture that is set by the leadership and past on from one generation to the other that sustains it.

Thanks for sharing

Thanks for sharing Derek- what a moving event.

Sending prayers of peace and blessing to the Kovach family.

The Emergency Services Family 6000+ strong

There were around 6000 emergency workers (police, fire, EMS) from across the province, including many officers from the east coast, west coast and New York state who came to Guelph to pay they respects and to support the family, both the Kovach's and the family that is the Emergency Services.  It simply blew me away.