(Editor’s note: I have had the privilege of the author’s acquaintance for over a decade. While this was written a bit ago, I believe it is just as valuable today.)

This is a Christmas message for all the first responders, both Police and Fire.

I was a police officer in the DFW area for almost 26 years. I retired a few months ago. Like many other cops, I worked Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve for many years while my family was at home. Also like *all* other police officers, I saw the absolute worst that humanity had to offer during the holidays. Family violence. Suicides. Drug overdoses. Blood, teeth, and brain matter on the floor. Old and lonely people with no family. Filthy houses. Abused children. Poverty and melancholy while cheerful Christmas music played in the background.

I’m not sure exactly when it happened but somewhere along the way I began to dread the holidays. It may seem foolish, but I started to feel overwhelming sadness when Christmas decorations went up. I experienced a strange, anticipatory empathy for all the damaged citizens I knew I would soon encounter. A line from a Beatles song played in my head on an endless loop as I went from call to call: “All the lonely people, where do they all come from?”

I started to feel guilty. I was ashamed that I couldn’t fix things, especially for the women and children who didn’t deserve the horrible treatment they were subjected to in front of the Christmas tree. By any objective standard, I was a genuinely tough and physically strong police officer, but I was unable to remedy generational psychopathy or decades of abuse. I felt weak and useless as I looked into the faces of hollow-eyed children and heard the Charlie Brown Christmas Special with its beautiful but incredibly f’n sad piano music playing in the background. Meanwhile…my wife and children were home without me…and I felt awful about it.

I wrestled with all of this in silence for years, convinced that I was weak for having these feelings. I was wrong about that.

This is only the second year I haven’t felt debilitating sadness about Christmas. I have finally recovered. I’m proud that my kids are normal and have no idea about what I’ve seen and know. I love my wife unapologetically and I’m sorry for everything she put up with for so many years.

This picture is my current view of my living room. My wife and children are sitting with me. For the first time in a very long time, I don’t feel guilty about feeling content, warm, and safe with my family. I love my family and I’m finally comfortable with letting go and feeling good about being with them without any sense of guilt, obligation, urgency, or duty. I’m watching Die Hard with my family, and I love it. I’m exactly where I need to be and there’s nothing wrong with that.

So, this is the Holiday message I want to share with my fellow first responders: You’re not responsible for all the uglinesses in the world. You can’t fix everything. No one ever expected you to. Don’t take on more than what you were supposed to. You’ve done what you can and that’s good enough. If you feel sad about what you see that means you’re a good person. There’s nothing wrong with you.

Never feel guilty about feeling good to be with your friends and family. That’s where you’re supposed to be.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, y’all.