The Spotlight series highlights individuals in first responder life who have felt an impact, made an impact, and shared an impact with others. We need to share our stories to know we’re not alone and we can do this… together!
Caroline: This month, our Spotlight is on Cherilyn Eby. She’s a wife, mom, fellow neurodivergent, Administrative Assistant, President of Blue Bond in Indiana, and Life Coach. Despite all those roles, Cherilyn does not want titles to define her; she wants her identity to define her titles.
Cherilyn was married to her husband in 2009. They have two children together plus a bonus adult son from her husband’s previous marriage. They have a dog named Havoc, a whole flock of chickens, and a turkey. Cherilyn is connected to first responder life through her dad and husband who were both correctional officers, her dad is now retired.
Today, our focus is that first responders and their families are regular people. Cherilyn, how are you today?
Cherilyn: I am tired. I didn’t get to sleep until 3am. Woke up early. Matt works nights so sometimes I have a hard time sleeping. In our world, when he’s not at the house, I have to be the protector. Sometimes that can be daunting. Otherwise, I missed the plague that ran through my house. I have a cool opportunity coming up; I’ve been invited to be a vendor at the Indiana State Police Women in Law Enforcement Seminar. And I found out today that I may be participating in a group coaching session. So, I might be able to put my group coaching training to practice.
Caroline: That’s great. Sounds like a full plate!
Cherilyn: Also, my husband will be moving from night shift to dayshift.
Caroline: That’ll be a big change.
Cherilyn: It’s a huge change.
Caroline: Are you looking forward to that?
Cherilyn: I am. I’m a little nervous, too. I’m not nervous that I can’t do it, but I’ve been given this opportunity, and I don’t want to mess it up. It’s really cool, the networking in Indiana has really begun to work. It’s kind of proof that my hard work and my vice president here for Blue Bond is making an effect. You can get really disheartened when you put in so many hours and so much work into something and it just doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere. So, you get this little glimmer of hope and it gets you excited and you rev back up.
Caroline: That’s great. Talk more about Blue Bond.
Cherilyn: So, I’m the president and I have a vice president and we’re affiliates of the National Police Wives Association. When any of them come to Indiana and help, that’s always appreciated. We’re just trying to build our membership in the process of getting our 503c finalized. Fingers crossed, we’ll have that by the end of the year. That’ll be fun because it’ll open up lots of new doors for us.
Caroline: Now, how long has Blue Bond been in existence?
Cherilyn: It started in 2020 and it came about because, in Marion County, the city council went to develop a civilian Use of Force Board. Some of the parts of the creation of this board, there were a lot of things that law enforcement had an issue with. Some of the ISP (Indiana State Police) wives reached out to Kelly at National Police Wives and we had a Zoom peer support group. We sat through it and the IMPD (Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department) wives were going back and forth saying what they wanted. Kelly said, “Hey, who wants to lead this thing?”
They were silent. None of the IMPD wives wanted to because they were worried about the repercussions of them being involved in this group and didn’t want it to come back on their husbands. I’m sitting there like I don’t care. I live an hour away so no one was going to mess with me. So, I decided to do it.
At the same time, we had the Operation Morale Boost. We had an Amazon Wish List and people from all over the country donated with that list. We made something like 2,500-3,000 thank-you bags. So, we were able to give a bag to every single sworn officer of IMPD. Then, we hit surrounding departments as well. We were on the news; it was great. That’s how it started.
Caroline: That’s awesome that you were able to do that. Talk briefly about your connection with first responder life. I know it’s your dad and your husband. You had said they knew each other first.
Cherilyn: They knew each other, and worked together at the correctional facility. My dad calls my husband “son.” He was “son” before we were married or I even knew him. I didn’t realize that my dad being a correctional officer was a connection to first responder life. I had no idea until my husband was a correctional officer for about 13 years before he became a reserved officer and then a paid officer.
It’s hard to hear and see things when you see both sides of the story and other people can’t. It gets frustrating and you kind of get downhearted. When my husband became a police officer, it became necessary to find people in this lifestyle because you don’t know what it’s like unless you’re in it. Trying to describe things, trying to talk about things with friends and family who have no ability to have real empathy that you would have with another police family… My world became kind of small because we just stuck with the comfortableness of that circle of people.
Now, it’s easier because with the new groups that I’m in and the people that I’m with, there’s a big push to bring those communities together. They may not understand all the time but completely shutting yourself away from them is not the answer. It can really create resentment and misunderstanding on my side too. I’ve really enjoyed being able to be a part of that, bringing communities together.
Caroline: That’s great. And, of course, you’re also part of the First Responder Coaching community.
Cherilyn: I am. I met Jenn through the National Police Wives Leadership Summit. You know, I’d heard of life coaching and loved the idea, I love helping people, I love being able to help in some fashion. But, I didn’t want to have to go back to school.
I had been looking at becoming a social worker for a really long time, but I just never got off the pot. I had so many opportunities, for cheap too, because I worked for the college that I would’ve gotten that degree from for eight years. And I could have had that degree and a master’s by then. But I never did it and I don’t know why. I try not to question it but when this opportunity came up, and I got a chance to really talk to Jen, it was almost perfect.
My hope is that eventually I can transition to being a coach more full time. I’m just trying to look ahead and figure how much more I need to put in [at my current job] and what I need to do to get where I want to be. Having this opportunity has been amazing, and as an older person. I’m not old; I get that. I turn forty on Thanksgiving. Looking back when you’re a kid, you’re like, “Oh man, forty is old.” Now, I’ve got at least 25 years before I can retire. That’s a whole career. It comes with a different perspective and I definitely don’t look at change like I used to when I was younger.
Caroline: It’s funny you mention perspective because my mom had me when she was almost forty. So, to me, I never thought forty was old. I had my oldest when I was in my mid-twenties, so she thinks forty is old. There’s a lot of perspective which goes into play there. We can apply that to age or career or whatever. So, that’s interesting that you bring that up. I saw a meme the other day that said, “I want to apologize to everyone I called old when they were in their forties when I was eighteen.”
Cherilyn: It’s true. But we are old, I don’t want to dismiss that name because we are, but it’s a wise old, an experienced old…
Caroline: I guess we could say we’re more experienced; we have more wisdom.
Cherilyn: If I could put my twenty-year-old body with my forty-year-old mind…
Caroline: We’d all be doing great.
Cherilyn: I hate that my mind is so healthy and I want to go and do. But then I wake up and everything cracks and everything hurts.
Caroline: I know! But that added on to so many other woes and trials of life that the majority of people go through… we said that we were going to talk about the fact that first responders and their families are regular people. Here we are aging and cracking and aching. We go through all the same things that everybody else goes through. We just have some stressors that some people don’t have.
Cherilyn: I definitely think that joining this life at a young age… Most in my husband’s academy were kids: 21, 23, 25. My husband was the second oldest. There should be a bigger community for the veteran, older, wiser people to envelop. Because when you’re coming into this lifestyle when you’re 21 or 25 years old…
He didn’t become a reserve officer until he was thirty-seven, so we were more experienced. We had more life experience under our belts to deal with the stressors of this life and handle what was going to come our way. We had more flexibility with changes because we had more practice with changes.
So, with the younger ones coming in… I feel like it’s a high school. Everything’s the end of the world; everything’s difficult. It’s because they haven’t had the same time to grow and mature and practice all of this stuff.
Life coaching can be a big benefit to all of that because most of us life coaches are of the more experienced, wiser age group. It’s a huge benefit that I hope people will critically think of how good it can be. It’s not necessarily a mentorship but we’ve already been there.
Caroline: You’ve got mentorship where they give you advice from your experience. The good thing with life coaching is that we’re asking them questions and we’re guiding them through their own thoughts. Where we’ve been there, we know what questions to ask.
Cherilyn: Exactly, yeah.
Caroline: We’re going to ask them a question that will make them say, “Oh, I didn’t think about it that way.” We didn’t tell them what to think. We just asked the right question. I think that’s huge between that and their willingness to open up because they know that we’re part of that world. It’s a golden ticket.
Cherilyn: I learned a saying not early enough in my life, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” That’s not a weakness. You shouldn’t fault yourself for not knowing what you don’t know. A lot of life is that. You just don’t know to ask the question. You don’t know what you’re missing or where to go for things or how to do things. That’s not your fault, because you didn’t know you didn’t know it. I’ve used that many times and it makes me feel more human. I don’t admonish my faults as much because I realize that it’s not my fault; it just is.
Caroline: Yes, there’s a lot that goes on with that learning and growing experience.
Cherilyn: We are normal people. He leaves his laundry on the floor. I leave dishes in the sink. We have to jiggle around our schedule a lot just like some other people have to do. And we have car breakdowns, we have house fixing up, vet and doctor appointments… We are living the same life.
I think the difference is that we are living it with the expectation that he will be taken away from us. We’ve come to terms with it. I realized that I had done that kind of early on, before he was a police officer and was still in corrections. It would worry me constantly and I would stress and stress. It was a perspective change just like everything else is. I finally just came to terms that there’s an expiration date hanging out, looming around. We may or may not actually get it. I can’t sit and worry about that; I can’t let it ruin my life. I can’t let it overpower the life that we’re living.
Some of the younger wives that I know are like, “How does it happen? How are you just accepting that he could die or get killed on the job?” It’s because I trust him. I trust his training and that he does everything that he can to get back to me. Even if he left the house one day and we had been fighting, and something happens to him, I know, deep in my heart and soul, he loves me. An argument isn’t going to change that. I just accept that the world is dangerous and it can be ugly. It’s about the only way that I sleep at night. I just trust it.
Caroline: That acceptance is a big barrier for a lot of family members. I don’t envy anyone that’s had to go through a loss like that. It’s horrible when people go through it. You see the outpouring of support and what they try to do for the family when something tragic happens but no one other than someone else who’s gone through it can really know. Having that loom over your head and being able to accept it, it’s almost like a requirement in order to go on living your life.
Cherilyn: Yes, because, with first responder marriages, you can’t go into the relationship with that as the focal point and still have a healthy relationship. You’re always going to hold something back because you don’t want to be hurt. There’s not that same closeness when that fear of being killed in the line of duty is there.
Part of it is trust and part of it is letting [fear] go. You can’t always be the one that bends. You can’t hold back all of your problems and your grievances in order to keep peace in the house. You’re going to have a fight; you’re human. You’re going to have bad times, interesting times, changing times. You can’t allow his job to dictate how you deal with your relationship. So, it’s letting go, it’s trust, it’s human.
Caroline: I love how you put that. I love that you mention you can’t let the job dictate your relationship. You are both human, and you have human reactions. You have human feelings and human mental connections and that all needs to be acknowledged. That needs to come before the job in terms of your relationship.
Cherilyn: If he had an office job, I wouldn’t be afraid to be outspoken about him not doing the dishes or not doing the laundry. We think the job is stressful enough so we shouldn’t be adding to his stress. We want to shut up and deal with it. That means that you’re allowing his job to dictate how you are in your relationship and that’s definitely not how it should go. That’s very hard to learn and it took me a long time.
Caroline: It’s hard to learn and it’s also hard to figure out. You decide that you’re not going to just let things go because then it will grow inside of you and that’s not good. But you need to find a way to communicate that’s not going to stress that person out more. There’s a balance there. We’re asking humans to do – Jen’s put it this way before – an inhuman job. And the job isn’t just the physical aspects but the mental and emotional ability to take on that job, and then come home to your family and separate that. You are still the person you are so you can’t completely separate it because it affects you. That needs to be acknowledged.
Cherilyn: He’s always been pretty good about the separation. I’m glad that nowadays he lets me in. It’s less of a separation and more of a screen. I can still kind of see through it; I get glimpses. Sometimes I get to peek around, but I know that the screen is there for my protection. If I don’t have to hear and see and learn about all the bad things seen and heard and everything, I understand that’s for my protection. I am thankful that he’s allowing me to carry some of it so that when we do talk that I have a better understanding. I have a little more knowledge in order to be more empathetic.
Caroline: These are things we want our younger people to hear and learn now instead of when they’re three divorces deep in their thirties or forties.
Cherilyn: Right? That and the fact that I’m not always the person. I accepted this late, really late, after he went to the Mission Ready Retreat. It finally clicked: I can’t help him the way that he needs to be helped a lot of the time. I don’t have the experience that he does so I can’t empathize with all that he’s gone through. Now, I don’t care who he talks to, just that he talks to somebody. Whatever he has to do to get back on his feet again, it doesn’t have to be me; I just want to see him better.
Spouses are really big on that. “I want to be his person. I want to be his support.” That is not healthy.
Caroline: It puts too much pressure on both people. It puts pressure on the person saying it because they can’t handle all that weight and they don’t need all that weight. Then it puts pressure on the other person because what if they need help from someone who’s going to do a better job? It does not speak anything to your relationship. It just means they need a different kind of support. It’s such an important lesson.
Cherilyn, is there anything else you want to add about first responders and their humanness?
Cherilyn: I guess just try to have empathy and understanding. When you see something on the news, don’t jump to conclusions. It’s very easy to split and divide. Keep open mindedness that we are all human. Don’t give into the knee jerk reactions. That’s my hope for people.
Caroline: The world would be a better place if we didn’t use those knee jerk reactions and jump to judgments like the world does so well.
Cherilyn: And loves to do.
Caroline: Yes. Thank you, Cherilyn, for being in the Spotlight this month. Folks, I want to mention that Mission Ready Retreat by First H.E.L.P. that we talked about earlier. It’s completely free for first responders. They pay for travel and everything. It’s not therapy. You don’t have to talk about yourself at all. You’re surrounded by first responders. They give you tools and ways to deal with trauma. As always, if you want to talk more for yourself or a loved one, please reach out! You can Check-in or Contact Us directly. Our coaches are here for you!