Let us go forth in peace.
Those final words from the Rev. Bryan Taffe, pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Lowry in western Minnesota, concluded a Saturday morning funeral service for Pope County Deputy Josh Owen, shot and killed April 15 while responding to a call of domestic violence. Taffe’s message and final blessing comforted me as I watched TV coverage of the deputy’s funeral some 180 miles northwest of Faribault in Glenwood.
I didn’t know the law enforcement officer killed on his 44th birthday. But, collectively, as a state, we knew Josh. He was described by speakers as hardworking, a common sense individual, calm under pressure, a family man… The kind of guy you would want having your back, whether on the battlefields of Iraq or in rural Pope County, Minnesota.
“ALWAYS PICK JOSH”
Lt. Col. John Anderson of the Minnesota National Guard served as Josh’s platoon leader during a 22-month deployment, including 16 months in Iraq. He shared of his soldier’s selfless heroism. Anderson learned early on to “always pick Josh.” He could count on him to handle dangerous situations, including the rescue of a severely-injured soldier in what he described as “a killing zone.”
An emotional Pope County Chief Deputy Nathan Brecht echoed Anderson’s theme of relying on and trusting that Josh could handle anything. His physical bulk proved invaluable. Yet, he held a tender side, showing compassion to a suicidal man and encouragement to a young woman in the throes of drug addiction.
As I listened to Anderson, Brecht and his cousin by marriage, Josh Palmateer, a clear picture began to emerge of Josh Owen. For me that was important, to begin to understand the man behind the badge, the man behind the headlines. The husband of Shannon, father to 10-year-old Rylan, friend, co-worker, son, cousin…protector.
Josh had a distinct laugh, pulled pranks with his fellow soldiers, had an insatiable thirst for Mountain Dew, loved lifting weights, hated doing paperwork. His motto: “Don’t start sh*t you can’t finish.”
I embraced Chief Deputy Brecht’s poetically descriptive image. When he sees a crack of lightning and hears a roll of thunder, he will think of Josh. Campfires and fishing and drinking an IPA will also remind him of the guy he could count on.
LOVE & GRATITUDE
At times, I wondered if the grieving deputy would make it through his remembrances of Josh. But he did, and with an important message. He vowed to tell his co-workers that he appreciates and loves them. Brecht regrets not doing that with Josh. He thanked the community for its outpouring of support, sharing that “every act of kindness sustains us.” And he referenced one of my favorite bible verses, Romans 8:28: All things work together for good to those who love God… Admittedly, Brecht said finding the good in Josh’s tragic death is not easy. But he said he’s gotten to know the family better and understands the importance of expressing love, aloud, to others. Like Brecht, I firmly believe that something good comes in every challenge, although it can take awhile to see that. For me, the good has often emerged in empathy, compassion and, yes, reaching out with kindness.
More scripture was quoted at the funeral held in the Minnewaska Area High School gymnasium packed with mourners, including hundreds of law enforcement officers. Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. By the time Josh Palmateer quoted Joshua 1:9, I was not surprised. That is my Confirmation verse, words that embolden me to trust.
BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS
As the memorial service closed with a message by the Lutheran pastor, I felt joined in grief to the 4,000-plus mourners in that rural high school gymnasium. I felt connected and comforted. As a Christian, I appreciated the clergy’s hopeful message of eternal life. I appreciated, too, his reference to The Beatitudes, recorded in Matthew 5. Most of us know them: Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted…Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God… But Rev. Taffe explained the blessed part in a way that I’d not previously grasped. “You may not be feeling blessed,” he told the crowd. He then went on to explain that being blessed in grief “means God is showing favor on you…in deep sadness you are in God’s hands more than any other time.” That resonated with me, deep within my soul.
When the funeral service and TV coverage ended simultaneously at noon, I felt emotionally drained. But I also felt better for having learned about Josh Owen—the deputy and the man—and better for having heard inspirational messages. Calls to express love, to realize that we can unite collectively, give me hope.
Let us go forth in peace.
FYI: Click here to read Josh Owen’s obituary and how you can support the family via The Josh Owen Memorial Fund.
© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling