Blue lights frame the Hardy family home nestled in a secluded subdivision between Decatur and Boyd.
A large, metal awareness ribbon sits in the front yard.
Inside, the lights of a tree adorned with blue ribbon and police-themed ornaments twinkle through a front window.
All are ways in which Ashlee and twin daughters Cora and Caitlyn – now age 9 – honor the memory of their husband and father during the holidays.
“Some people have blue lights because they like blue lights or because they are Decatur Eagles fans,” widow Ashlee Cate Hardy said. “We have blue lights because we honor Wes.”
Dayle Weston ‘Wes’ Hardy, a Plano police officer, was killed July 7, 2007, when his police motorcycle collided with a vehicle as he attempted to make a traffic stop.
He was 31.
Among many loving family members, the law enforcement officer of 12 years left behind his wife of seven years and 3-year-old twin daughters, who are now third graders at Boyd, where both Wes and Ashlee attended school. He graduated in 1993, she in 1995.
Although the girls were too young to remember much about their dad, his memory lives on in special traditions.
Both daughters have a Daddy book filled with pictures of their father, captioned with words they chose.
“When I was making these, they sat at the computer and told me what to write under each photo,” Ashlee said.
They each also have a quilt made with shirts that belonged to their dads as well as a stuffed bear made out of his police uniform.
On the wall of the hallway that connects their bedrooms is a shrine of photos and gifts from various police departments and supporting organizations sent to the family after Wes’s death.
Around the holidays, the girls get to choose an ornament – or three – to add to the tree that honors their father.
However, their biggest homage to his memory is their involvement in the Metroplex chapter of Concerns Of Police Survivors.
The non-profit organization helps the families of fallen police officers “rebuild their shattered lives.”
“It started small, but it’s continued to grow, unfortunately, because the number of deaths that we have – on average 130-plus officers a year killed in the line of duty across the United States,” Ashlee said.
From helping benefactors appropriately file the needed paperwork for benefits to serving as a support system when the killer of an officer goes to trial or becomes eligible for parole, the organization can step in to help.
“When you are grieving and you just lost your husband or your son or your daughter, you don’t know what you should do,” Ashlee said. “You don’t have any idea. COPS can help. When killers come up for parole, COPS sends out notifications, ‘So-and-so’s killer is up for parole.’ And we all write letters to make sure the killer is denied parole.”
Simply stated, the network of survivors becomes a support system.
“You have a support system within your own immediate family, but they can’t relate to you in a way that members of COPS can,” she said. “They care and they love you, but they just don’t get it. COPS is the best family that you never wanted to meet.”
Perhaps the greatest benefit are the various retreats offered for spouses, children, adult children, parents, siblings and even affected co-workers – a recent addition Hardy believes was much-needed.
“It probably wasn’t until the last year or so that Wes’s co-workers actually approached me and talked to me,” she said. “They don’t know what to say, and they feel awkward and uncomfortable. That’s where COPS comes in, helping them understand you don’t have to say anything at all, but good God don’t treat them like they have leprosy!
“Really, saying nothing at all is more hurtful than saying the wrong thing.”
Ashlee admits it took a few years for her to take up the helping hand offered to her by the program, but when she decided to, it became the best decision she ever made.
“I think I was in denial,” she said. “But after Teresa Nava, another survivor whose husband, Henry ‘Hank’ Nava, of the Fort Worth Police Department was killed in 2005, nudged me for three years, I went to give it a try. Now I wouldn’t miss the spouses retreat or Kids Camps with the girls.
“Spouses (retreat) is my weekend to be with everybody else that’s just like me. It’s my Mommy Weekend – and I get to be able to laugh and cry and yell and scream, whatever I need to do. We’ve gone all year long of raising the kids by ourselves, and doing the household chores, and all the life things that you normally would be able to do with your spouse who is no longer here. This is the recharge of our batteries.”
Kids Camp offers the same outlet for her daughters. In addition to outdoor activities and counseling sessions, the girls are able to make friends who share their situation.
“They make friends from California and New Jersey, people they would’ve never met before, and they feel normal there because everybody there has lost either a mom or dad,” Ashlee said.
The retreats are offered on a national level to all chapters of COPS. In addition, the Metroplex COPS chapter – which includes 38 counties from as far west as Taylor County up to Red River and down to central Texas – offers local functions, including a Christmas party, a picnic in the summer and dinners and gatherings planned at random.
Ashlee serves as treasurer for the local chapter.
“I spent the first two or three years trying to figure out who I was, because I had been Wes’s wife and Cora and Caitlyn’s mom,” she said. “But through my involvement with COPS, I learned I love giving back. I get enjoyment out of helping others realize that there are days that are going to be awful and you’re going to miss your spouse, but at the same time you still have to go on.
“I can be hope that life does go on,” she continued. “I’m not saying it doesn’t suck. I’m not saying it’s not awful. But life does go on. It won’t always be so sad. It won’t always feel like a downhill spiral.”
The lights on the family’s home, the tree by the front window and the blue ribbon that stands tall in the front yard are all lit in honor of Wes Hardy.
But it’s his wife and daughters who shine brightest in his honor as symbols of hope.
“The number of lights we have around our house doesn’t come near to the number of officers who have been killed in the line of duty,” Ashlee said. “The number of lights we have on our house doesn’t even come close to how many thousands of officers have lost their lives or who will lose their lives, because unfortunately Wes won’t be the last
“But six years ago when Wes died, someone was there for me. I want to be that person for whoever finds theirselves in that situation. COPS lets us do that, and at the same time, we honor Wes.”