All things eventually come to an end. High school, college, a concert you attend, and the list goes on.
But it’s hard to wrap your mind around the end to a human life, regardless of the circumstance.
Retired NYPD officer Brian Leyden lost his 26-year old son, to stage IV cancer.
That wasn’t the way he expected his time to end with David, especially when David had so much left ahead of him.
After twenty years spent on what Leyden calls “front row seats to the greatest show on earth”, Brian has seen traumatic things during his career with the NYPD that many will never experience in a lifetime.
He has been no stranger to witnessing sickness, violence or even death.
“My career did prepare me a little bit in the sense that, you know what you’re seeing. You know what to expect and you have to be truthful with yourself when it comes to witnessing something like cancer slowly taking someone’s life,” Leyden says.
“You can’t sugar coat anything. You just can’t deny statistics or the results of some of the treatments. As much as you want to spin things as best as you can, sometimes all you can do is be there to comfort someone.”
Brian grew up in Woodside, Queens.
“It was the border of Woodside and Astoria. Definitely a very diverse community,” Leyden explains.
His father was a retired detective.
“I was hired in 1994. I went in when I was 21 and got out at 41. 20 years was enough,” Leyden says.
And it didn’t take long for Leyden to see just how serious the job would get.
“There was one time while on patrol, I ended up getting stuck at a light. A woman came out screaming from a bodega that a teenager had just got his throat cut open,” Leyden says with a serious tone.
When Leyden recalls the story, his eyes seem to take him back to that day. He recounts the way the blood was so dark that it appeared black. He recounts the accordion layer of napkins that seemed to not stop the bleeding whatsoever. He recounts the way the teen gasped for air and collapsed on top of the ice cream freezer in front of the cash register.
“In the moment, the stuff can’t impact you. I think it’s a collective group of memories that eventually impact you in time. I can still describe to you things in vivid detail, so these instances really do stick with you,” Leyden continues.
“This is what I signed up for. This is what I took an ode for. To put myself in these situations or be there when these situations arise.”
When Leyden is asked how a near-death experience were to differ in his personal life, such as with his son David, he takes a beat before responding.
“I think it is different for everybody. It’s the nature of the relationship. It’s where you’re at in life. There are a lot of different factors,” he says.
His gaze focuses on a photo hung on the wall next to him of David.
“For me personally, I try to repress the outward emotion. And I would rather on my own morn it privately.”
Brian recounts the times he drove David to chemo sessions, doctor’s appointments, and emergency room visits during his one year battle with cancer.
“When people call 911, it’s the worst part of their life in that moment. They’re not calling to wish you a happy birthday. They’re calling because the sky is falling in their life. Their world is upside down,” Brian explains.
For twenty years, on countless nights, Brian continued to show up to the sky falling for thousands of people throughout Manhattan. Including in his own home.
“Once you make peace with the reality, you will no longer fight what you’re seeing. It doesn’t make any of it easy, but then you are no longer trying to fight something you can’t control. If you can’t control it, you have to make some sort of peace with it,” he says.
When asked if he would choose to do his career all over again if given the chance, Leyden does not hesitate.
“In a heartbeat.”
In a confident voice he continues. “There was nothing hard about doing the job if you know right from wrong. It was very easy in the moral sense. It’s a young man’s job physically but an old man’s job mentally. I did the best I could during my career. I did the best I could for David. You just do the best you can, and always continue to grow from these situations.”