Family, they say, isn’t just about who you’re born with, but who you choose to walk through life with. Sometimes, our chosen family, can be just as important as our blood family.

There’s no telling what to expect when life throws its harshest curveballs, but we’re not meant to weather those storms alone. As the world has evolved and become (hopefully) a more understanding place, we’ve come to accept so many of us aren’t living life behind a white picket fence.

So many of us don’t have the luxury of coming from two-parent homes. We may have grown up in tumultuous, divided environments and yes, there’s a whole mess of reasons that may be, but the reason doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we all have family to lean on, and thankfully family can come from all kinds of places.

For 8-year-old Vanessa Vega, whose beloved father, Jose Gilbert “Gil” Vega, was a police officer killed in the line of duty…family came wearing badges in uniform.

Amidst the Vega family’s grief of their beloved husband and father’s death, while his Palm Springs PD colleagues could never fill his shoes, they demonstrated the profound importance of chosen family.

After Serving the Force for 37 Years, One Cop Made the Ultimate Sacrifice

Just two months before he was scheduled to retire, Palm Springs police officer, Jose Gilbert Vega was tragically shot and killed in the line of duty.

Vega, 63, was responding to a domestic disturbance call, when he and his partner Officer Lesley Zerebny, 27, were fatally shot by a local gang member in a heinous and unexpected act of open fire.

If their sacrifices were not heartbreaking enough, Vega and Zerebny both left devastated families behind. Officer Zerebny, who served on the force for nearly 2 years, had just returned from maternity leave. Her tragic death meant Officer Lesley Zerebny would never live to see her four-month old daughter grow up.

Before his end of watch, Vega served for 37 years on the police force. Risking his life, day in and day out to not only protect his community, but his devoted wife and their eight children.

Officer Vega’s youngest daughter, Vanessa Vega, 8, spoke at the memorial service honoring her late father and Lesley Zerebny. Vanessa stood at the podium and gave a speech thanking her dad for all he did. “Everything I learned, I learned from him,” Vanessa said, “Just because we can’t see him doesn’t mean he can’t see us.”

Why 13 Police Officers Showed Up at a Little Girl’s Home

Officer Vega’s memorial page on the Palm Springs Police Department website was flooded with beautiful comments and reflections, following the tragic news.

“The true measure of a hero is when an Officer lays down their life with the knowledge that those they save… will never know,” one colleague wrote, “May God grant peace and comfort to those left behind.”

Hundreds of former colleagues, friends, and family shared their condolences, thoughts and prayers on the website. But for Officer Vega’s chosen family on the force — they knew they had to show their respect for their fallen commanding officer, in a more profound way.

When little Vanessa Vega opened the front door to go to school, over 13 police officers greeted her, with open arms…literally.

In a beautiful tribute to her late father, the officer’s lined up outside Vanessa Vega’s California home on her first day back to fourth grade since her father’s death. They hugged her as she came out of the house carrying her backpack and walked with her all the way to her classroom.

Vanessa, Vega’s youngest daughter, chatted with them as they walked to school, then smiled as she posed with the officers in her classroom.

How Fallen Cop’s Colleagues Became an 8-Year-Old’s Extended Family

police officers and a little girl standing in a classroom

Sometimes, when we watch loved ones or even close acquaintances, go through difficult trials in life, it’s easy to think we don’t have the power to change their situation or the right words to ease their pain.

We get scared we may say the wrong thing, so we don’t say anything. Or maybe we don’t want to be pushy. We think maybe they want to be left alone, and say to ourselves, “They know I’m here, they’ll come to me when they’re ready.”

But grieving comes in all different shapes and sizes. Yes, it is tricky to navigate the right thing to say and the right time to say it, but the truth is, we probably (definitely) will fumble our words and won’t get it right. And guess what? That’s ok.

When we’re supporting our loved ones through hard times, our job isn’t to try and take all the pain away. Our job is just to let them know we’re here, with them, in it. At the end of the day, no one wants to feel completely alone (even the people who think they do — especially those people). It’s the golden rule of “do unto others as you would have done unto you.”

Most of the time when we’re struggling through life, we don’t need someone trying to fix the situation or even fix us. We just want that unconditional love that reminds us, even though the night may be dark and the storm may be raging outside our front door, we don’t have to wait it out alone.

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