Love is Stronger than Death

The killing of police officer Jonathan Diller demonstrates the power of evil in this world. But there is something more powerful still.

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Holy Saturday was different for me this year. It was more real. 

Most of the country heard and followed the details surrounding the death of New York City police officer Jonathan Diller. During a traffic stop, Officer Jonathan Diller was shot by Guy Rivera. Diller was struck in the stomach below his bullet-proof vest. After he was shot, he could be heard yelling “I’m hit, I’m hit, I’m hit,” as he wrestled the gun away from the shooter.

Rivera and the driver, Lindsay Jones, had refused to roll down their windows and show their hands. Rivera kept his hands inside of his sweatshirt pocket. After several requests were made, sources say that Jones and Rivera began to struggle with one another inside of the vehicle. Diller approached the car and commanded Rivera to take his hands out of his pocket, and that is when he opened fire.

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The man who killed this young officer had been arrested more than 20 times; nine of those arrests were felonies. Less than a year before this fatal shooting he was arrested on a gun charge. Time and time again he was released from jail and simply sent back into society.

My younger brother, also a New York City police officer, shared the story with me before it even hit the news. I learned that Diller was from Massapequa, where I live with my wife and two sons. He was to be buried at my parish, St. Rose of Lima. Officer Diller was a year younger than me. His wife, Stephaine, attended the same high school that I did; her brother and I graduated together. Diller’s son Ryan is just four months younger than my youngest son. 

On Holy Saturday, my wife, children and I drove a few minutes down the road to catch a glimpse of the funeral procession and show our respect. We waited on the breezy street as we watched hundreds of motorcycle police officers lead the hearse containing the body of Diller. I held my one-year-old, Gabriel, in my arms. Frequently my wife Joanna and I looked at one another then stared together at our boys. As the hearse drove by we prayed a Hail Mary together. 

I was later able to watch the funeral service at home. What made my Holy Saturday different was the speech of Stephanie Diller. Her pain was so real and raw. She was so clearly drained from the suffering she had experienced over the last few days. In the midst of that pain she spoke of the love and sacrifice of her husband.

She spoke of their first date which was a blind one. She spoke of how they became best friends and then later married. Stephanie also referenced the way that Jonathan looked at her on their wedding day in 2019. She never felt more loved. The slain officer’s wife spoke in hope that they would meet again.

Stephanie Diller also talked about her son Ryan. His first word was “Dada,” as it was for my son Gabe. Similar to my wife, Stephanie noted that she would pretend to be jealous and jokingly tell Ryan that he had to say “Mama” not “Dada.” Now, she said, she hopes that Ryan never stops saying “Dada,” because it reminds her just how much Ryan loved his father. “Every time I look at him,” she said, “I see Jonathan.” 

Diller’s wife also said that you always wonder how you could ever love someone more than you do right now. She applied that feeling to when she and Jonathan were dating, when they were married and then when their son was born. Life just kept getting better. Stephanie said that this feeling she experienced proved to her that “love has no limits.” 

When my wife watched the eulogy later she was brought to tears, resulting in hugs from both my young boys. The sadness of Holy Saturday was made vivid this year for my whole family, and we didn’t even have the privilege of knowing Officer Diller or his loved ones. My town on Long Island, and the entire country, was able to catch a glimpse of the experience of Holy Saturday—the darkness of death and the tragedy of a mother having to bury her son. 

Their suffering continues, even after Easter. However, it is only because of Easter that we can move on to each new day in the knowledge that evil does not defeat goodness. That we can truly trust that Jonathan’s life is not over. If the empty tomb is real, then the light does defeat the darkness, even of a slain officer’s death. 

So whatever your suffering looks like, bring it to the empty tomb. Acknowledge it as a deep pain but move with the assurance that Good Friday and Holy Saturday always lead to Easter Sunday.  So whatever your suffering looks like, bring it to the empty tomb. Acknowledge it as a deep pain but move with the assurance that Good Friday and Holy Saturday always lead to Easter Sunday. Tweet This

“Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor 15:54). There is nothing more real than that truth; as Stephanie Diller said, “love has no limits.” 


  • Thomas Griffin

    Thomas Griffin is the chair of the religion department at a Catholic high school on Long Island where he lives with his wife and two sons. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of Empty Tomb Project: The Magazine.

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