Category Archives: chaplain

Thoughts on a death notification

I’m writing about my first time doing a “death notification”. I will be withholding details as not to betray the confidence of those involved.

It was a normal morning on patrol, maybe too normal. Then a “possible dead body” call came in. The officer I was with asked “You wanna go?” It was out of out beat, but we asked. So we got clearance and made our way to the address.

So we run code all the way there. (I interrupt this blog for a commercial break.) GO RIGHT FOR SIRENS AND LIGHTS. Get OUT of the way. Sure, when we are blaring through the intersection, it makes you wait for an extra 10 seconds. But I think you would want everyone out of our way when we are coming to your house. Someone asked me before if it’s exciting to go that fast. Honestly, at first, I thought so. But then I saw how people freak out when you are coming. When you are driving 60 plus in a 35 and people refuse to yield and you have to go in opposing lanes of traffic, “exciting” is not the word I’d use to describe it. If it were up to me, I’d go back and look at the cruiser video and send a lot of people a little present in the mail, AKA a citation. So I was a little annoyed. Someone here is dying and we might be the difference between life and death. So move over. (Now back to my regular scheduled blogging.)

When we got there, the medics were trying their best to save the individual. But as most of you know, there comes a time when they have to stop. And that moment is heartbreaking, not just to the family, but to them. No matter how much air they pumped into those lungs, they were never going to breathe again. They informed me, and I began to advise the family that their loved one was dead. The family did not understand this (and usually will not, and that’s perfectly understandable), and it was heartbreaking. But they dealt calmly with the family and let me console and explain what was happening.

I’ve you have never been at this kind of scene, you have no idea just how much pain and emotion is expressed. And since people all express grief differently, you never truly know what to expect. You never can really prepare yourself for the most basic of life’s emotions, grief over a hard loss. I did my best to console the family. I did my best to explain why EMS had to stop. I did my best to explain why they could not go into the room with the body, still warm. But it’s hard. It’s hard to look at a spouse, with tears in their eyes (while fighting back your own) and state you can not let them in the room until it has been cleared by the Coroner’s office.

When the investigator from the Coroner’s office arrived, it was a relief, because I advised that soon we could let them into the room. To see a spouse lay in the floor next to their loved one, and put their arm around them and weep is a sight that could make almost anyone cry. I also must admit that I had to get some “fresh air” to avoid betraying my cool exterior.

After the dust settled and we left 3 hours later, and since then, I’ve had some time to think about the events of today. Here are a few tips in case you find yourself in that situation.

1. If you are a responder (Police, Fire, EMS, etc), you owe it to yourself to be prepared. Those people will need you. You can’t fail them. There are lots of articles on the internet so find them. If your state offers training, take it (For all you Ohioans, OPOTA offers it).

Links:
Death Notification:The toughest job in Law Enforcement
Death notification: Breaking the bad news

2. Be prepared. If you know in advance it’s a possibility, do what you need to do. Pray, listen to a song, have silence, whatever you need.

3. Understand that since everyone reacts in different ways, some may scream, some may deny, some may get violet. Remember, it’s NOT about you.
Links:
The 5 stages of grief
Grief – everyone’s response is different

4. Not only should you have someone do it with you, but have someone to talk to afterwards (Chaplain, pastor, etc).

A notification will most likely be draining, physically and emotionally. SO take a few minutes for you both before and after.

My new position – Chaplain

It’s official…I’m now a Chaplain for the Huber Heights Police Division!

I’ll be getting a call to come in and get fitted for my uniform and get my ID card in the next week or so. It is a “volunteer position”, and will require about 20 hours per month (or so). I want to say specifically: It will not diminish my dedication to all officers and firefighters in Ohio and surrounding states. If anything, it will augment what I do by way of experience, training, and more insight into the lives of responders, professionally and personally.

I will keep you updated as things continue to happen.

Chaplain: Murder on Oak Ridge Dr.

Normally I do not re-post articles, but I send this out to all my LEO and fire friends. Know when to ask for help and ASK. This article comes from Officer.com, so it is written for the police perspective. But trauma can happen to any of us. When it does, do you know what to do or who to talk to?


Chaplain: Murder on Oak Ridge Dr.
by Fr. John Harth
Updated: March 25, 2011

She was elderly and lived alone. There were no signs of forced entry; it is presumed that she knew her killer.

The arriving officer called in detectives. As the hour grew later, he asked if the Lieutenant was going to call a chaplain. The “ell tee” allowed as how there was no need, as no family was local. The officer replied, “What about me?”

This has been a rare situation over 23 years of chaplaincy: an on-scene officer requesting a chaplain through someone else. Some consider asking for help in any form a sign of weakness. Time has shown that those who suppress their feelings eventually have them come back to haunt them. It is not unusual for another incident to trigger thoughts of a scene or case from days gone by that the individual thought long gone, but which has lingered in their memory.

Larger departments and agencies have come around to offering employee assistance programs, some of which offer peer support, others assisting in getting the counseling some folks need to work through critical incidents. Smaller towns may benefit from considering ways to less officially offer their personnel a listening ear.

The officer I mentioned earlier got word to me the next day. We visited the scene. He described what happened and what was going through his mind. He didn’t need counseling; he just wanted someone to talk with. His career wasn’t damaged, he made promotions; he moved up the ladder. He knew when to ask for help.

Many of us try to go it alone. We think we can manage our lives on our own, that we don’t need anyone else, that others will think less of us if we seek assistance with our troubles. More often than not, sometime, some way, burying stressors comes back to bite us when, and in places, we don’t want to be bit.

When citizens need help, they call a cop. When cops need help, they can call a chaplain. Yours wouldn’t mind hearing from you.


September 11th – 10 years later.

There are numerous thoughts swirling through my mind as I write this. It’s been ten years since the day. I was working at Lexis-Nexis at the time. We watched it all from our training room. Horror, fear, panic, sadness, and grief unexplainable…all at once. That evening I spent time with a wonderful woman who would later become my sweet wife.

People I call friends today would go to Ground Zero and help with the search and clean up. Ohio Task Force One went on their first mission. Among my friends, Chief Scott Hall was there. I knew none of those fine heroes then, but I have the privilege of knowing some of them today.

I remember being moved to tears by other pictures, at the time not even knowing why. People cheering and saluting the NYPD and FDNY as they drove by. The image of the exhausted firefighter surrounded by angels (and the snow version that winter). Those and so many others moved me. In 2008, I would figure out why.

In 2008, during one of the moments of silence, there was one for the last firefighter found alive. At that moment, a chain of events occurred that changed my life, and continues to do so even to this day. During that moment, a gratitude for our law enforcement and fire crews really “came to life” so to speak. That evening I called the Huber Heights Police and asked the dispatcher if she could let the officers and fire fighters know my appreciation for them. I was informed that they had not had that request in over 14 years. So that’s when I decided that I would reach as many as I could and let them know they are cared about. Since then I’ve talked (in person and via email) to officer sand firefighters from all over the country.

Today I read the story of Father Mychal Judge, the Chaplain of the New York Fire Department. He actually entered the towers that morning. Why? Because his guys were in there. And when commanders gave orders to evacuate the building, he refused to abandon the hundreds of firefighters still trapped inside saying, “My work here is not finished.”

“Fidelis Ad Mortem” – “Faithful Unto Death”. That’s what he was. Faithful unto death. One day I will get that badge with the word “Chaplain” on it. That’s where I’m headed. And when I do, I hope to be as faithful to “my guys” as he was to his. Fidelis Ad Mortem.

Please distribute to all Police, Paramedic and Fire personnel – Merry Christmas

First, I want to say thank you to all the Chiefs, Sheriffs and administrators who have made it possible for me to distribute this message.

This marks the second Christmas season that I have sent out emails. In 2008, I decided that no Police Officer, Paramedic, or Fire Fighter will ever serve, protect and defend through a holiday and not know that they are appreciated by someone. As I reflect on the experiences that have come from doing this, I must say that my life is fuller because of it. For those of you who I have met personally, rode in a car with, and celebrated birthdays with, it’s been some really good times. And as I continue my mission to make sure you feel appreciated, I look forward to meeting and spending time with more of you.

I wish you and your families a Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday Season. I know most of you will be working during the holidays. Whether you are dispatching, in a patrol car, or a fire truck, you will spend part of the holidays away from your family. A lot of people do not understand that kind of sacrifice and dedication. You are out there keeping us safe so we can have a happy holiday season with our families. You are out in the cold, the rain, snow, driving to work while most people are sleeping in, or celebrating with family and friends.

I want to say, THANK YOU. Words can not express the gratitude that I have. But not just myself. Don’t forget that there are lots of other people who feel that way. You just may not hear it. I think that is unfortunate that you do not hear it more often than you do, but thank you. Thank you for putting on a uniform everyday. Thank you for being ready to answer a call, even on Christmas. Thank you for checking those hoses, shining those trucks or checking that light bar, and strapping on your duty belt. Those mundane tasks that you do everyday, now on one of the most important holidays of the year. Thank you. As my family sits down to our dinner, or open our gifts, know that you will be thought of at that time, and your sacrifices honored. Please express my appreciation for you to your families.

And, as I’ve noted before, the holidays can be a time of sadness, frustration or depression. It can be hard to balance out what you have to deal with and still know that there are great people in society as well. If you find yourself struggling in this holiday season, don’t hesitate to reach out for assistance. Your departments may have Employee Assistance Care, Chaplains, Chiefs, any other Supervisor, clergy and/or even friends for guidance and assistance should you need it. I’ll make myself available to help you in any way that I can. Call us, grab us after roll call, send an email. Reach out if you need to.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. I’ve said it before and will say it again, you all are heroes. I don’t know how often you hear it, but I’m certain it’s not nearly enough.

Please distribute to all Police, Paramedic and Fire personnel – Happy Thanksgiving

Thank you again for allowing me the opportunity to speak with you.

Thanksgiving 2010 will soon be here. Another year is soon coming to a close. I just want to talk a little about adversity. I can almost hear you ask, “Why would we hear about adversity on Thanksgiving?” For starters, if you’re reading this note, you have survived. People and circumstances threw their best at you and you came out on top. You might have received some bumps and bruises along the way, but your here. And you get to fight another day. That bullet meant for you missed its target. That building should have collapsed but didn’t. All the things that could have gone wrong didn’t. Adversity evokes dormant potential within us that could not be awakened otherwise. And if this statement is true for anyone, it’s true for you. Rushing INTO burning buildings. Maintaining composure to return fire when fired upon. Having to talk to relatives after a horrible accident. I’m amazed not only by what you do on a regular basis, but the strength, composure and dedication with which you do it.

There are battles you fight in your individual lives that might make the job pale in comparison. Sometimes “off-duty” things can be just as hard (or harder) to deal with. Departments and communities coming together after a tornado. One officer in my area is fighting cancer, but has been surrounded with love and support from everyone.

It’s been said that no man is an island. Sometimes we forget the impact that our lives have on others. During the holiday season, it can be easy to be discouraged. But every one of us has touched lives that we may never know about. You HAVE made a difference for people.

As I end this note, I’d like to encourage you: Take time to see the difference you have made. Life, with all its ups and downs, is something to be enjoyed and appreciated. And if you have a rough time, your departments may have Employee Assistance Care, Chaplains, Chiefs, supervisors, clergy and/or even friends for guidance and assistance should you need it. I’ll make myself available to help you in any way that I can.

I’ve said it in every email, and every chance I get. I’ve said it to the chiefs and administrators when I contact them. I’ve said it to you on the streets and stores. You all are heroes. I don’t know how often you hear it, but I’m certain it’s not nearly enough.

Please distribute to all Police, Paramedic and Fire personnel – Merry Christmas

Hello and thank you for allowing me the opportunity to communicate with you again.

I want to wish each of you and your families a Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday Season. It’s hard to believe that 2009 is almost over. But as we go into the holidays, it’s easy to get caught up in the “hustle and bustle” of the season and forget the things that are important. So I want to take the time and acknowledge those of you in our communities who give of yourselves to keep us safe this season. Most of you will be spending time away from your families during the holidays to keep us safe and secure this season. So I want to say a big THANK YOU. Your sacrifices do not go unnoticed.

It’s my hope and prayer that each of you have a great holidays and a safe and happy 2010. I also hope and pray that the violence tword you stops and you feel the support and gratitude of your communities. Although there are real dangers and evil to face in the next year there is good out there. Although it may be silent at times, it is out there, and it looks to you for help, and lends you support that it can.

Like I mentioned last year, the holidays can be a time of joy and happiness. But it can also be a time of sadness, frustration anxiety, or depression. If you find yourself struggling in during the holidays, don’t hesitate to reach out talk to people. Your departments may have Employee Assistance Care, Chaplains, Chiefs, any other Supervisor, clergy and/or even friends for guidance and assistance should you need it. And you can feel free to contact me.

I also want to say thanks to all of you that I have had the privilege to spend time with in 2009. From the officers from various agencies that I got to ride with this year, to the men and women of the Huber Heights Police Division and the Citizens Police Academy, to those of you I have met in hospitals or on street corners, or through email or Facebook. All of you have shared part of your life with me and I’ll be forever grateful.

I’ve said it before and will say it again, you all are heroes. I don’t know how often you hear it, but I’m certain it’s not nearly enough.