Category Archives: death

Journey through Grief Part 2 – Practical ways to help someone in mourning

I was working on a training online for Hospice and in the section “Grief and Bereavement” there were numerous good suggestions. I think most of us have said “I wish I could do something for their family while they are going through this”. It had some ideas and I’ll put some in here of my own.

This is not a complete list, so if you think of something, let me know. While this applies for everyone, I’ll also add in some thoughts for Public Safety deaths as well.

Sometimes in fear of “saying the wrong thing” we say nothing at all. In many ways this is just as harmful (if not more so). Don’t assume they know how you feel. Also do not assume that expressing how much the other person meant to you will make the situation worse. Listen to how they feel and let them do the talking first. Then you can say something that would be helpful.

The below sections are quoted from Practical Things to Say and Do When Someone Dies, Author Penny Halder. (Accessed 9/2/2013)

What to say/Not say

The best advice I ever received when trying to think of something to say when there really wasn’t anything to say was, “Simply say what you are feeling.” Try to put into words the pain and loss you are feeling your self rather than assuming what the other person is feeling. Let the survivor express his thoughts and feelings to you first. This gives him a sense that you are really listening and trying to understand. After you listen you will have a better understanding of how to respond. The following suggestions can be put in your own words.

o What a tragedy this is for you and your family.
o I heard about what happened and just had to come
o I hate it that this had to happen.
o How terribly hard this must be for all of you.
o I feel so bad about all the suffering (Name) had to go through.
o I was just shocked when I heard the news.
o I can’t imagine what you are going through.
o My heart hurts for all of you.
o Tears came to my eyes when I read the obituary.
o I feel just terrible about what happened.
o What an awful loss to our community.
o There’s a big hole now in my life.
o The world will never be the same without (Name).
o (Name) had such a great smile, personality etc. I will really miss him/her.
o I enjoyed working together with (Name). He always made the tasks easier, more fun etc.
o (Name) had such a wonderful way of making everyone he met feel special.
o I’m going to miss (Name) so much.
o I remember when…(happy memory here)

What can I do?

(Blogger’sNote)When people experience grief and loss, the shock and emotions they experience will make it more difficult to do normal tasks. So what they may need is someone who can perform the normal mundane tasks for them. First, before doing, ASK. The items below are good ideas, but they may not be needed. Ask what they need, and be PRACTICAL. This list is broken down in the stages of American funeral process.

o Washing the cars inside and out.
o Answering the phone.
o Polishing shoes
o Keeping track of children, driving them to lessons etc.
o Gathering information, (flight plans etc.)
o Picking up relatives from the airport
o Grocery shopping or other errands
o Caring for pets
o Bringing over snacks and/or a meal
o Staying at the home to receive gifts of food and/or flowers, recording who they are from

Additionally, these items may help.
o Offer to be their chauffeur.
o See if there are phone calls you can make for them. (This might be more suited for close friends)
o Coordinate the meals. A free service that is great is



o Rather than sending cut flowers to the funeral home, why not send a plant that can be replanted outside to your friends’ home?
o Choose a picture frame, figurine or piece of jewelry in memory of the loved one to give to your friend.
o Prisms that make rainbows throughout the room when the sun shines make a lasting gift of hope and beauty.
o Monetary gifts made to the designated memorial funds are greatly appreciated.
o Make up “quiet bags” for the young children. At visitations kids don’t have much to do. They don’t enjoy talking with relatives. You will be a hero to them and their parents if you provide a little relief. Buy a few inexpensive quiet toys for them to play with during those long hours. (Pad of paper and pencil, a small stuffed animal to hold for comfort, magnetic games or quiet contained puzzles, white boards.
o Make a memory book of blank pages that friends and family can fill in for a valued keep-sake. Ask people you see at visitation or at the luncheon afterwards to write their thoughts and memories. Make a pretty cover for it or use a fun photograph.
o Make a photo album of photos of you and your friend. Everyone appreciates photos of their loved ones.


o Offer to “house sit” during the visitation hours or the funeral where you can answer the phone and door. Keep good messages.
o Offer to coordinate the luncheon.
o Offer to clean up after the luncheon.
o Offer to sit with small children during the funeral at the funeral.
o Attend the visitation and offer a warm handshake or a hug.
o Bring a note with special memories and/or attributes of the person who died.
o Don’t be afraid to show your own tears. They show the survivors that you care too. Their loved one did not live in vain.
o When you help out by taking food, be sure to put your name and phone number on the container. Better yet, send it in a disposable container. (When preparing food, it would be especially thoughtful to consider any of the survivors who may be on a special diet). Also when you prepare food, choose something that will be especially comforting to eat like a hot noodle or potato dish.
o Offer to return food containers to their owners after the luncheon.
o Offer to bring the paper and plastic products for the luncheon after the funeral.
o Offer to bring more chairs if needed.


When someone dies, the mourners are often confused and hurt. They are experiencing a variety of feelings which make them feel especially vulnerable. It is best to not offer any explanations about the death, assume how they are feeling or even encourage them to look on the bright side. Let them take the lead with these thoughts. What they want most is to be accepted and given the right to express their thoughts and concerns without judgment. In time mourners can usually see past insensitive remarks to the heart behind the words. If you have said any of the following in the past, forgive yourself, knowing that you did the best you could with the knowledge you had at the time. Your intentions came from a heart full of love. That’s what really counts. Vow to never say them again.

o It must have been his time. (most survivors are not ready to hear this yet-they are still wanting the person to be alive and with them)
o She lived a good life. (this does not give the survivor the room to have different feelings)
o It must have been God’s will. (This comment can cause anger toward God, pointing the blame and causing the survivor to feel guilty for being angry at a loving God.)
o If he wouldn’t have been out that late, he would be alive right now. (This comment is blaming the victim and not bringing comfort to the survivors.)
o She wouldn’t want you to be so sad. (People hurt when someone dies because they loved him/her. It’s natural and healthy to feel sad. None of us like to be told what or what not to feel.)
o When a child dies please don’t say, “You’re young, you can have more children.” (This comment minimizes the death. No child can ever take the place of another.)
o I know just how you feel, my dog died last month. (Most parents will in no way relate to that.)
o At least you have other children. (Again, there’s a hole that no child can replace.)
o It’s probably for the best. (A survivor is so overwhelmed with feelings of grief, that his comment is usually misunderstood.)
o God must have wanted a baby angel. (Parents cannot understand how God would want their child more than they do)
o I know just how you feel. (Even though you may have had a similar experience, you are not this person. There are multiple factors influencing each individual circumstance and therefore you cannot know how someone else is feeling.)
o Just keep looking for the positives. (A griever usually cannot be at this point in his mourning for many weeks following the death.)
o You just sit there and let me take care of everything. (Making decisions is helpful in the recovery process of grief-let survivors make as many as they can.) NOTE: While giving someone valium may sound like a good idea at the time, the drug or one like it can dull feelings that will still need to be dealt with eventually. It is important to a person’s well being that they are active participants with as sharp a mind as possible.

o Look at how peacefully she is sleeping. (Children take most things literally and may have problems sleeping because they believe that they may die in their sleep.)
o You must take care of your mom/dad now. (This is too much pressure on a child-they need to be themselves and mourn in their own way. No one else can take the place of another. A family needs to work together repairing the broken circle. In healthy grief, families need each other and support one another.
o No, you shouldn’t see (Name). It’s better to remember them the way they were. (This may be true for some children, but for others they need to see for themselves that the person is really dead otherwise they may continually look for them to come home.
o In the case of suicide, NEVER impose your beliefs or even suggest where their loved ones’ soul has gone even if you share the same faith. Suicide is cruel. Support your friend as if he has a broken limb. Don’t offer any opinions.

Quoted sections from Practical Things to Say and Do When Someone Dies, Author Penny Halder. (Accessed 9/2/2013)

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).

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.
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.

Confession of a new Chaplain

A friend of mine posted a story on Facebook, and I just had to track down some information on the story. It is one of the most touching stories I have read in a long time.

My friend is a widow. Her husband was an officer who was killed in the line of duty. I must admit, I’ve seen the grief of family who have lost a spouse, but it has been “expected” to some degree. But a sudden loss, where someone has taken from you the opportunity to say goodbye, I can not even begin to imagine how that feels.

As a new Chaplain, some of my duties are easy to understand and fun to do. I use “duties” lightly, because I enjoy it, so it just seems natural to me. I’ll be honest, I do get a thrill in a police car. It’s a great feeling to know that someone trusts you enough to tell you the good, bad and ugly of being a cop. But as tragic as a line of duty death is, for the most part, it happens other places, but not here…not close to me. As Chaplain, I cover Huber Heights, and can provide “mutual aid” to anyone who may need it. But as Doctor Mike, I cover over 400 departments in 3 states. In some of those cases, maybe even most, I would not be able to be there them in person. Then I have to think how I help them grieve from 200 miles away. Honestly, this is the duty I dread. In an ideal world, all the good guys go home. But we don’t live in an ideal world. And when life goes wrong, we are there for the family. I like “being there” for people, and helping people through hard times, and telling people things will be all right. But in this scenario, I can’t say they will be all right. I hope to only help them through the pain that they now face.

There’s training on the “death notification”, and articles by “experts”, so I can know the facts and the techniques. The what not to say, what to say, be direct, but not too direct. Don’t use vague concepts “passed on”, and NEVER give them false hope, but if there is hope, give them some. It’s not easy, but my part in that story is the brief , painful beginning, and theirs is for the remainder of their life. I’ll never forget my pain when Deputy Hopper was killed, but it was small in comparison to her family and the CCSO.

So the story is below. I dedicate this to the large (and growing) number of Law Enforcement and Firefighter spouses who have struggled and still struggle with picking up the pieces and moving on. It’s is spread around the internet (with people changing the name), based on the book “Saying Olin to Say Goodbye” by Donald Hackett.

The time of concern is over. No longer am I asked how I am doing. Never is the name of my partner mentioned to me. A curtain descends. The moment has passed. A life slips from frequent recall. There are exceptions … close and comforting friends, sensitive and loving family. For most, the drama is over. The spotlight is off. Applause is silent. But for me, the play will never end. The effects are timeless. Say Olin to me.

On the stage of my life, he has been both lead and supporting actor. Do not tiptoe around the greatest event of my life. Love does not die. His name is written on my life. The sound of his voice replays within my mind. You feel he is dead. I feel he is of the dead and still lives. You say he was my partner. I say he is. Say Olin to me and say Olin again.

It hurts to bury his memory in silence. What he was in the flesh has now turned to ash. What he is in spirit, stirs within me always. He is of my past, but he is part of my present. He is my hope for the future. You say not to remind me. How little you understand that I cannot forget. I would not if I could. I forgive you, because you cannot know. I strive not to judge you, for yesterday I was like you. I do not ask you to walk this road. The ascent is steep and the burden heavy. I walk it not by choice. I would rather walk it with him in the flesh. I am what I have to be. What I have lost you cannot feel. What I have gained you cannot see. Say Olin , for he is alive in me.

He and I will meet again, though in many ways we have never parted. He and his life play light songs on my mind, sunrises and sunsets on my dreams. He is real and he is shadow. He was and he is.

He is my partner and I love him as I always did. Say Olin to me and say Olin again.

The death of celebrities versus military and first responders.

OK, I felt that I had to say something. On numerous levels, the premature death of Whitney Houston is saddening. Her music touched numerous people on different levels. That’s why she was a star. She could sing…and sing good. It saddens me the someone could struggle that much over the years and seem to have very little help (or clear intervention) from others. So here’s a couple of things that Doc would like you to take from this in hopes of helping those around you (or maybe even yourself).

First, there are places in our hearts that are designed to be filled with certain things. Families. Nature. Work. Ourselves. Service to others. And a place for God. All those things are supposed to be built into our lives, and when there are pieces missing (or those that are there are dysfunctional), then our first response is usually to try to fill it with something else. That’s why for so may people a crappy day at work or at home leads them to a bar, a joint, etc. But that void remains, no matter how much you try to fill it with something else. While I feel sorry that she felt the need to drown out what was going on over the course of her life, it saddens me knowing that so many others that we all know and love do it everyday.

Which brings me to the second thing: I find it hard to believe that no one in her circle could see it was at a level that action needed to be taken. Maybe that’s because she kept refusing, or she never let anyone that close. But I would encourage all my readers to have people in your life that can tell you the hard things. People who can not only tell you if you are getting off track, but who you will actually listen to. If you have an alcohol problem they can “get in your business” and tell you. And then help you get over it. Just a word of warning. It may hurt like crazy and totally make you mad. But you have to have safeguards that prevent the toxic natures of our own personality and shortcomings from winning.

As a side note before I get to the last point, if I were to die on the same day as a “super-star” I would not be offended if the world honor’s their passing. Even my friends. Really. Realistically, I know that the open arms of my Saviour for me is all that is important at that moment. So if a “super-star” dies at the same time I do, don’t feel that you dishonor me by remembering them too. I bring this up since there are posts all over the internet making us feel guilty for remembering her and not the soldiers who have died, the police who defend and the firefighters who protect us, etc. Like I can only mourn/remember one person at a time. I joined the Air Force back in 1995 not because of the glamor or prestige. I joined because I wanted to serve my country. And it didn’t matter to me if the country celebrated me, and I dare say that those guys feel the same. So, if you don’t want to think about her, fine. But don’t make others feel guilty who might.

Lastly, there was a story in the book I was reading, Mind Hunter, about a poster that adorned an office in the FBI.

“For years, Gregg McCrary had a cartoon tacked to the bulletin board in his office. It shows a fire-breathing dragon standing directly over a prostrate knight. The caption reads simply, “Sometimes the dragon wins.”

One of my favorite scenes or Criminal Minds covers this.

This really describes out lot in life. Sometimes, the dragon wins. My Law Enforcement and fire friends see it all the time. You can have the best skills, accuracy, body armor, intelligence, and support and it still goes bad. A “routine stop” (Although you are taught that NO stop is routine) ends up bad. A “small fire” leading to a collapsed wall. A hose malfunctions. A gun jams. And good guys get hurt (or die). Sometimes the dragon wins. I think this was true in Whitney’s case, in in countless of our lives. So in short: Take time for you. Enjoy your family, friends and hobbies. Do what you love and love what you do. Pray. Love. Reach Out. Enjoy. Live.

The dragon doesn’t always win. Our job is to better ourselves, and help each other so the dragon wins less and less.

End Of Watch Folder Planning Guide

End of Watch. EOW. The final call. It’s not something that we want to think about. You prepare and train in hopes of preventing it. You exercise, eat right in hopes of pushing it back, but it’s something that will happen to all of us (on duty or off). How do we prepare?

Some organizations have guidelines for a Line of Duty death. Maybe some help you prepare for how to minimize the impact it will have on your family. No one wants their family to have to make the arrangements, so here is a checklist to help minimize the confusion surrounding our End of Watch. This was written by Wives Behind the Badge, Inc, but this could just as easily apply to Fire, EMS or even non-responders (AKA, the rest of us).

Note: Keep in mind that just because YOU know where things are, it is likely no one else will. Have this information in DETAIL. Specifics. When you say the “desk drawer”, you might know it’s the bottom left, but your grieving family may now or forget in all the confusion and grief. A little pain for you to make it easier for them.

Table of Contents (showing what documents are in the folder and listing important documents stored elsewhere)
II. Copies of forms filed at the office/department (for example – CHP Forms 102 and 611B)
III. Contact Sheets
      A. Department/Agency/Union contacts (direct lines and cell numbers)
      B. Family contact list (including who you’ve chosen as your family spokesperson) *make sure to note who is to take care of your children in the immediate and the long-term.
      C. Friend contact list *make sure to note who needs to be contacted right away and how you would prefer they be contacted.
      D. Other contacts (insurance agents, lawyers, accountants, estate executor, etc)
IV. Legal Documents
      A. Last Will & Testament
      B. Advanced Health Directive
      C. Trust
      D. Power of Attorney
      E. List of locations for deeds, titles, insurance policies, etc.
V. Financial
      A. List of all bank, credit, and investment accounts (including usernames and passwords and PINs)
      B. List of all safe-deposit boxes and locations of keys
      C. List of insurance policies (with policy numbers and contact information) that includes a benefit amount breakdown for each
      D. List of local, state, and federal LODD benefits *note – the state and federal benefit information can be found at
      E. Copies of forms showing beneficiaries for life insurance policies
VI. Other
      A. List of all online accounts (email, etc) that includes usernames and passwords
      B. List of all important serial numbers (guns, electronics, vehicles, etc)
      C. List of other important numbers (social security, passport, driver license, etc)
      D. List of important passcodes (safes, alarm codes, etc)
      E. List of guns you own, their locations, and any notes about them
      F. Other important notes for your spouse/family (ex: on caring for your home or animals, etc)
      G. Personal letters to family & friends
VII. Final Arrangements
      A. Type of services desired (funeral, memorial, wake, viewing, rosary, burial, graveside, cremation, etc)
      B. Preferred mortuary & cemetery
      C. Preferred Officiant (chaplain, minister, pastor, priest, rabbi, other) & their contact info
      D. Preferred musical selections(Note: Don’t say “Our Song”. State it specifically as this list may be handed off to others for help. Remember, the idea is no guessing for your family.)
      E. Preferred eulogist and speakers
      F. Preferred charity contributions
      G. Pall bearers, if applicable
      H. Preferred Law Enforcement Protocols (honor guard, etc)
      I. Letters to be read at services

Thanks again to Wives Behind the Badge, Inc.

If you have some tips to add, comment or let me know.

Touching moment between an officer and his K9

I think most of us knows the feeling of losing a pet. Recently I came across this touching scene between Officer Richard Stutte and his K9 Rolf. These cops train and live with their dogs. They work with them, live with them. They are with these dogs more than anyone else. So you can imagine the pain of loosing one of these.

RIP Rolf.

Rolf, Badge #392, was a German Shepherd born June 13, 2001 and imported from Czechoslovakia to Landheim Kennels in Indiana. Rolf began patrolling in Darien on December 19, 2003 after six weeks of training with his handler and partner, Officer Richard Stutte, #321. The K-9 team was certified annually in the area of tracking, building/area searches, handler protection, obedience, narcotics detection and article/evidence recovery. When not at work, Rolf lived with Officer Stutte and his family. K9 Rolf served his last tour of duty on 09-29-2011 and now served and protects from a better place. The picture below illustrates the inseparable bond between Officer and K9. It was taken in Rolfs final moments. Thank you to Officer Stutte for letting us share this moving photograph.

Information and photo courtesy the Illinois Police Work Dog Association.

2 Off-Duty Police Officers killed in Car Accidents this weekend

Two officers were killed in off-duty accidents. Both are still under investigation but it appears that one was the fault of a drunk driver, and the other was now wearing his seat belt.

To all my friends and readers out there, I can not stress enough the importance of wearing your seat belt. Not just during the Click-It or Ticket campaign, but every time you are in a car.

Also, always be alert while you are driving. If you notice someone weaving or crossing the yellow line, choose safety and pull off. If you see someone driving in an unsafe manner, get to a safe place.

Officer Kevin Jessup – End of Watch(DATE)

Rest in peace Officer Kevin Jessup. The NYPD is in my prayers.

Deputy Matthew Swain – End of Watch:9/11/2011

Rest in peace Deputy Matthew Swain. The Grant County Sheriff’s Office is in my prayers.

Off-Duty accidents claim the lives of two officers.

Two officers died due to off-duty accidents. I usually honor primarily “line of Duty” deaths since there are dedicated websites to get the information. But MCA System – Blue Alert notified me of these. Since it’s “how these men lived” that make them heroes, I choose to honor them here. Please also remember to “be safe out there”, even when off-duty. Wear a helmet.

Shawn McGibbons – End of Watch 8/9/2011 Rest in peace Officer McGibbons. The San Antonio Police Department is in my prayers.

Officer Jarrod Louis Stathers – End of Watch 9/8/2011
Rest in peace Kimberly Police Officer and Trussville firefighter Jarrod Louis Stathers. The Kimberly Police Department and the Trussville Fire Department is in my prayers.