Category Archives: notification

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.