Pray for the surviving spouse, that decisions would be made with clarity. Pray for the responding officer, that the shock of seeing the deceased might be lessened. Pray for the neighbors as they walk the narrow line between natural curiosity and invasion of privacy. Pray for the EMT's or funeral directors as they negotiate each pound of the deceased.
Removing a body from a bathtub or basement requires work against gravity. Moving a dead person down flights of steps harnesses gravity but more people may be needed to prevent slippage. Lifting or dragging a decomposing body makes breathing difficult.
When driving to a death scene, breathing exercises help reduce anxiety. Inhale deeply for four seconds; hold for four seconds; exhale completely over four seconds and hold emptied lungs four seconds. Repeat.
Entering a stranger's home means meeting a mourner where he or she is in the moment. Clutter and odors can distract from the important work of walking alongside the survivor. Pets are precious to grieving citizens but leave fur everywhere. Filth is a probability. Hold snap judgments in abeyance: focus on people, not things.
If there are people you trust to ask to pray for you before entering the deceased's home, reach out. A quick text soliciting, "Meeting with parents of a dead baby soon. Please ask Holy Spirit to guide..." helps. Conduct research and gather resources beforehand because there will be no time when a call comes.
"What Do I Do Now?" is a checklist to find before starting to drive to a dead person's home:
- Determine who is considered "next-of-kin." State law determines "next-of-kin" in the following order
- Surviving spouse
- Surviving adult children (starting with the oldest)
- Surviving parent(s)
- Surviving sibling(s)
- If there will be an autopsy, you may obtain a copy of the autopsy report from the County Medical Examiner's office. Preliminary results may be ready in approximately one week, but the final report can take as long as twelve weeks to complete.
- A death certificate will be generated after the final autopsy report and can be obtained from the funeral home or from the county clerk's office for a fee...
Have plenty of checklist copies because any shortage may add to suffering. Your Sheriff's office will offer ways you can help.
Pray before stepping into the living room because uncertainty swirls around what may be found. A homeowner may offer coffee or food, may swear and spit, may sit with a thousand yard stare or pace uncontrollably. Prayer helps deal with whatever surprises lie behind a door.
We go into houses with prayer partners praying. We are sponsored for trainings by generosity. Jesus is calling us to walk alongside police officers as they enter the homes of murder victims, successful suicides, dead babies and deaths by natural causes.
Chaplains walk alongside the traumatized and, by the grace of God, we do not walk alone. Prayer and generosity pave the way. Officers make sure we're doing OK while we make sure grieving families are doing OK but checking on officers is a part of the work.
When driving away from a death scene, knowing what to say to an officer can be difficult. Trauma can tie you to an officer, a family or address with invisible fetters. Processing the pain is a learning opportunity. Once everyone is safe and able to look back on an incident, gathering to debrief can be helpful.
What happened? (Listen without interruption)
What emotions were stirred in you? (There are no wrong answers)
What did the incident bring you to think about? (Perhaps it's the first time thought occurred)
How do we take next steps after what's happened? (New normal)
Pray silently while people answer. Ensure confidentiality. Bring water; water is a bridge to get us talking. Have a list of referrals in case a citizen or officer needs mental health services. Follow up a day or two after, again within the week.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7 NIV