Sunday, March 12, 2023

Waiting For The Bus

The bus was sent from a local funeral home and the passenger's body was cold to the touch.  Waiting with a family requires a listening ear, generosity and companionship.

While driving to the scene, a listening ear is needed.  The dispatcher's voice gives the address and available details but we have to listen.  Archived voices of trainers remind of the importance of breathing.  Shock associated with entering a thin place can be diminished with deep breathing.  

Police chaplains double as victim advocates.  Once a call is received, we are expected to be on scene within thirty minutes.  Prayer laces my drives because each situation is different.  Details are few and whatever is known may not be the whole story.  "What now, Lord?" is a prayer and listening leaves room for the Holy Spirit's response.

Upon arrival, emotions are high and fuses are sometimes short.  Our first point of contact is a police officer or sheriff's deputy: wisdom demands a listening ear.  Whatever was told during the drive can be confirmed or corrected by the officer.  
Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak... ~ James 1:19

Once an advocate is briefed, the law enforcement professional continues securing the body.  Victim advocates offer comfort to the family and friends.  We pour hours of training into families by providing a non-anxious presence.  Bottles of water, Kleenex or an umbrella are small gestures that can build trust.  Offering a pen, state / local resources and financial assistance can help when a family feels helpless.  

"Hello, my name is Alex, and I am here to help because your loved one died.  A question often asked in your situation is, 'What do I do now?'  Today will be difficult but I am here to help find answers to your questions."

Reactions vary:
  1. "OK," followed by a thousand yard stare;
  2. "We don't need any help."
  3. "Get away from me," or "Get out of here."
  4. "Thank you for coming."
  5. Silence.
Reactions of grieving citizens govern our next steps.  Sometimes we give space for tempers to cool and feelings to settle.  Other times, we give hugs because a family is clinging desperately.  If given the opportunity, we work with next of kin to review a checklist of important paperwork for the funeral and after-death business dealings.  A folder is given with the warning that, "You probably won't remember much of what we're discussing.  Is there a trusted place or person where your folder can be placed to be revisited in a few days?"

After reviewing the checklist, the family may embrace, reject or remain cautious of advocates.  Sometimes, we've been allowed to deliver death notifications to other people rather than having them find out by phone or social media.  When entrusted, we volunteer to make calls, cancel doctor's appointments and attend court dates. 

After we've done whatever we're allowed by the family to do, a large part of the assignment is waiting with them for transport.  Each situation is different.  Sometimes, people want to talk about their friend or family member.  Alternatively, the family may crave an advocate who's able to wait, unafraid of silence.  

Eventually, the van arrives.  Family and friends have never seen their loved one removed by a funeral home.  We encourage privacy by ushering everyone into another room.  The tendency to stay with the body is understandable, but once the funeral home loads the gurney, the body can, with rare exception, be presented again for a last moment together.

Before clearing the scene, we ensure no one is left alone at the scene.  Family, neighbors, clergy or friends are asked to stay.  Prayer is offered and often accepted before departure.  Then, at the same time as the officer, we clear the scene.  

Ministry among officers is an unexpected outcome of victim advocacy.  They open up with stories of their own.  Weeks, or months later, we may see each other and share a knowing nod or hug while remembering a tough call. 

A ministry outreach to first responders has expanded to include victim advocacy.  While death brings victim advocates to the homes, the Lord prepares our way.  I go, trained by the statewide victim advocate association, remembering Jesus' promise that we will never walk alone:
"...And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”                                                                   ~ Matthew 28:20  

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