Thursday, September 14, 2023

House of Strangers

While the body cooled, police worked.  

An officer climbed and descended the stairs on urgent errands.  Another prevented family members from viewing the deceased.  While police worked, gawkers gathered.

Some observed from the sidewalk, others gathered in the yard.  Three, then ten, then twenty times as many civilians outnumber the police.  With hundreds of eyeballs watching, the worker parked hundreds of feet away because of the police cruisers.  She was equipped with a weekend training.

She was called to help survivors answer the question, "What do I do now?"

The police called her to help grieving strangers.  While officers find out if foul play was involved, tenderness among the living helps.  Police bring her in alone, or with a partner at night, to serve the survivors.  

A listening ear, a bottle of water and silent accompaniment are some of the benefits she offers.  She gives guidance on funeral homes, wills and death certificates.  What she never knows is how the first 100 seconds in a home will go.  

Hysterics, apathy or deceit may await; rage, depression and grief are create a cocktail of human emotion.  On the fly, she has to know how to handle each situation.  Her job is to climb the porch, open the door and walk into a house full of strangers.  

We had a chance to talk to her after she entered a dead man's home.  A synopsis of the debrief is being shared by permission.  

Q: What is your one-word descriptor for what you experienced?  Please explain.

A: Endearing.  I walked into the house and found a sibling group working together.  Their differences were obvious but their love for each other was evident.  So often, when a citizen is dead on arrival, chaos reigns.  Finding people who were willing to help each other grieve was a relief.  The longer I stayed in the home, the more I saw the family's strength.  On a terrible day, his surviving family members encouraged me while I did my work.

Q: What was a point of tension?

A: Pulling onto a dark street, with the entire block watching the house is nerve-wracking.  There are a few things I have to do before entering the house and they happen in the trunk of the car.  Going through my preparations, while households silently stared, made me tense.  Then I had trouble finding the house in the dark.  Someone pointed me in the right direction, but the feeling of being lost, on a block I didn't know, made me tense.

Q: What did you learn from the experience?

A: I learned the importance of training.  In an emergency, we default to our lowest level of training. Since my initial training, I have learned new skills.  Box breathing helped me with the stress.  A few months ago, we were encouraged to inventory our duty bags.  Forms were organized and updated to prevent fumbling.  Using the bathroom, before arriving on scene, is a lesson shared by a trainer.  Grieving people need help and adequately trained helpers are better helpers.  

Q: How can you do the next call in a more excellent way?

A: Each call is different.  A part of being able to do this work is maximizing each opportunity.  We get one meeting with a family while their loved one is on-scene.  Even if we see the family again, the circumstances are different.  In a sense, there is no "do it again" because each call is different.  I can be more excellent the next time by remembering that the next call is unlike any other call.  Preconceived notions about survivors may sabotage what we're trying to do.  Maybe next time I can bring a flashlight so I can see the address more clearly.

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