About . . . . . . Classes . . . . . . Books . . . . . . Vita . . . . . . . Links. . . . . . Blog

by Peter Moskos

September 4, 2016

On Death Notifications: "I have terrible, terrible news."

Consider how a single pull of the trigger impacts people -- reporters , cops, EMS, nurses, doctors -- who are strangers to the victim in the literal sense but are forced to have a visceral connection with the dead and those who survive them.

450 people have been shot and killed in Chicago in the first two-thirds of this year; 178 shot and killed in Baltimore. One of the worst parts of any job is giving a death notification. And if you don't do that on your job, try and have a bit more sympathy for those who must. It's hard to go through unscathed, especially if you have to go through this repeatedly. It never gets easy. (And then also consider why cops may object and object rather strongly when they get home from doing this and then have to listen to some well-scrubbed intellectual proclaim that police officers are the problem, uncaring, and racist.)

This is an incredibly powerfully written account in the New York Times by Doctor Naomi Rosenberg on how to tell a mother that her shot son is dead.
First you get your coat. I don’t care if you don’t remember where you left it, you find it. If there was a lot of blood you ask someone to go quickly to the basement to get you a new set of scrubs. You put on your coat and you go into the bathroom. You look in the mirror and you say it. You use the mother’s name and you use her child’s name. You may not adjust this part in any way.

I will show you: If it were my mother you would say, “Mrs. Rosenberg. I have terrible, terrible news. Naomi died today.” You say it out loud until you can say it clearly and loudly. How loudly? Loudly enough. If it takes you fewer than five tries you are rushing it and you will not do it right. You take your time.

After the bathroom you do nothing before you go to her. You don’t make a phone call, you do not talk to the medical student, you do not put in an order. You never make her wait. She is his mother.

When you get inside the room you will know who the mother is. Yes, I’m very sure. Shake her hand and tell her who you are. If there is time you shake everyone’s hand. Yes, you will know if there is time. You never stand. If there are no seats left, the couches have arms on them.
Read the rest.

4 comments:

Kyle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kyle said...

Happened few days ago...

Tombstone courage said...

This is a doctor's take. I have done it as a police officer. Some calm, some accuse me of lying and are hysterical. I remember finding a dead junky in an SRO. Called his mother on the phone at 6am. She was calm, came to the scene to claim the body. I remarked to my female partner how calm the mother was. Partner said, "How many years do you think she has been waiting for that call?"

Noumenon said...

Powerful is right. Thank you.