(Author’s Note: If you have not read the first three articles of this series, I would encourage you to read them before reading this post.)
In this session of Chaplain’s Class, we will continue to outline some guiding principles and procedures for performing a death notification. If you remember from my previous articles, everyone in every circumstance deserves, at the very least, the dignity of receiving the worst possible news with compassion.
The Death Notification Team has arrived at the location of the next of kin of the deceased person. The team members should have traveled (and therefore arrived in) separate vehicles. The team has made contact with the dispatch center to relay a location and check in for safety. The team members then will exit their vehicles and approach the dwelling with caution as always. The knock on the door is made and someone comes to respond; now what do you say?
When the door opens and you see someone for, in most cases, the first time, they may have a very concerned disposition at the presence of law enforcement. In spite of what television teaches us, most people rarely have contact with law enforcement, if at all. The occupants might be more surprised that law enforcement officials are standing at the door than anything else, at least for the moment.
The first words you speak may be the most important in the compassion realm. A simple introduction of, “Good morning, I am Officer Smith with the Any-town Police Department. Are you Ms. Jones?” should suffice to break the ice. It is also an important question to confirm you are indeed at the correct address and speaking to the intended recipients.
Upon confirmation of the necessary facts, the team would need to ask permission to enter the dwelling. After receiving permission to do so, the team should inquire as to any other occupants. If there are others in the residence, especially adults, asking that everyone in the dwelling convene will enable the team to make the notification once. Special consideration needs to be exercised when there are extreme elderly or infirmed persons involved. A greater measure of caution needs to be used when there are young children as well.
The dwelling occupants may be very nervous and inquisitive based on the team’s presence and somewhat tempered mood until everyone has congregated. Gathering the family is important beyond the “one notification” idea. It provides comfort in numbers for the family receiving this awful news. However, it can also provide safety for the notification team.
Now that everyone has gathered, the team can begin the actual notification. In the briefing portion of the team prep, it should have already been determined who will actually say the actual words that someone has died. Usually, the chaplain will take on this role and try his or her best to be compassionate and comforting without sugar-coating the message.
A direct statement of the facts is very essential in the Death Notification process. It can contain compassion even if it is short and factually direct. “I regret to inform you” is a great preface to the factual statement that their loved one is deceased.
A simple phrase is suggested to eliminate confusion, such as, “Mr. and Mrs. Jones, John was killed in an automobile accident on his way home late last night.”
The directness of the statement of facts is essential to the delivery of the unwelcome message. It is not for the shock factor, though that is a given. The directness is so the receiver cannot mistake the message.
For example, the sworn officer and the Chaplain arrive at the home and tell Mr. and Mrs. Jones that, “Your son will not be coming home tonight.” The message coming from a police officer could mean that their son is dead, but they could also think he has been arrested and spending the night in detention.
Of course naturally the incarceration issue would be handled by a telephone call, but you are dealing with very uptight or even scared parents hoping for the best. They are not thinking with common sense. (Newsflash: common sense is not very common!)
It is essential to deliver the facts as you are able but to do so with compassion. Simply treat these people with the Golden Rule in mind. Treat them as you wish to be treated. Will this always work? No, however, you will know that you have done the right thing and made a genuine effort.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.
Those are just a few things that could generally describe Bergen Mease. However, more importantly he is a Believer in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. He is a patriot of the United States of America that comes from a US Navy family. He lives with his wife and children, whom they are raising with conservative leanings. He served as a law enforcement officer and more recently as a law enforcement and emergency services Chaplain. His mission is to write about topics that will make everyone think about how they treat others both personally and professionally.