Crisis Intervention & Response LESSON #5 — Dealing with Death, Part 1

They have been married for 40 years, the children are grown and out of the house living their own adult lives. It was decided that it was time to down size, retire and pick up with their lives, with each other, where they left off with birth of the first child. She runs to the store to pick up something for dinner and upon her return she finds him unconscious on the floor. The fire department is called but it is too late, her husband of 40 years has suddenly passed away.

Sorry for your lose ma’am and out the door doesn’t make it.

Death more than any crisis situation creates unique sets of reactions dependent on the cause, the personalities involved, the ethnicity of the individuals and the circumstances. Confusion reigns supreme and there is a tremendous amount of tension at death scenes, particularly homicides, suicides, child/infant deaths and traffic fatalities.

Over time crisis responders will learn the patterns and personality of each death situation and will be able to react with ease. Initially, remember that the people you are dealing with are not you. Be aware of their reactions and do not judge them as you would yourself. Be flexible. Know the process and foreshadow events for the survivors as you would in any crisis response situation. Provide information and knowledge about the activities that will be taking place. Remember the who, what, when, where and way and convey that to the individuals involved as the scene evolves. This does not apply to the questions as to why the death occurred. You don’t have that answer, don’t try.

Most death situations in which a crisis responder would be present will require some police involvement. The police have a job to do and any unattended death or one in the above listed categories will require a police investigation. In conducting that investigation the police have to be very consistent even when looking into routine matters. Under the conditions of stress, crisis clients may become defensive and offended at the matter of fact tone of the questions being presented. To say nothing about the questions themselves. In the event law enforcement has to appear in court for any reason they must be able to say that they handled every aspect of the scene identical to all others. Obviously, a large majority of death calls do not involve foul play.

For more information concerning the process of Crisis Response Management, see Lesson #6 – Dealing With Death, Part 2 – Notification & Arrangements

Pete Adams
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