The Death of a Child, and My City


I met up with the two advocates I was going to be shadowing and the three of us made up Crisis Unit Adam 1. There was also a second group of three who made up Crisis Unit Adam 2, and the six of us went to a restaurant to await calls… or not.

I was a little afraid that we wouldn’t get a call, but then I felt guilty, as if I wanted someone to be a victim. Of course I didn’t want that; I just wanted an opportunity to see what I’d signed up to do. The other advocates assuaged my guilt by saying that there are always victims, whether the Victim Services teams are called or not, so wanting a call isn’t about wanting someone to be victimized; it’s about wanting victims to have support.

About five minutes into dinner, the call came. We were to relieve Baker unit on a DOA call (Deceased on Arrival) with a child victim.

There was a weight that came with going to a child’s death that was palpable, but mingled with a sense of, “This is what we do.”

We ate quickly, and the other advocates tried to prepare me. They let me know that I should feel free to step out if it was too difficult. They said that my well-being was a priority… and we hit the road.

When we arrived, we talked to the Baker Unit, who gave us the background on how the child passed away and some of the family dynamics, of which there were a ton – divorce and estrangement, medical issues, grandparents on both sides, and previous recent family deaths. I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to share, so I’m going to keep the details to myself, but I will tell you that, although the child’s death was unexpected, the cause did not seem to be homicide. Law enforcement procedurally treats all children’s deaths like homicides, but this particular death was most probably due to illness.

So… we couldn’t talk to the child’s dad, who was being interviewed by law enforcement. We couldn’t talk to mom, because of some crazy, crazy circumstances. We couldn’t talk to mom’s parents, because they left about the same time we arrived. Therefore, we went in and talked with the extended family on dad’s side.

There were probably 15-20 people there who said they were cousins. We introduced ourselves: “Hi. My name is Betsey. This is Claire and Katie. We’re with Victim Services, and we’re here to be of help to you. Our entire purpose in being here is to help you with whatever you need.”

Crickets.

You would think there would be tears. You would think the room would be filled with pandemonium. A child died. I had never met the child, and I felt pretty stirred up.

The family, however, was almost completely unemotional. It was odd. In discussing the call after-the-fact, one of the advocates pointed out that she thought the family probably distrusts law enforcement and also distrusted us. Although we aren’t with law enforcement, we look pretty official. I was just wearing normal clothes, but the other two had polos with badges sewn into them. They had ID card things, plus law enforcement took us into the room with the family and helped with the introduction, so it makes a lot of sense that people who don’t trust cops would want nothing to do with us. They politely, but coldly told us that they didn’t need anything, so we said we’d step into another room and just be there if they needed us.

And we waited.

And waited and waited.

Standing in a tiny, stuffy room for something like two hours. We interacted a bit with a hospital social worker whose primary task was to get hand prints of the child to later present to the family. I saw the person from the medical examiner’s office, who was there with a camera and stood around the corner from us, just outside the room with the body in it. There were two police officers sitting guard over the body. One of the family members came out and asked us if the family would be able to see the body one last time, but we didn’t know the answer. Evidently, the medical examiner can and sometimes does refused to let families see a body.

And that was the extent of what we did for two (maybe even three) hours.

Then, the detectives let us know they were done interviewing dad, and we could talk to him. We went out and talked to him, and he was also utterly unemotional. He was worried about his cell phone, because the detectives had kept it. Another family member stepped in and politely asked us if we could just give them our card and go, which we did.

It wasn’t what I expected. I’m not sure what I expected, and I can empathize with the unemotive response. It’s a lot to process, but the lack of chaos and (for lack of a better word) drama was something the other advocates kept coming back to. They thought it was pretty unusual.

And all I can really think about is how much I want to go on more calls. I don’t think we made much of any difference to this particular family, but I can definitely see how it might make a difference to someone else.

All night, we listened to the police radio. There were people doing crazy things… a lady who was hysterical because she couldn’t remember where she’d parked her car, a guy with a machete, a drug deal going down at the Redbox, another DOA that Crisis 2 attended, and a major incident with a guy with a gun at an apartment complex. I think all of those things stuck with me more than the call in which I participated, because that’s what my city is like. When I’m not receiving training in Victimology and Victim Services, those things are all going on, unbeknownst to me. They are occurring at locations I frequent. They are always occurring.

Right at the moment, I feel like I’m doing the right thing with my life. I feel like this could be my niche. Who knows how long it will last, or if I’ll even make it through training, but for now, I feel like I’ve found my element.

 

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