The death of Joseph Biden III (Beau Biden) yesterday really touch my heart as I am sure it did many of you. I was particularly struck by the fact that I learned about it on a Huffington Post alert while driving home from a meeting. How different that was from the way I was told that my son had died over 30 years ago. At that time the news of a death was more often than not passed on by word of mouth or in our case delivered by the highway patrol. How times have changed with a brother texting friends that his sister had been killed in an accident before the vacationing family had even returned home. But there are still the times when we must again deliver the news by word of mouth.
Recently my daughter, Heidi and I were asked to speak to a group at a MADD (Mother's Against Drunk Driving) national conference. Our workshop is going to be on "Death Notification When a Child Is Killed." We will present to a group of highway patrol, clergy and first responders. While contemplating our presentation I thought that giving the news that a child has died has got to be one of the worst days of your life. Yes, the professionals are getting training on death notification but what about the rest of us. When my son Scott was killed along with his cousin the highway patrol did a much better job of notifying me that he had been killed than I did telling my family. What I didn't know was that there are ways to tell people that make it less stressful. Today we more often than not find out that people have been killed on Facebook or by text. "Sorry to say that my mom died last night. We are all devastated." But if we have to be one of the first to give the news there are better and more compassionate ways to deliver bad news.
Recently a student from my granddaughter's school walked in front of a train and was killed. When I stopped over at the house my granddaughter was looking at her iPhone reading comments that people were texting about the event. Some of the comments were very upsetting and inappropriate. She said that a number of them were from graduates of the high school who didn't even know the kid. My granddaughter is the captain of her sports team and before the team broke up she pulled them together and said that she was sure that the death of the student was on all their minds and that they should be supportive to each other. The coach, who had not mentioned the death, congratulated her for being there for the team. I gave her credit for being mature enough to tell the team. Below are some ideas if and when you must be the one to give death notification. I would say my granddaughter followed most of them.
- Try to do it in person.
- It is always good to be accompanied by another supportive person.
- Find a quiet place where you can tell them.
- Try to keep your voice calm and your delivery slow with long pauses.
- Just give the facts as you know them and don't evoke religion.
- Be honest. If they ask for details feel free to say, "I don't know".
- Be ready for them to have a strong response. Some people will scream and cry while others may withdraw. Don't get scared this will pass.
- Stay with them until a friend or family member arrives.
- Don't try to comfort them physically unless they approach you.
I hope those of you reading this blog will take the opportunity to share it with your friends and family. These are simple ideas and easy to keep in mind. As anyone will tell you who have had a death notification you never forget how or where you were told.