This past Wednesday I was honored to join Lisa Spicknall, MADD Maryland Victim Advocate, in leading death notification training for some of America’s finest—the FBI’s Office of Victim Assistance. The Office for Victim Assistance is responsible for ensuring that victims of crimes investigated by the FBI are afforded the opportunity to receive the services and notification as required by federal law and the Attorney General Guidelines on Victim and Witness Assistance.
As too many of us know, the way someone finds out about the death of a loved one can cause even more trauma to an already unbearable situation. It is so important that the person tasked with delivering the worst possible news is as prepared as possible for this difficult situation. Even as it is traumatic, if an individual is notified by a knowledgeable and compassionate professional, that moment can actually become the first moment in his or her healing journey. If not, those moments can cause a lifetime of bitterness.
MADD works extensively with law enforcement to make sure they are prepared for those vital early interactions with someone in grief, including in-person death notification trainings that help give officers best practices to use as tools during these sensitive times.
Presenting a MADD death notification training to FBI victim services specialists was inspiring. As we entered the room, Lisa and I noticed how well trained, experienced and professional the attendees were. We were amazed at their experience, 150 years total. Several had extensive death notification training and most had done many notifications, yet they were hungry for knowledge.
Of the 30 people in the room, we were touched by the life experiences shared and the losses that have touched them so profoundly. One of the victim services specialist explained to us, with tears in her eyes, how she was not only on scene to notify victims of the Aurora, Colorado movie theater tragedy, but also the Wisconsin Sikh temple murders as well. Yet, she was here to learn how she can do a better job of notifying families when a loved one has been murdered.
As we spoke to the group you could see their body language shift when they felt they had done a good job and when they were uncomfortable with a job they had done. When they reflected and discussed their thoughts on how and why we notify in the manner that we do, we could see the realization cross their faces that they felt they were better prepared to make notifications.
Each death notification class is a humbling experience. We leave knowing we have helped people come to terms with one of the most difficult parts of their jobs. No one wants to be the source of a family’s bereavement, but as the specialists left the room, our hope is they left with strategies to give a compassionate and thorough death notification.