The Atlantic ran an important article on “what it is like to deliver bad news for a living.” You can find the article here
I wrote a response to that article for Fuller Seminaries The Burner Blog. Here it is
It is probably the most difficult thing I do. Death notifications are a necessary, but my most dreaded task as a chaplain with the Simi Valley Police Department. I am the one who, along with an officer, tell family members and friends the most horrible and unwanted news: someone they love has died.
Someone has to say it, and so we knock on the door, ask to enter a home, sit family members down, and then quickly like a hatchet blow, without euphemism, state that the person they love is dead. We who deliver the news then watch people’s worlds fall apart; we see life drain out of them.
People respond in different ways: some protest in disbelief, some yell and curse, some hauntingly wail, some cry, and some are simply silent. The space becomes sacred as loved ones cycle through disbelief, anger, sadness, and acceptance, only to repeat the cycle again and again. Sometimes we stay as other family members and support make their way to the home; other times we are asked to leave as people wish to sort out the situation privately.
We are humbled to be present in the midst of the rawest of emotions. I call it the dance. When I am about to step into one of these difficult situations, I offer up a prayer for wisdom and strength; I take a deep breath, and then I engage,taking my cues from those who are hearing the news. Every situation is different. There is no script. I don’t offer easy answers or empty platitudes. The situation is bad. It is horrible, a tragedy.
So we dance—whatever the grieving people need at that moment, we offer. Through words of sympathy or silence, and simple acts like getting someone a glass of water or making a difficult phone call, we sit and we seek to care. We who deliver this bad news want to do it well—with compassion and sensitivity. The moment a person receives the news of a death will be remembered for the rest of their lives, like hearing about the shuttle disaster, or 9/11. This moment burns into their memory…its true for all of us. The lives of those who receive a death notification are changed forever.
The lives of those who make the notification are changed as well. The task never gets easier. Each notification is unique and tragic. A part of my soul gets bruised by the intense grief of the moment, so as care-givers, we make sure to care for each other. I know that a death notification triggers my own hurts and fears. I too experience shock after the trauma of a notification. I talk through the situation with others, and I go home, to the people who love me and let myself be hugged. In the face of tragedy, I have to grasp life!
I hate doing death notifications, and yet I am privileged to have the opportunity to seek to be of help to people in one of the worst moments of their life.