“You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” ~ Kahlil Gibran
I would like to share with my Dear Readers a beautiful Soul, Dave Thomas, creator of the “WALK THE TALK” podcasts. Dave is a serving police officer. In one of his shows he talks about being a Family Liaison Officer. In his calm and measured tones, he tells his own story. It is simply and beautifully told, brutal, graphic and sad but ultimately filled with hope. I have long held a huge regard for our Police Service in the U.K having had a very special person help me when I needed it most. Listening to Dave Thomas, I am in awe at his selfless service and have a greater understanding and deep well of compassion for those men and women who are our Protectors. For who could walk in Dave or his colleagues shoes, and have the Grace and courage to talk about the horrors they have dealt with and still have such kind and loving hearts?
By kind permission, I share below the transcript and the link to Dave’s personal testament. I hope when you listen too, you feel the sheer love this wonderful man has for others. Behind the uniform beat real human hearts, our Protectors are Sons, Daughters, Fathers, Mothers, Brothers, Sisters and Friends. Imagine your loved one had to carry the things Dave shares…
WALK THE TALK
Welcome to‘Walk the Talk’ a private podcast production with me Dave Thomas. Thank you for downloading this edition of the programme. I do hope you enjoy it. Until now I have interviewed folk with the hope and intention of expanding and illuminating the subject of well-being, in what will become a regular addition to these podcasts I will be sharing my own experiences and in this episode I will talk you through my work as a family liaison officer. At times heart breaking, but ultimately rewarding work. But the role has a shelf life and as you will hear that clock is ticking, and one day I know I will have to give up that role I volunteered for 10 years ago.
The opposite of death is birth, not life, as many people think. Life is what transpires between those two events of which we have no control. We anticipate and hope for a happy fruitful and long life, not only for ourselves, but for our friends and for the people we love the most.
For reasons I am yet to understand, circumstances and events transpired to bring a person’s life to its premature end, sometimes before it’s even really begun. If that death is the result of a potential criminal act then a Family Liaison Officer is parachuted in, landing firmly in the middle of an emotional no man’s land of a devastated family. I purposely use that language because we invade a family’s grief and intimacy with the same abruptness that a shell hits the floor. You are entering a vacuum with little to offer but yourself. Working as a Family Liaison Officer can be immensely rewarding: To help a fellow human being in their darkest hour and actually be in a position to change the world for one person or at least help them to adjust to a new one. That painful privilege does have a price. As in all things in life, the price that has to be paid, if not managed effectively, that privilege can come with a very high price indeed.
I’ve dealt with pretty much every which way a human being can die. I’ve never had somebody die in my arms, unless of course you count my own Mother and that is an experience I have yet to get over. Working on the Road Policing Unit, I have seen ‘Body Disruption’ a non-descriptive non-emotional term to describe a scene from hell. I’ve seen decapitation and people burnt beyond recognition. I have seen folk without a scratch on them. Not pleasant sights and never unseen that will stay with me until it is my time to say farewell. But what really affects me is as a Family Liaison Officer, and continues to do so, is the utter vacuum for those left behind, the mind numbing, cold hearted emptiness, the grief that relentlessly keeps crashing over again and again. They feel it and so do we.
I’m often asked how do you tell somebody their loved one has died? I’ve learned from painful experience, and the answer may sound blunt, use plain words in simple sentences, “They have died, they’ve been killed.” They know what I’m going to say when they open their front door, it’s written all over my face and they’re listening hard for the words they desperately don’t want to hear. It’s important therefore to be clear because they are already in shock. I feel a tremendous amount of relief once I’ve passed that message, the worst thing for me is for them to say, “I know”.
A family liaison officer will, wherever possible, go to the scene of a fatal collision. Our brief by the Senior Investigating Officer on the circumstances and any clues as to the identity of the deceased. It’s not always that easy and there is a tremendous amount of pressure to let the next of kin know as soon as possible. We have to be sure we know the identity of the deceased and we’re always fighting a battle with social media.
I have lost count how many times I’ve destroyed a family with our news, but it all starts the same way. Visit the scene, do your background checks and trying to keep your mind on the road as you drive to their house. But honestly, you’re already in another place, preparing yourself to enter their world and to become a part of it. Even before you have got to the house, you’re soaking information in. What sort of neighbourhood is it? Style of the houses, even the width of the road. You’re driving along, then there is the house and you’re looking for something that if seen will fill you with dread; the toys of children lying in the garden. Advance warnings that this is going to be a tough one.
I know of a colleague that had to deliver that message to a waiting wife and children who were about to celebrate a birthday. I’ve had to get people out of bed, turn the gas off on a cooker for dinner about to be served, bury a dog that had been killed with its owner. The list is as long, as it’s varied, as it is tragic. I arrive at the front door. I hesitate to knock, taking a deep breath, as I raised my arm. Sometimes the door opens suddenly before I get the chance to knock. I introduced myself and insist I come inside. I ask if there’s anybody else in the house. I’ve known folk we thought of being killed only to walk down the stairs. I also ask that question to make sure that there is support available. I take in every little detail. You can tell whether there is love in a house.
You are there in the knowledge you’re about to destroy somebody’s world. And with that, for the Storyteller or for the Messenger, over the years comes guilt. Sometimes my mind has wandered over to that famous Hindu text quoted by the father of the atomic bomb “I have become death”. But I know I’m only the Messenger. People react in different ways, I have been slapped, hugged, screamed at and even had a cup of tea made for me. I’ve nearly had a cup of tea poured over me! Over the years I’ve learned the power of silence. I used to try and fill that void, over the sobbing tears, invariably saying something stupid. Now I don’t bother.
The next huge emotional hurdle for me and my family is the formal identification. Yes, you see, they are my family now. I came into their world as a stranger and now our common friend is death. Identification is usually done at the hospital Mortuary; the staff are acutely aware of the circumstances and are so very supportive towards the next of kin. For many this is the time when the awful news finally sinks in. Instinctively I stand behind those who wait to see what’s behind the curtain, ready to catch them when they faint. All too often they will say to me they didn’t believe me until they had seen their Loved One with their own eyes.
The first few hours for a family liaison officer are draining, both emotionally and physically. Here is the start of a long painful route lasting many months, which is littered with hurdles and troughs. I have shared the grief of many families over the years, some start off as friends and remain friends, some start off as enemies becoming friends. But I am proud to say I’ve never lost a friend nor created an enemy. That takes more than dedication and hard work, it takes sacrifice, in point of fact.
So, to the real point of this podcast, all of this takes its toll, toll that must be paid. A willing transaction, nonetheless. Each subsequent deployment gets harder not easier. Genuine tears that I used to find easy to hide are no longer so. A mind racing with thoughts that get harder to put to sleep at night. I’m now unable to watch videos of cruelty to both man and animal, getting irritable over minor things. And yes, only the other week my hearing briefly dropped quite significantly due to that stealthy assassin ‘Stress’.
Being honest with myself, I realised that I’m getting closer to emotional saturation. I have given of myself without regret or hesitation. Over the years, the effect though is cumulative. I’ve given you a piece of me in exchange for a piece of your grief. I can’t take it off you, but I can help you to carry it when he gets too heavy. And as a result, you now have a part of me whether you want it or not.
So how much more do I have left to give? The honest answer is “I don’t know”, but I’ve learned throughout the years, and my own emotional intelligence, tells me, I won’t be waiting until it gets too late.
Quitting whilst you are ahead is not the same as quitting.
© Dave Thomas
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“I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy.” ~Kahlil Gibran