Death is Always Near
I had been a small-town Officer for about 5 months in the winter of 1989. Early in the morning as I sat in a parking lot pulled up beside another Officer, a State Trooper drove up alongside us and asked if we knew of a certain address. I knew the address fairly well, I had stopped and talked to the people as they worked in their small yard from time to time and generally would wave when I would see them around town. They were a young couple, early-thirties, two cute kids, nice middle-class people.
This Trooper was a friend of mine before I entered this, my rookie year, and still remains one today. He asked if I would accompany him to the residence, and I said I would.
Quietly approaching the door, my friend removed his "Smokey Bear" hat and knocked softly. When the young lady opened the door, the realization that she was a widow hit her before my friend spoke.
A couple years later I was a Deputy Sheriff in Mississippi and had responded to a very bad accident on the highway.
A drunk driver had crossed the median and run head-on into another car, killing the driver. The drunk, per usual, was barely injured. I was not the senior Officer on this scene and it was actually a responsibility for the State Trooper, but since he would be busy with the killer, it fell upon another Deputy and myself to make the notification.
We were less than a mile from the house when the other Deputy called me on the radio and asked me to pull over. Upon approaching him by the roadside he told me he just didn't know if he could do this. I have a reputation for something of a black heart, well deserved I admit. The task fell upon me.
I remember the crunch of the gravel beneath my boots as I walked to the door. I remember the Christmas tree that stood dark in the window at this early hour. I remember the urgency of the footsteps as I heard them cross the floor and the anxiety with which the door was opened. I remember the terror in the eyes of the lovely young widow as she realized that her life had been ripped apart and I remember the sobs from her children as they stood beside her, not knowing what had happened but sensing that their Father had been taken from them. I remember my partner picking up the two children in his bear like arms and holding them, his body shaking with the overflow of emotion. I remember the young wife's tears soaking through my shirt as I held her, not knowing how to make it better, just wishing that I could.
I've told people that death is a tangible thing. It has a "smell" if you will. There is a sense when life leaves the body, you can feel when that person has gone.
I worked with another Officer who also was a Paramedic. One night we responded to a baby in distress call. On our arrival we found a panicking family and a 5 or 6 month old baby who wasn't breathing. My partner set to work on the child while I urged the dispatcher to expedite the ambulance. Unfortunately the only available ambulance was on the other side of the county, about 25 miles away. My partner heard this and ran for the door, baby in his arms and I followed. He jumped into the back of my cruiser as I started it up and threw it into gear. Our goal was to head for the next county and meet with a med squad somewhere in between.
The engine of my cruiser screamed in mechanical agony as we tore down the highway in excess of 130mph. In times like this, your body becomes a perfect machine, subtle suggestions from your brain control your actions, the world slows down around you and you begin to react with exquisite detail. Each particle of your surroundings receives attention and each is burned into your memory.
It didn't take the hearing of my partners cries to know that this child had left us, I felt his passing as surely as if a sword had passed through my heart.
This may all sound overly melo-dramatic, and I suppose it is. I've been called a fool many times for my statement about feeling death when it is near and about feeling life as it leaves, but that's okay. It may be that it is just something my sub-concious dreams up, but I've stood over a number of people as life left, have had my hands on a few as I tried to apply what I hoped was proper cpr while paramedics did the things they do, and each time, there was that smell.
Others have had far more exposure to death than I have. You are in my prayers, whether you like it or not.