Cruising around the streets that back onto the water I could hear the mumble of the Police radio in the back ground, my ears acutely aware of my own car call sign should it be suddenly called out for a job.
But on this occasion my latest assignment didn’t come over the normal radio channel for all to hear it was my personal phone that rang. Immediately noticing that it is a blocked number calling me I instinctively knew that it was most likely a sensitive job that I was about to receive from the Police Communications Operator ringing me.
After a career as a Detective which included 3 years working on the Daniel Morcombe murder investigation I received a promotion to the rank of Sergeant back into the blue uniform.
Being out on the road policing at the coal-face is where it all happens, as a Sgt with a background as a Detective I found it a great time to impart some of my enthusiasm and knowledge into the junior constables I found myself constantly being partnered with.
As the information of our next job was relayed to me I knew why it had to be given by phone and why I had personally received the call.
It was a Sudden Death message, but not one of the ones that you would normally get.
Giving death messages is something that you never get used to doing and something that as a reader of this article I hope you never have to receive.
Having easily give in-excess of a dozen sudden death messages in my 13 year career I can say that it never got any easier the more you did. Everyone has a different set of circumstances and none are easy for either party.
How will they take it? What exact words will I use? Will they have someone there to comfort them or will it just be us? I need to get into the house and get them to an area where they can sit down in case they faint or pass-out. Remembering to avoid using certain strong words like killed or dead can be harder than you think.
I always preferred to use softer phrases like ‘XXX was involved in a car accident and they were quite badly injured and unfortunately passed away from their injuries’. I found that using this type of language was often less confronting for the person receiving the message.
This one was particularly disturbing as it involved advising a family that their daughter had died suddenly at the hands of someone who was supposed to be in love with her, her boyfriend.
Stopping and pausing for a minute to prepare I understood why I was given the job to pass the faithful message to the family. Having previously arrested murderers I knew exactly what the forward processes were, not just for the coming days but for the following months and years possibly, as the matter progressed through the court system.
With a firm knock on the door it was swung open in an instant. I could literally see the dreaded look on the mans face as he spotted my formal Police night hat tucked under my arm as the door opened. One of the subtle and restful early warning signs used by Police to forewarn the other party that this was not a happy visit.
I could see his mind racing with scenarios of what had happened and to which family member it had happened to.
As I asked if we could sit down and have a talk I took a slow deep breath and I broke the horrible news. The horrible news that there had been a domestic disturbance at their daughters house in Brisbane and that as a result she had been assaulted, and unfortunately she had not survived the assault.
Their immediate distress turned to anger as they knew even before I could tell them, who was responsible for their daughters death. They went on to tell me that they had warned her of him and she was in the process of finding another place to live so she could leave him.
Unfortunately it was all to late.
The level of grief that overcame the family was distressing to say the least, as they started asking and blaming themselves around what they should have done better and earlier to get their daughter out of her abusive relationship.
Sitting their watching I felt such a sense of helplessness, no words can comfort people at time like this. Their world has just changed forever and not in a good way.
What was comforting for me was that I had the ability to be able to provide the family with all the answers they needed. Not just about the immediate formalities around their daughters sudden death but also what lied ahead with respect to the court process, what it involved and how long it may take. What they could expect to happen and how they would be involved at different times.
I could feel the connection I had with them, the sense of relief they felt that someone could answer what they perceived as the strange and odd questions they wanted to ask in their time of need and desperation. This was to be the longest time during my service as a Police Officer I would spend with a family when giving a sudden death message.
It was certainly worth it.
As I provided them with the details of the Detectives investigating the case I helped them gather together some belongings in preparation for the impending trip to the Brisbane morgue to formally identify their daughters body.
After providing them with my personal contact details for use at anytime in the future it was my time to go. So with a hug to each of them I was gone and back on the road ready to head to the next job. My thoughts were with them for the rest of my shift, thinking about what it would be like for them to have to make that drive down to Brisbane.
The heartbreaking task of going to a morgue and look at their daughters battered and bruised body.
I did think about that family a lot as I often, and still do to this day drive right passed their front door quite often.
Fast forward quite a few years and I was walking through the Sunshine Plaza shopping centre located at Maroochydore. Having lived on the Sunshine Coast for most of my life it is quite common for me to say hello to quite a few people when I am out and about.
As I was walking along I noticed a man walking towards me and he was making direct eye contact with me. As we got closer he said hello with an expression on his face that he certainly knew who I was.
I stopped and said hello and with a confused look on my face I ask him where we knew each other from.
He proceeded to remind me that I was the one that knocked on his door years earlier to tell him that his daughter had been murdered.
He told me that my face was one that he would remember for the rest of his life. How my time with them that day was so important for him and his family in their time of need.
As soon as he mentioned how he knew me I immediately remembered who he was and we chatted about how things unfolded in the years following that terrible day.
As I shook his hand and we parted ways my wife casually asked me where I knew him from, to which I had to tell her that quite a few years earlier I to give him the news that his daughter had been murdered.
Part of me felt terrible that I had not remembered his face straight away. I can certainly say that I have never forgotten knocking on his door that day or any of the other death messages that I have given.
Policing can sometimes be a thankless job, but it also a very rewarding one as well. Knowing the positive impact I had on that family in one of their darkest hours is something that I will never forget.
Unfortunately I will also not forget all of the other sudden death message I gave during my 13 year Police career and how each one of them seemed to take that little more out me.
If you are unfortunate enough to receive one of those knocks on your door, please don’t be too harsh or judgmental if the person giving you the terrible news uses a wrong word or seems a little bit cold or distant. As sometimes the person giving the message is just as upset as you, they may just not be showing it.
Remember we are all humans!
Stuart Rawlins | Healthy Mind Healthy Future
Mental Health | Educator |Speaker |Writer