To tell the truth, I’ve never really stopped to consider my true thoughts or “feelings? on coping with child deaths, much less compile them into a cohesive form. That said, this post should be as new to me as it is to anyone who reads it.

Not everyone deals with child deaths the same way. It’s been my experience that there are three major classifications that people fall into. Here’s a quick breakdown:

Class A: These are the people that are overly affected by child deaths. They become emotionally involved on some level with every child death and in some cases take the death too personally. It affects their mood at work as well as at home. Class A people are most likely to develop physical and psychological problems as a result of their coping method.

Class B: These are the people that are somewhat affected by child deaths. For the most part, they do a good job of leaving their work at work, but on occasion are known to have a “spillover? occur. Class B people are usually aware of when they are being affected by child deaths and take steps to compensate. Compensation usually involves gravitating toward the coping methods of the other two classes.

Class C: These are the people that aren’t affected by child deaths. They can work numerous child deaths with a focused, workmanlike attitude and give the task no more thought than any other aspect of their job. They spend most of their time oblivious to the tragedy that the death involves. Class C people are probably more affected than they realize.

On second thought, maybe I have put some thought into this subject.

As for myself, I suppose I bounce around in the B to C range with most of my time spent in C. If I spend any time at all thinking about child deaths, I focus mostly on how little they seem to affect me and on my subsequent fear that one day I’m going to snap and take a hostage.

As it stands, I do a pretty good job of avoiding the significance of child deaths. The only time I ever think about the subject is when someone else brings it up. The typical scenario is when someone asks whether or not I was involved with the investigation of a given case. I’ll respond accordingly, and invariably—regardless of whether I was involved in the case at all—the person responds with some variation of “That was so sad.? My typical response is short and to the point, “Yes, it was.?

It seems to me to be the polite response–the response they are expecting. They certainly don’t want to hear me say, no matter how sincerely, “You know, I hadn’t thought of that? any more than someone who asks “How’s it going? really wants to hear about how bad things actually are.

A few years ago, an intern at our morgue became upset over a child death. I can’t recall the particulars of the death itself as to whether it was a violent or “natural? death. She was the type that would have gotten upset just as easily over either one. What stands out so distinctly in my mind is how upset she was and how willing she was to share her thoughts. Within only a few short moments one of the pathologists had heard enough.

“If you can’t observe and be quiet, then get out! You’re starting to depress the s – – – out of the rest of us.?

I was glad the pathologist said something as I was getting a little upset myself. A few more minutes and I would have done the same (I’ve certainly done it since then). The intern’s feelings were valid, but to those of us taking an active role in the examination it was an unnecessary distraction. We didn’t feel the need to weigh in as to whether we thought the child looked like she had been a happy baby.

I apologize if my way of dealing with child deaths has given the impression that I’m a cold-hearted bastard. I’m certainly not suggesting that my “method? for coping would work for everyone. It seems completely rational to me and has served me well. As proof, I haven’t felt the need to purchase a high-powered rifle and head to the nearest clock tower.

I can only provide two nuggets of advice that can be universally applied:
1. Find whatever means of coping works for you and run with it.
2. If you can’t find a means for coping early on, then pursue something else.

Initially, I had intended to provide some practical advice for others to use, but it occurs to me that I haven’t provided much of a formula for coping with child deaths. I suppose if I were a psyhciatrist, I would propose the more accurate title of “Avoiding Coping with Child Deaths.? But I’m not. Those people are crazy…


7 Responses to “”

  1. 1 Terri Poposky
    April 4, 2005 at 11:07 am

    You gotta do what you gotta do! Some people are cut out to deal with child deaths and some are not. Some people do not understand how I can read about crimes without getting upset. It’s because I find them interesting, and to continue to read about the cases I have to separate my feelings from the interesting facts of the case. If I thought about how sad it was, or how much the victims would be missed, or how scared they were before they died, I would not be able to read the stories. I had to make a conscious effort to separate my feelings from the facts, and now that I’ve gotten used to it I don’t even have to think about it. It would be a different story if I were to visit a real crime scene and look at a real victim in a pool of blood… I would probably freak out at first, and then go through a process of separating my feelings from my “job”, if that were my job. One time I had a friend whose boyfriend was a mortician. She wanted me to see this dead man that she had helped her boyfriend make presentable for a funeral. Apparently his face had been smashed in from a car accident and they built it back up using plaster and working from a photograph of the victim when he was alive. She had to drag me in there, as I had second thoughts after entering the mortuary. Just the sight of the room gave me an eerie, sick feeling. I looked at the dead guy for about a half a second before darting out of the room. My friend was quite amused by my behavior.

  2. 2 Lysa
    April 4, 2005 at 12:59 pm

    This is why I had to quit going to school to be a mortician. I just couldn’t take it the thought of dealing with children. Unfortuntately, I didn’t realize it was hitting me too close to home til after I was exposed to it.
    As a mom it was being faced with my own worst nightmare; The death of one of my children.

  3. 3 becky
    April 4, 2005 at 2:23 pm

    good for kicking the intern out. what does she expect?? i have not witnessed an autopsy on a childs death but seen a younger woman who died of breast cancer.. didnt phase me at all. none of them do.. i dont think i child would either.

  4. April 4, 2005 at 3:27 pm

    I’m reminded of one of a scene from one of the more realistic cop dramas, Homicide: Life on the Street where the Lt. tells the husband of a murder victim, “You don’t need the detective to grieve. You need him to solve your wife’s murder.” The job is the job.

  5. April 4, 2005 at 7:44 pm

    I think you can do all kinds of things in a pinch but it’s the emotional aftermath that would be hard to take for some people. I would probably cry through the entire thing and you would have to kick me out too! But I’m glad you can do it, because if it were my child, I’d want someone to be able to give me some answers!

  6. 6 Deb
    April 4, 2005 at 9:56 pm

    I am unfortunate that I bounce around from A to B, more often than not in A.

    I have never worked on a deceased child, but I did work for the Department of Public Prosecutions (much like the American District Attorney’s Office) in Australia where the case files of pedophiles, child molesters, child murderers and “daddy’s who loved their daughter’s too much” were an everyday occurrence and I was usually able to handle these cases as “just a job” until I had my own kids.

    Then it got personal and I couldn’t split the two and I left.

    Very insightful journal you have here and one I’ll be coming back to visit.

    Thank you for sharing your views.

  7. April 6, 2005 at 1:33 pm

    I doubt I would have the right coping mechanisms to effectively do your job, children or retirees and all ages in between. Fortunately, there are people like you who can say otherwise. Thanks for keepin’ on keeping on!

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