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Tips from Survivors

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For survivors, the beginning of their reactions to the death of loved ones is the death notification process. It is important that death notification be handled as well as possible because it is the critical point of trauma for most survivors. Properly done, it can begin a healing process. When it is done improperly or without insight into the survivor’s possible reactions, it may delay the process of reconstructing the survivor’s life for years.

You never know when you are making a death notification. Many people think of death notification in terms of the notification of next of kin. But the “next of kin” may be a parent, sibling, or spouse. Clearly there are many additional family members who need notification and who might react with strong emotions. In addition, there are often colleagues, and even long-time acquaintances who may be severely affected by a notification.

taken from NOVA training manual

Listed below are actual comments and suggestions from POMC survivors as to how Death Notifications can be done with compassion and sensitivity.

  • Be sure someone is with the person being notified
  • Take another person with you when you notify family
  • Victim’s families should have victim advocate immediately
  • First prepare the person that you have some terrible news to give them
  • Notify in person
  • Have a friend or family member present
  • Have a Chaplain present
  • Basic facts should be given in clear terms
  • Tell about procedures, i.e., body release, etc.
  • Have grief resources (brochure, telephone numbers, hot lines, etc.) available to give to family
  • Provide grief training to individuals who have to provide notification
  • Never leave the person alone after notification (wait for family member, friend, etc. to arrive)
  • Police should come directly to family to avoid hearing what happened in bits and pieces
  • Try to put yourself in the victim’s place and be as sensitive as you would want someone to be if it were your loved one who was killed
  • If occurs out of state, contact local authorities and let them make the notification in person
  • Telephone is the worst way to handle notification
  • Should not be denied being able to see child
  • No TV publicity, no description of victims, no newspaper articles until family is notified or responsible party approves release of names
  • Be honest
  • Police or hospital should inform as soon as possible
  • Don’t have several policemen staring at you
  • Transportation should be offered to identify body, etc.
  • Killer’s family should never be allowed to make contact
  • Should be told what happened when on the phone
  • Should be told exactly where they have taken their loved one
  • Have a caring attitude
  • Ease into it, don’t be blunt
  • Tell family members everything you know – do not hold back any information
  • Coroner’s office should notify the family in person
  • Let it be known that survivors can call with questions
  • Locate parents first
  • Don’t act like the loved one is the criminal
  • Speak softly so voice sounds compassionate
  • Do not be judgmental as to reaction of bereaved
  • Police should notify D.A.’s office for address of next of kin. D.A.’s office should make certain next of kin are contacted by Victim Advocate with information about procedures.
  • Don’t ask a lot of “beating around the bush” questions before the notification
  • Police should receive “Death Notification” training in academy/in service program
  • Do not use the term “expired”
  • Authorities should ask if there is anyone they can call to help you
  • Always inform ASAP
  • Trained person should come to house and then go with you to wherever needed (hospital, morgue, etc.)
  • Answer as many questions as possible and explain why they cannot answer all questions
  • Someone should stay at the home and assist with calls.

Suggestions From Survivors That May Improve The Way Identification of the Body is Handled.

  • Family should be given a choice
  • Prepare the person for what they will see
  • Have a caring attitude, don’t be cold and formal
  • Allow parents to touch dead child
  • Clean up the body before viewing
  • Treat body and family with respect
  • Always be able to take a family friend with you
  • Don’t take family members to scene where they were killed
  • Don’t allow family members to wait around before seeing body
  • After notification, don’t leave family members standing/sitting alone
  • Killer’s family should never be asked to identify body
  • When identification is necessary before family can be notified, the family should be told who did the identification
  • When family is not present, photo should be used
  • More care in transportation of body, especially if out of state
  • Ask if they would like another family member or friend with them
  • Need to understand the deceased is also property of parents
  • Police can accompany family member to assure no evidence is touched if body is still at crime scene
  • Do not put any info in media until family is notified
  • Be truthful
  • Be prepared to deal with reactions and emotions
  • ID by other than close family member if possible
  • Do not send family to morgue without Victim Advocate or Minister
  • In service training
  • Tell family about autopsy
  • Check with family about any special things they may want done

How Were You Notified About the Death of Your Loved One?

100 survivors surveyed

  • 27 out of 100 were notified by the authorities in person
  • 18 out of 100 were notified by the authorities by telephone
  • 7 out of 100 were notified by a family member/friend in person
  • 30 out of 100 were notified by a family member/friend by telephone
  • 4 out of 100 were notified first through the media
  • 11 out of 100 were present when victim was found
  • 3 out of 100 were notified miscellaneously

Suggestions From Survivors That Might Improve the Relationship Between the Victim’s Family and Law Enforcement Personnel

  • Lack of compassion and information are repeatedly referred to
  • Investigations should be more thorough and take more time
  • Keep constant communication
  • More sensitivity towards victims
  • Listen to concerns and circumstances of family
  • Have a concern for the survivors
  • Be truthful
  • Respect survivor’s right to know
  • Public Relations person available from every agency
  • Study grief stages so law enforcement personnel can understand
  • Support the investigators, know they are on your side
  • Have same detective on case from beginning to end
  • Many families need to know everything
  • Victim sensitivity classes for officers
  • Encourage families to write down questions and answers given
  • Know exact cause of death before assumptions are made
  • Treat body with respect
  • Always explain why information may need to be withheld
  • Notification of each hearing or any court happening
  • Police should talk to all victim’s families
  • Keep police with attitudes away
  • Explain process as many times as necessary
  • Detective or assistant should call victim’s family occasionally even if there is no new information
  • Should be able to have the autopsy report
  • Early incarceration of prime suspect
  • More contact between victims and victim advocates
  • More contact from prisons regarding updates on prisoners
  • Explanation of plea bargains with information on jail time
  • Answer families questions; don’t make victims feel they are ignored
  • Missing person investigations should be initiated immediately and coordinated with media
  • Notify family with facts as soon as possible
  • Families of homicide victims should have legal representatives
  • Refer to victim by name, not a number
  • Be accessible
  • Select a family contact person to deal with questions from police
  • Don’t make the family feel worse for the kind of life their child lived
  • Coroner should wait 60 days before writing death certificate
  • Departments should be accountable for poor investigations
  • Have protection for victim’s family if needed
  • Law should notify victim’s family before plea bargains are made
  • Have permission and consent to plea bargain from family
  • Law personnel should be required to attend a survivor/support group
  • Simply be aware of families pain
  • Investigate all leads, consult experts
  • Experienced detective should assist if an inexperienced one is on the case
  • Don’t hesitate to remind law that you are hurting; confused about the justice system
  • Police departments need victim liaisons as go between for the times the detectives are too busy to talk to family
  • Do not allow any media to film trial

All information on this page copyright to the National Organization of Parents Of Murdered Children, Inc. No reproduction permitted without request.

These tips were obtained from POMC members during a 1996 survey.

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