I can still see his profile and the anguish etched on his face. It was a profile because we were in a police car. My husband sat in the front, and I was in the back and he had turned halfway in the driver’s seat to see us both. It was an awkward way to tell us and I’m sure it wasn’t his first choice. They’d gone to our home but we weren’t there so they met us in the parking lot where we’d had dinner.
He was white with an angular Romanesque face and a strong jaw. His hair was thinning but blondish. I would say he was in his early forties. Even sitting down I could tell he was tall and wore a gray suit with a tie. On another day, I would have thought him handsome.
When they had called and said they were going to meet us in the parking lot of that restaurant, I had expected uniformed officers. His partner, also dressed in a gray suit, was an African American man who had opened the door for me but stayed outside. I’m not sure if he was right outside the car or not. Had I been him I would have gotten as far away as possible to escape the screams of desperate despair so raw it would have forced anyone nearby to draw their shoulders up to their ears and squint in pain just from the sheer blunt force of the emotional trauma buried in those cries.
Do they take turns with this macabre task? They’d have to in order to remain sane. As soon as the words, “Your son Charles has been found dead this morning…..” he and all humans dropped off the radar for a minute. He reappeared when my husband asked how my son died. Right before the final blow that it was a suicide.
How many times did I think about how it must feel to deliver such devastating news–to be in such tight quarters with two parents wailing at full volume in such raw agony? It can’t be part of the job they relish. I know I thought about it several times during that brief time in the car. My own brain needed to grab hold of that thought like a life preserver or it would have been crushed with the weight of the news.
When he said he had a son Charles’s age and couldn’t imagine losing him, I know he meant it. He said that addiction was a terrible disease and he had seen the scourges of it first hand. The lines on his forehead deepened. He was warm and empathetic. Kind. He didn’t make us feel like bad parents or at fault for anything. He made an argument that the culture had taken so many casualties and it had left people like him to deliver the news to people like us.
I want him to know he did a good job and that we appreciate his compassion. I’m grateful we didn’t have a stiff autocrat delivering the news.
When I was writing the book, I thought about calling him. But didn’t. For one thing I don’t know his name. But that’s just an excuse. I wasn’t ready.
We are approaching the fifth anniversary of Charles’s suicide. I have been ruminating on calling the dispatcher and finding out who the officer was.
Maybe I could talk to him, let him know we survived, that we have learned to live with the loss and move forward. I want him to know our lives now don’t look like that one night he saw us. He may have us frozen us at that moment. Maybe the scene has given him nightmares. Or maybe we blend in with the many times he’s had to deliver that kind of news and all of us make up a composite of pained expressions and agonizing wails.
The thought has been stalking me lately. Why now? I’m not sure. But I think I’m almost ready to make the call.