Madd Seminar To Teach Sensitivity In Delivering Bad News

March 15, 1992|By Kevin Thomas | Kevin Thomas,Staff writer

A Howard County woman was standing in her kitchen one night nursing her infant when a call came from a police officer on the Eastern Shore.

The officer, matter-of-factly and without warning, told the woman that her oldest daughter had just been killed in an automobile crash.

The woman dropped the infant and fell to the floor.

Chari Stoesser, a volunteer at the county chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, relayed the incident recently to underscore the need for sensitivity in handling death notifications.

Learning what to do and whatnot to do when notifying crime victims' families is the topic of a seminar sponsored by the MADD chapter March 21 and 22 at Changing Point, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in the 4100 block of College Avenue.

More than a hundred people, including judges, prosecutors, funeral home directors, clergy, police and psychologists, are expected to attend the seminar.

"We're trying to educate as many people as possible so that they can better understand the victim and thegrief process," said Stoesser, MADD's victim-assistance chairwoman.

Too often, Stoesser said, those who must notify and stay in touch with relatives of crime victims have not been adequately trained.

She said the breakdown can come at all levels: with the police, hospitals and the courts.

For families, the death notification is perhaps the most traumatic aspect of dealing with a family member's death.The person handling the notification can also undergo extreme stress, said Stoesser.

Victims often will remember the moment of notification for years -- everything from the words spoken to the color of the police officer's eyes.

Police, firefighters and paramedics who handle notification are often "hidden victims" because many feel theymust bottle up their emotions.

The suggested procedure in a deathnotification includes:

* Have the family member sit down while notification is conducted.

* Never conduct notification by phone.

* Make sure the family member is not alone.

* Find out whether the family member has a history of heart problems.

* Prepare for thefamily member's reaction, which can include attacks on the person conducting the notification, and fainting.

The MADD seminar will focus on notification procedures, understanding the grief process and identifying post-traumatic stress disorders.

For more information about the seminar, contact MADD at 465-5757.

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