How do you tell someone of the death of a loved one?
You don’t want to do it. Nobody does. You were called in. Not suitable for the radio. Nobody else can be expected to do it.
You sit down and read the text of the message. Dry words. Dry words with a great meaning. A life-changing meaning. The briefest details and a contact number. The barest indication of what has happened.
You drive to the road. Try to distract yourself by thinking about other things. Thank fuck it isn’t a kid.The drive to the road is the slowest you’ve ever done it. Want to make sure you are fully prepared on the way. Think through all the scenarios. Hope they take it alright. What if they don’t? What do I say? What do I actually say?
You pass the address and park up a little way down the street. More time to think. Get out the car. Straighten the tie. Put on the hat. Pick up the bit of paper. You hold the paper like a comfort blanket. The paper knows the truth. The paper will help you. Hat on or hat off?
You stand in front of the door for a few seconds longer than normal. How do you find out whether the person behind the door is who you want? Do you speak in the past tense straight away? First names? Mrs? Miss? Sir? Christ.
You see the curtain twitch. You flinch and ring the bell. It starts now. Time moves back to normal speed. What do you say? What do you say? What is…what WAS his name?
The door opens. You are looking down at the paper. The words swim around, mocking your feeble attempts at composure. Who is it? Who is this person at the door? How do you find out?
You stand and stare. (Don’t say ‘nothing to worry about!’) A uniform stands on the doorstep. Her eyes scan across your face. Her raised eyebrows start to drop. The corners of her mouth, raised in welcome, shudder downwards, ever so slightly.
What do you say? Can’t ask someone to start identifying themselves on their own doorstep! Hat off. Hat OFF!. ‘Can I come in?’ Don’t say her name. She will help you. She is there to help isn’t she? Don’t they say ‘Is it about him? It is isn’t it!’
Door swings open. The angel of death steps into the house. Quick glance around. She stands there staring. She knows. She knows. You want her to say it for you. Why won’t she say it for you? What’s the MATTER with her? Oh Jesus. Hope there’s no kids. Can’t cope if there’s kids. Why didn’t they send someone who doesn’t have his own kids?
‘What is it? Can I help at all?’
She isn’t getting it. She really isn’t getting it. Get her to sit down. No, it’s her house! She needs to sit down. Take your hat off!
You blurt it out. You have some bad news. She needs to sit down. She doesn’t sit down. She just stands there holding that bloody tea towel. She looks at you. Her eyes don’t believe you exist. Her lips are moving but she doesn’t speak. Screams hide behind her expression. NO NO NO. She knows. She bloody knows. Why won’t she just say it? Her eyes. Her eyes cling to that last hope that none of this is real. You aren’t really there. This isn’t happening.
The spell breaks. She sits down. You notice you’re in the front room. You tower over her. You sit near her. What do you say? What do you say now? This is the moment. What is it? Is he dead? Has there been an accident and he’s dead? Has he passed away? Why won’t she tell you the easiest way to do it?
HE’S DEAD (HE’S NOT COMING BACK) I’M VERY SORRY (YOU WILL NEVER SEE HIM AGAIN. HE’S DEAD. HE IS DEAD.)
She gets up and starts pacing around the room, wringing the towel between her reddening fists. She asks questions. All questions.
You can’t answer. You are the angel of death. You are standing in the place of a loved one. Your presence is etched into her head for ever and ever. You can’t bring him back. You want to. You really really want to.
What do you do now? You pass the scrap of paper with the contact number over. You offer tea, knowing she will refuse. You offer to drive her somewhere. She refuses.
You want to go. It feels like you have been there forever. She hasn’t given her leave. What do you do now?
She suddenly shakes her head and apologises. You must be very busy officer. You are really very sorry. You are outside in the street again. You are sitting behind the wheel again. You drive away. You drive away out of her life.