Dealing with death is part of the job. I'm usually not too bad with keeping the feelings in check with the run of the mill sudden death. It's the waste of life stuff that tends to get to me. The only real training is to dehumanise us, usually in the first few weeks of reaching your first station. I still recall my visit to the morgue and seeing the technician ladling out blood from the chest cavity of some recently departed and revelling at the horror on the faces of us new probationers. The jobs I hate most however are suicides.
The first one I dealt with was a bloke who killed himself by carbon monoxide poisoning as he sat in his car and let the exhaust fumes send him to the other side. He left a Dictaphone on the dash, which were a relatively new technology at the time. That's my excuse anyway for wiping out some of his last words, and an early lesson learnt not to touch things you don't understand. It was relatively straightforwards but I didn't have any relatives to deal with, and that does make a big difference.
A suspected suicide is a suspicious death and warrants a full investigation until the coroner's court reaches a decision. This means a steady stream of supervisors to attend and ensure everything is done correctly.
You don't know what to expect when asked to attend the scene of suicide. It could be any method, any age and a variety of residences. This one was different, in that the road was rather exclusive. You try not to assume because the very rich often live right next door to houses split into local housing association flats, but on turning up my first thought was nice house. A unit was inside already and I went to the front door. Everybody was speaking in those hushed respectful tones, trying to keep it together. Introductions and explanations and I was up the carpeted stairs in this house that went on forever.
I eventually came to a landing and on the walls were several large studio photographs about 2 feet by 2 feet square. Mother and daughter with mother smiling proudly. The daughter was about 10 years old and beautiful with a dark complexion and Mona Lisa smile. In each of the photographs the child's dark eyes looked out and had a look of sadness. It's said the eyes are a window to the soul and it was like I was intruding by looking into them. There was a door ajar and I looked in. I could see a clothes rail in a cupboard opposite with a green ribbon tied to it and a length hanging down. A female officer came out and briefed me. The girl with the sad eyes had locked herself inside and when her stepfather knocked on the door there was no answer. He thought she might be out and later became concerned, eventually forcing his way in to find her hanging. He cut her down but it was too late.
I enter and see the girl laid on the bed, eyes half open, the rest of the ribbon is tight around her neck The ambos had obviously been as there were discarded bits of medical kit strewn nearby but they couldn't save this soul. Everything was in hand I don't need to see any more. No notes? No medicines? usual suck egg questions to the officer who knew what she was doing. I leave and speak to the stepfather on the landing. He tells me his daughter was eighteen and back from university. I immediately think of my daughter who was the same age and also at university. This was totally unexpected and he tells me what she was looking forward to doing later in the week. I suspect there might have been previous issues, I've seen sad eyes like that many times before. He was keeping it together better than I would. He tells me that the mother works and is getting a cab home from work. I can hardly speak to him but utter out the procedures that now have to take place.
The mother in the photographs arrives back and rushes up the stairs. 'Where is she? Where is she?" She already knows the worst and wants into the bedroom. I have to bar the way and explain, we have things to do. I don't want her to see her daughter the way she is. We have to photograph and secure the ligature for the coroner. I feel bad, it's her house, her daughter but fortunately the husband calms her and says we have to do our work. She will get her time with her daughter in a short time. I get a moment to ask the officer if she's OK, none of us are but it's what we do.
The duty officer turns up and I tell him what I know. He offers condolences, again in hushed tones. I leave and gulp the air outside, and I'm holding back the tears. A few minutes longer in that house and I would have lost it. They'll be plenty of crying in that house for years to come, because suicide isn't painless, not for those left behind anyway. I often wonder if they kept the photos up with those sad eyes looking out, maybe they just saw the beauty instead. I do hope so.