Tonight, You’re Someone.

When I was new in the career that I am now an old man in, I worked for an old man who watched over me and my peers. He knew we knew a lot less than we thought we did and it was his job to fill in the holes in our knowledge.

Sometimes he told us what we needed to know in a meeting. There were times he’d see that my ego was ahead of my ability and he’d correct that pretty directly – it didn’t matter who was there to hear it.

And then there were times when he would do things and none of us knew what he was thinking.

Early One Morning

I’d been working for a few months and went on a call at a house I knew was used for gambling. An anonymous caller said that an elderly man was unconscious on the front porch. This was not an unusual occurrence at this location, they’d toss drunks out all the time. This time, it was unusual.

He was dead.

As best as we were able to assemble after the fact, the man had some sort of medical emergency inside the house. The people running the gambling house thought he was drunk. They put him outside, shut down the operation for the night and left him there. He was sitting on a chair on the porch when I got there. There was nothing I could do to change what had happened.

So, I called my Sergeant, according to procedure. He arrived and we handled the situation, according to procedure.

Then it was time for me to learn.

Do You Have The Man’s Drivers License?

Things were moving along, reports were being written and procedures followed. After he spoke with some of the more experienced officers on the scene, he called my name. I knew never to make him call it twice.

“Boy, someone’s got to notify his wife. Tonight, you’re someone.”

I’d always wanted to be someone, until that moment. I knew that there was no way anyone else was taking on that sad task that night. My fate was as sealed as that poor man in the chair. I also knew I had no idea how to do what he was telling me to. I asked him how to handle the situation.

“Do you have the man’s drivers license, son?” I handed it over.

He looked it over and then read the dead man’s name aloud. Then he said the most incomprehensible thing I could have imagined at the time.

“Go to his address and knock on the door. When the lady inside comes out, you say ‘are you the Widow Jones?’ Go on son, do your job.”

Things Are Kind Of A Blur

I remember standing on the porch of a neat little house in a bad part of town. It was around 3 a.m.. I hated the old man for making me do this. Minutes passed before I knocked and when I did, I cursed myself because there was no turning back.

She cried and I was as comforting as a 23-year-old stranger can be to a woman of her age. I just did whatever I thought I should. It felt like I was there for about 23 years. But I know I was there less than an hour. Her family arrived, I spoke with them and left.

At 4 a.m. the sergeant called on the radio to get my paperwork for the night. He called specifically for me first. Usually he called for everyone on the shift to meet him and drop off our reports. This time, just me.

I gave him all my written work. I was so frustrated with him that I rushed to get away.  I didn’t make it. He wasn’t through with me.

“Tell me what happened”

I told him what I said, what the reaction was, and what I did next. He asked what I thought about it and I told him it sucked. Then I amended that to “I didn’t like it, sir.”

The Only Time He Ever Said It

“I know you cussed me all the way to that lady’s house, but you need to know that I don’t know the answer to what you asked me. No one knows. Sometimes things are bad, and you do the best you can. Be as kind as you can and do your best. Whenever you don’t know what to do, just do that. Go home early, you had a tough night. You did your best.”

He got on the radio and called for everyone else to bring their reports to him. That was the end of the lesson. “Go home, boy, that’s enough.”

I did.

So Now I’m Old

I’ve never taught that lesson in quite the same way he did, but I’m old enough to have picked up on where he was going with it. Sometimes, when you feel that you can’t do enough, the truth is that no one could do enough.

The desire to do enough at those times is plenty. That desire means everything to people, especially when it is all either of you have.

I’m still the guy that knocks on the door. It never gets easier. I’m sort of glad it is that way.

I don’t send my people to do it, I go with them. Sometimes, I go with someone who has never knocked on a door. We talk afterward.

I teach them to be kind and then I send them home.

I wrote of the old man before, here.


28 Comments on “Tonight, You’re Someone.”

  1. What awful news to deliver. I wouldn’t even know how.

    You’re one strong, caring guy, Oma.

  2. Todd Pack says:

    That’s a tough job, Oma. Glad you don’t send any kids on those calls by themselves. That’s a hell of a way to learn how to do it.

  3. Linda Sand says:

    Going with the newbie sounds a lot kinder to me. I think you learned more lesson than he meant to teach.

    • omawarisan says:

      I can’t argue with you. The man could be very rough cut. There was an element of “watch this” to how it was done. But he toon the time to try to reassemble me. That counts.

  4. Debbie says:

    Sounds like you’re the right someone to handle an awful task like this. There’s just no easy way to break bad news to anybody, but at least you’re doing it gently — and teaching the young ones to do so, too. Heck of a story, Oma!

  5. Thank you for being that kind of person, Oma.

  6. Great post. I’m going to have to re-evaluate my definition of a “rough day.”

  7. We Found Him Captain! says:

    I am in awe of all you’ve been exposed to “on the job”. Your leadership skills, compassionate handling of sensitive matters and regard for your “people” is second to none.

    After reading this blurt and gulping back the lump in my throat, I clicked on the last line which read: I wrote of the old man before. I then lost my composure completely, but feel so proud of you.

  8. My Odd Family says:

    It’s hard, really hard, to tell someone that a person they have held near, dear, and loved has died. It is life changing. It sucks in the worst possible way. When an outsider gives you awful news the kindness isn’t always remembered in the moment but when you replay the moment over and over again in your head you remember the person who gave you the bad news with absolute clarity and every word he or she said…the tone, the offer of a glass of water, or to call someone, and it colors your whole experience of a moment in your life that you will never forget.

    • omawarisan says:

      I feel it isn’t so much what is done, but how…?

      • My Odd Family says:

        In my opinion: Quickly, calmly, compassionately. I don’t remember what people didn’t do but I remember what they did do…the paramedic who told me to “calm down” when I was standing calmly without a tear in my eye, the doctor who kindly told people to back off while I sat in shock and went to get me a glass of water, the nun that told me, I would be just fine, my husband was with God now, the brother-in-law that told her to get the “heck” out of the room, the security guard that heard me say I could really use a coke and brought me one, the cop who took a report and reached out and put his hand on top of my shaking hand. I remember every single one of them almost two years later.
        Under the worst of circumstances I do not think you will have any problem being remembered as one of the good guys.

  9. The Jagged Man says:

    Oma, I do not know what triggered your need to write this post but I hope you realize how important your being at the end of the spear is to those around you.
    Be well and peace be with you.

  10. Snoring Dog Studio says:

    You are a good man, Oma. You make a difference in so many peoples’ lives.

  11. Unfortunately I have been the one stuck in the position of delivering “the news” as well.A friend was house/pet sitting for a couple when the officer arrived with the news that the couples son had died in a car accident. I guess he told her the news and left, she had no idea what to do and called me.

    I drove over there and we had the couple tracked down at their hotel. I was the one who had to tell them over the phone.Even when you aren’t face to face it is hard to do, you would think that the phone would make it somehow easier, but you can’t read their reactions. There is no way to comfort someone over the phone or to properly convey your sympathy.

    • omawarisan says:

      That story is horrifying. I feel compelled to apologize even though it wasn’t me. You should never have been left in that position.

      That said, thank you for finding the strength and grace to do what you did.

      And welcome to Blurt. I have reliable information that it is usually much more lighthearted here.

  12. spencercourt says:

    > ‘are you the Widow Jones?

    He had a good sense of humor. Very necessary in that kind of job, and I don’t mean just when you have to give someone bad news.

  13. […] written of The Old Man before in these posts: Thanks, Old Man and Tonight, You’re Someone. 35.410694 […]

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