November 22, 2006

Signal 7 and Thanksgiving

It was not a promising beginning to the Thanksgiving holiday. At 7:52 this morning I received a page that said, “Signal 7, 80 year old female.” A Signal 7 is a death. Then at 11:35 I received another that said, “9 month old baby not breathing.” I later learned that the baby was also Signal 7. This evening at 7:24 I received yet another page that said officers were investigating a possible 10-67 (sexual assault). Despite the fact that I live and work in a fairly rural county is south Georgia, sadly, such days are not all that atypical.

Responding to the death of a child has always had a profound impact on me (and evryone else involved). One of the worst was when a mother had innocently put an adult blanket into her baby’s crib to keep her warm. Sometime during the night the little girl became entangled in the blanket and smothered. I was with another officer and he was dealing with the family while I stood at the door to the child’s bedroom to keep everyone out. I could see that the baby had died face down as the fluids had begun to pool in her cheeks and the tip of her nose. The paramedics arrived shortly after we did and went into the bedroom, realized the obvious and almost immediately walked back out. I was not aware at the time that the mother was still harboring hope that her daughter was alive. When the paramedic walked back into the living room she let out a wail/scream that I will never forget, it still raises the hair on my neck. It was like the sound of her soul leaving her body.

My youngest daughter at the time was about six months old, the same age as the baby girl who died. I took it very hard, but I got to walk away, to get up the next day, to hug my daughter and still have my family complete. When blinded by grief as that mother was, there is no hope, no giving of thanks. The same with the families today, mourning the loss of a matriarch, the loss of innocence and the loss of their dearest treasure. Today and tomorrow and for many days to come there will be no thanksgiving, no joy, no holiday spirit.

But eventually the pain will ebb, the tears will slow and the memories will either fade or become a source of comfort. The holidays will be hard but bearable. God has designed us to be able (in most circumstances) to absorb such emotional trauma and somehow heal, to reconcile ourselves with the certainty of our limited time in this life. So while you can, hug your spouse, your children, your siblings, your parents. Give thanks to God for your family and your loved ones.

And be careful if you’re traveling. There will be a lot of hurried, tired people and a lot of police on the roads with you.

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