And I must say, I’ve never done it by sending a family member a text message.
These past few weeks have been both frustrating and heart wrenching for the families whose loved ones were on Malaysia Flight 370. Since the plane vanished off the radar screen it has been a tumultuous experience. I can’t even begin to imagine the heartache they are going through.
My heart broke today as I heard the horrific news how Malaysian authorities conveyed to anxious loved-ones the presumption that Flight 370 went down in the southern Indian Ocean and that, “all lives are lost.”
The words ripped through the family members—ours as well.
Outside of the fact that the entire investigation by the Malaysian authorities has been a complete debacle, it is without question that the manner in which they handled the death notification lacked any semblance of dignity.
"...all lives are lost."
So, how should a death notification be delivered?
1. The notification should always be done in person and in private. I have always made the notification to the next of kin in a private setting that would allow them to grieve upon hearing the initial news.
2. It should be in a timely manner. Waiting too long after you have confirmed the death of someone leaves the family member wrestling with a great deal of anxiety in not knowing the whereabouts of their loved-one.
3. It should be done with a great deal of compassion. You’ll want to insure what you are about to tell the family is true and factual. Giving a death notification with any unresolved contingencies leaves the door wide open that perhaps you are wrong and that their loved-one is still alive.
4. It should be done with simple speech. Drawing out the notification and using technical or police jargon often confuses the family member and they don’t quite understand what you’re saying and can even miss the actual notification. Usually, when well-dressed detectives are knocking on your door you realize that the news they are about to deliver cannot be good. The family member almost immediately starts preparing themselves for the worst. Typically I would confirm that I was speaking with the family member of my victim and then would make the notification. I would then follow up with whatever details I could release without compromising the investigation. It’s important to remember that the family wants answers and needs to know what happened.
5. Always ensure that the family member has necessary support before leaving. It is important to leave the family member with family, friends, church family, clergy, or even professional counselors (when appropriate).
Today, family members from the passengers of Flight 370 were left writhing in a flood of emotions that swept over them without warning. Had the Malaysian officials better prepared themselves—and done a better job handling the investigation—family members would have been better prepared to receive the news they were hoping would never come.
Have we become such a technical society that we have lost our personal compassion, no longer providing dignity in death?
Ken Lang is a former Baltimore area homicide detective and an award-winning author of several true crime books, including Walking Among the Dead, Standing In Death’s Shadow, and Death Comes Uninvited. In 2011, he was named one of 50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading by The Author’s Show. He was recently awarded the 2013 DETC Famous Alumni of the Year. 2013 New York Times bestselling author Julia Spencer Fleming says, “Ken Lang is the real deal—a cop with chops!” Ken resides in North East, Maryland with his wife and three children. To learn more about his true crime books and upcoming crime novels please visit his website at www.kenlangstudios.com