Dealing with Death-Related Emotions as a Criminologist

Elizabeth Ortiz, MS, F-ABMDI

Investigating deaths is my primary role as a Medicolegal Death Investigator. I have been doing this for over fifteen years and have had extensive training for this particular field. I have furthered my knowledge of death investigation by obtaining a Master’s in Criminology from Regis University which covered different aspects of crime, laws, support groups and so forth. I am knowledgeable and extremely skilled in dealing with death, but the one thing I am lacking is the knowledge of how to deal with personal loss or, for that matter, the impending loss of someone dear.

Granted, there are several self-help books at your local bookstore or online that can provide the steps of grieving and how to overcome such grief, but what about someone like me who has dealt with death for so many years? I can talk to people about their loss. I can cry with them and hug them and let them know that I will take care of their loved one while they select the final arrangements of their loved one. I can make death notifications and try to console them. Yet after it is all said and done, I can continue with my work. I am not saying I forget them or I am not affected by their emotions, but it does not consume me. I am able to leave work-related emotions at work. I can compartmentalize those emotions and be okay.

What is not taught though is what I am supposed to do when I know them personally, know death is near their doorstep and there is nothing I can do to ease that process or even prevent it for the time being. How do I stop those thoughts from invading my everyday thinking? How do I stop feeling guilty that I am healthy yet they are not? What words can I say to their loved ones to offer support or comfort? This is not taught at any school and if it is, I am sure that I would still be bothered by these questions. Additionally, every situation is different and relationships are different but ultimately my heart is still sad.

I personally have a strong faith and in my heart I know we will all go to a better place and leave this temporary place. Yet, it does not make it any easier and the fact that I see death every time I go to work does not make it any easier. On the contrary, I feel like an outsider because I try to look at the situation as if this was just another case yet my heart knows differently.

Sometimes all of the education you gain cannot be put into use when you are faced with something so personal. It is during this time that you gather all of your knowledge and your strength to just breathe a little and make it through the day.

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