It’s the knock that no one wants to deliver, the knock that nobody wants to hear.
Working with the RCMP for seven years impacted me not only as a journalist, but on a personal level as well. The experience changed my perception of what’s involved in the day-to-day routine of law enforcement, and once a comfort zone of trust was established, provided an up close more personal insight into the challenges Mounties must face and stare down.
Every member who spoke to me on and off the record agreed that without a sliver of doubt, notifications of next of kin, or noks, as they called them, were about as tough and as gut-wrenching as it gets.
Imagine sitting around with your colleagues discussing last night’s game or sharing a few laughs over sandwiches in the lunchroom and you get the call that you’re up. Someone you don’t know, or in the cruelest twist of fate, someone you know has died, and you have to go break the news to the family.
I can’t forget a sun-splashed summer morning when I worked at Royal Roads back in the days when it was a military college, and I was having coffee on the loading dock with the other cooks I worked with. An RCMP cruiser pulled up and I was polishing up a smart-ass remark before they even got out of the car.
Although what I said elicited a few chuckles from my workmates, the grim expressions on the officers’ faces did not change an iota as they walked past us without a word. Within moments they returned, each supporting an arm of our hysterical colleague, Terry, who had just been informed that her 18-year-old son had died in a crash on the motorcycle he bought two weeks before.
I took a course while I worked at the West Shore detachment on noks, as intense a one-day session as anything I’ve ever signed up for before.
The one thing I took away is that no one can ever know how someone will react, and there is nothing you can read or study that can prepare you for how someone will feel when you deliver the news.
The facilitator, a former RCMP member with too much experience in that regard, shared one story that hammered home the point. He had to tell a young mom with two toddlers that her husband, the father of her children, would not be coming home – ever. She stood in silence for the longest of moments before blurting out, “Thank God, that bastard will never beat me or the kids again.”
Another profession I gained a heap of respect for that I could never wrap my head around doing for eight hours a day is working in Victim Services. I can’t imagine the strength, compassion, understanding and empathy required, and can’t fathom how they manage to unwind after a typically tough day at the office.
We are all so very fortunate that there are women and men in place to handle what so few of us could do. Think about it the next time you feel like launching on a cop for simply doing his job.
Rick Stiebel is a Sooke resident and semi retired journalist.