Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tough Day

Telling someone, even a complete stranger, that their loved one has suddenly and unexpectedly died is one of the hardest things I've had to do.  This was not, obviously, my first death case since I became ACS Chief, but it is the first one where the next of kin had absolutely no idea what I was going to say.  They train us to preface the news of the death by telling them who we are, that we are calling from the Embassy, and that we have bad news about the loved one.  Today, I did all that and it still hit her out of left field.

It was very hard to be on the giving end of such awful news.  The pain in this woman's voice was so palpable that it was animalistic.  I felt guilty for bringing so much pain to another human being.  I couldn't help but think how I would handle such a phone call, especially if it came from a complete stranger.  Or worse, how bad it would be for my parents to get such a phone call.  I tried to be mindful of these thoughts as I listened to her sob and talked her through the next steps.  Perhaps the worst part was when she realized that no one else knew and that she needed to make more phone calls.

After the phone call, I had to really compose myself.  I was really down for about an hour.  I was surprised about much it affected me.  I didn't know this person.  I didn't know his family.  Yet, it undoubtedly had a dramatic effect on my day.

I was really feeling down until I remembered the most important rule about ACS work.  No matter how bad my day is, the person I am helping is having a worse day.  I regularly deal with people who have lost their passport, are in the hospital, have been arrested or had a family member recently die.  No matter how bad things get at work, it is better than what these people are going through.  I haven't decided if this is a positive or a negative way to view it, but it got me out of my funk today.  I know that I am helping people in their time of need.


  1. I want to thank you for this post. I am a new FSO currently in Con Gen, and this difficult subject is what we're learning about at this very moment. I think it must be one of the hardest parts of the job, and it takes a great deal of courage and compassion. It is a reminder of just how important--and difficult--our service is.

  2. I'm sure I mentioned (probably more than once) that death cases are some of those work situations where we can't make things any better, but we can probably help keep them from getting any worse.

    Thanks for being there for that next-of-kin, for our deceased fellow citizen, when nobody else from home could be there. It's why the president and the secretary of state have put you were you are right now.

  3. Thanks for the comments. @anonymous - ConGen cannot simulate the real thing.

    I went and tried to identify the body today. The body was in an advanced state of decomposition and way worse than I could have expected. I was not truly able to make a positive ID and we had to get prints taken for positive ID. Doing the identification was not as tough emotionally as calling his wife, but I won't be able to forget that image anytime soon.

  4. My lovely wife could probably tell you about the couple times when I'd go straight to the kitchen and have a shot of Jack Daniels.

    Those were only after morgue visits.