I hate death. I know it is a natural process of life but I think it sucks. To tell you the truth I have never seen a dead body that looks graceful. If the body would just give up peacefully and be normal I could handle it. I haven't seen that yet. Most officers have a great attitude about death and dealing with bodies of the deceased, but unfortunately I am not one of them. It's my weakness. Everybody has a weakness… it's just a matter of identifying it, admitting it and moving on. Mine is dead bodies. Well, and red wine, but that's on weekends off and doesn't count.
Maybe some of my experiences have molded my attitude towards death. Like the call where a neighbor phones in, usually at midnight - because it can't possibly be daylight out heaven forbid - and tells us that their 87 year old neighbor Martha hasn't been seen in awhile and her sprinkler has been on for three days and they think something may be wrong. Ya think? So here we go, in the flippin' dark to break into Martha's house only to search (Did I mention it is in the dark?) for a dead body. Since the female officer is usually the smallest, she gets to be the one who crawls in through the window, which is usually perched right atop the bed where the deceased is lying. So, I ask you - can they pay me enough money to do this? I think not.
To some this may be exciting; to me not so much. When I was a rookie my training officer "volunteered us" to go to a death where a man had been in his apartment for several days in the heat of the summer months. He was on the second floor but you could smell him as soon as you entered the building. My partner handed me the key and said it was my turn.
I opened the door to the apartment only to be greeted by a flood of flies. Not a good sign. Flies lay eggs; fly eggs mean maggots. Eww, I think I'm going to be sick. On the bed inside the apartment was a man who was so bloated he looked like he weighed 300lbs. Reportedly, just days earlier, he had tipped the scales at a mere 175. His sunglasses were imbedded into his head and his fingers stuck together like they were webbed. I was twenty years old and had never seen anything like this, not even in the movies. Keep in mind of course this is so much better than the movies because now I not only get the sight experience but I get to smell it too. Did I mention I felt sick? My training officer said "Turn him over and see if he has a knife in his back." I don't think so chumly. That's not going to happen. We'll let the coroner find that one. The smell was so bad we had to go and get air packs from the fire department and come back and search the room for evidence. Needless to say, I had to shower after that and change my clothes as we stunk like old garbage. When we went for our lunch break that night I had a salad; very safe. My partner had a beef dip that made me gag at the sight of it. I'm still not into beef dips.
The funny thing is that the person doesn't even have to be dead to scare the bejesus out of me. We got one of the calls as described above where the son from Calgary couldn't get contact his mother by phone and was worried. He called at 11:30pm - thanks for that! (What is wrong with you people?) So we approached the house and there was a light on, which to me meant she died at night - just likely not tonight. Of course we rang the doorbell for 10 minutes before it was clear she wasn't coming to greet us. When we tried to open the door it was tied shut from the inside with a rope. Yep, she was inside... now where inside? We cut the rope and went in. She was a pack rat. The hallways were lined with newspapers, magazines, boxes of junk and old material. It was like a maze trying to get up the stairs where the light was on. We were calling her name the entire time to no avail. When we reached the room we could hear some music playing and there in the corner sat the body of an elderly female in an armchair, her eyes closed in the peaceful slumber of death. Well at least we had light and nothing was a big surprise. Suddenly she opened her eyes and sat up in her chair and scared the crap out of me. She was supposed to be dead! Then as calm as ever she says, "Can I help you?"
"Yes, as soon as I get my lungs out of my throat, could ya call your son?"
As you can see death isn't my thing. But not everyone can be good at everything in policing. Some may be great investigators some may not be able to investigate their way out of a wet paper bag. Some may be great at the analytical work or the community work or dealing with victims of crime. Each of us will have some weaknesses and some strengths. I hope that my weakness about death doesn't paint the picture that all policewomen can't handle dead bodies, because that just isn't true. One of my girlfriends was guarding a bloodied murder scene with the body still there and ate her lunch while she was at it. She has no problem with it. In fact it intrigues her.
And you know the story about the bloated guy with the flies? Two female and two male emergency response technicians had to put his body in a tin casket and drill the sides shut in order to get him out of there without spilling the contents. When I asked them what they got paid (this was 20years ago) they said $7.50 an hour.