Thursday, August 26, 2010

I went to identify the body

of my former client today with my colleague who had recently taken over the case. He felt a little uncomfortable going by himself. Neither one of us had ever done this before, so we really did not know what to expect.

When we arrived at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, we found that it was a pretty large, bright, airy building---not some dark basement of a hospital like we assumed. We were greeted warmly and asked to fill out some paperwork with some brief background information about our client, including some of his history, medical providers and our suspected cause of death.

After that, we sat in a nice waiting room and the worker came out to meet with us. We did not actually have to go "look" at a body. She brought out a digital photo of his face.

It was definitely our client, although like when many people die, it did not really look like our client.

After we stated that it was him, we sat and chatted for a little bit with the worker. She told us that she was impressed that we had come, and as social workers, did we have any suggestions of how to go about helping their office identify more of the people who are brought in.

I suggested that she gather up a list of local homeless shelters, mental health providers, and in particular ACT/ICM/SCM teams. She felt that this information was very helpful because there are so many bodies brought in each year that no one comes to claim, and she feels sad that they are eventually buried without a name, or a notification to anyone.

Anyway, I am really glad I went today. It brought me some closure, and I also learned what the process is to get a death certificate, as well as autopsy report (two items most social service agencies will often need as part of their own internal investigation when a client dies unexpectedly).

My co-worker and I are also thinking of doing a service to honor our former client's memory. Sadly, he really didn't have family or natural supports in his life, however, many of his helping providers remember him fondly so we would like to do a little something.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting that expectations of the building weren't exactly what happened -- I would've expected something a bit similar based on movies I've seen.

    I'm sorry for you and your coworker's loss. I could see how it would bring a sense of closure to identify his body and in a way fill in a difficult role a family member or friend would've taken. I'm sure it meant a lot for him to have you and your coworker in his life and it means a lot that he'll be remembered by staff at your agency.