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27 November 2020
“Working as a Family Liaison Officer (FLO) can be immensely rewarding. To be able to help a fellow human being in their darkest hour and be able to change the world for one person or at least help them to adjust to a new one, is a painful privilege.
“However, the role of a FLO has a shelf life. One day I know I will have to give up the job I volunteered for over 10 years ago.
“For reasons I'm yet to understand, circumstances and events transpire to bring a person’s life to a premature end, sometimes before it's even really begun. It could be the result of a potential criminal act and a FLO is parachuted in, landing firmly in the middle of an emotional no man's land of a devastated family. I purposely use that language because we invade a family's grief and intimacy with the same abruptness of a fired shell hitting the ground.
“But what really affects me as a FLO and continues to do so is the utter vacuum for those left behind. The mind numbing, cold-hearted emptiness.
“A FLO will wherever possible go to the scene of a fatal collision. I'll be briefed by the senior investigating officer on the circumstances and any clues as to the identity of the deceased. It's not always that easy and there is a tremendous amount of pressure to let the next of kin know as soon as possible. We must be sure we know the identity of the deceased and we're always fighting a battle with social media.
“I arrive at the front door and I hesitate to knock. People react in different ways, and over the years I've learned the power of silence.
“The next huge emotional hurdle for me and the family is formal identification. For many, this is the time when the awful news finally sinks in.
“The first few hours with a family or individual for a FLO are draining, both emotionally and physically. It is the start of a long painful journey lasting many months, littered with emotional hurdles and troughs. I have shared the grief of many families over the years.
“Some start off as friends and remain friends, while some start off as enemies and become friends. But I am proud to say I've never lost a friend nor created an enemy.
“All of this takes its toll, a toll that must be paid. Each subsequent deployment gets harder, not easier. I have realised I am getting closer to emotional saturation as over the years the effect is cumulative.
“How much longer I can carry on in this wonderful role is a question I don’t have an answer to. My own emotional intelligence will tell me when to go. Quitting whilst I’m ahead is not the same as quitting.”
DC Dave Thomas
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