Jul 25, 2019
This guest blog post was written by an ASD employee who wishes to remain anonymous. The story chronicles our employee’s experience handling a call from a gentleman who reached out to a funeral home to find out what would happen to his remains if he were to take his own life. While ASD Call Specialists are trained extensively on how to handle difficult calls, in the past operators have been deeply affected and troubled by conversations they have had with those who stated they were contemplating suicide. This call was handled when ASD was in the process of developing and testing our Suicide Telephone Operator Patch (S.T.O.P) System, which allows our Call Specialist to seamlessly connect callers in crisis to a 24-hr suicide hotline. The call helped ASD’s programmers to improve the functionality of the system to ensure our staff would have more support during these calls going forward. Now, our staff does not have to shoulder this burden alone. Our employee’s story illuminates why this solution is so critical. We are grateful for her for sharing her experience and for the care and concern she exhibited throughout this extremely difficult call.
Guest Blog Post: Staying On Track With Will
Most people think of a roller coaster as an amusement park attraction, which consists of great excitement and a myriad of suspenseful, unexpected turns. As a child, I once thought of a roller coaster in a similar way.
When I was young, my relatives lived in a coastal town in southern New Jersey. I visited often, especially during the summer months. One day, my cousin and I decided to brave The Wild Wonder, a fairly new ride on the boardwalk, which resembles a mini roller coaster. Instead of a single “train” of cars, small “boxcars”, each holding four people, soar around the tracks.
As the boxcar travelled, we both felt very unsafe. The boxcar was shaky, and it felt like it was going to teeter off the edge and soar through the air onto the boardwalk. When we got off the ride, we informed my aunt who, in turn, immediately reported our experience to the operator of the ride. The operator did not appear to be much older than my cousin and me (we were ten at the time).
One week later, we learned that a deadly accident occurred on The Wild Wonder. During the final ascent, one of the boxcars lost traction, traveled backwards, and plowed into another boxcar. A mother and her 8-year-old-daughter were ejected from the defective boxcar, their safety bar failed, they were hurled into the air, and fell 30 feet to the ground to their deaths. Two other people were injured. To this day, my cousin and I believe this was the same boxcar in which we rode. We were fortunate, but that mother and daughter were not.
Needless to say, since this experience I HATE roller coasters! This is apropos, since I relate most of life to a roller coaster ride. I am a believer of life, love, and laughter; and also sorrow, despair, and tragedy.
I tend to overthink and analyze things to the extreme. I try to make sense of what is happening. Often, I can be my own worst enemy. We can leave that to your imagination.
My life has become one giant roller coaster ride. A ride I will never forget and, hopefully, one that won’t end with regrets or tragedy. No one knows where their final destination leads and that can be beautiful and completely mysterious and terrifying at the same time. When you allow the mystery of the unknown to consume you, you lose the beauty of the life you are living and, sometimes, lose yourself. Everyone has their “ups”, which are most precious and their “downs”, which sometimes resemble a hypercoaster. Surviving between the loops is what counts.
When I was in training, I once woke up in the middle of the night and hazily said to my two year old son “status new”. This is inside lingo for when the funeral home calls in their on-call schedule for the evening. I guess I was on call that night for my son. Much information must be learned and retained in class. During training, we are taught an abundance of things: proper call control, properly spelling cemetery (just remember – it’s all E’s); certain religious beliefs; and listening and slowing down in order to truly understand someone who has experienced a loss. The list is endless. While in class, I didn’t necessarily realize you learn by experience, like most on their roller coaster of life.
My story at ASD immediately began with a call which made a tremendous impact on my life. I was approximately two months out of the training class. During this time, I wasn’t in the best place due to some personal issues. And BOOM. I received THAT call. You know – the one for which they “prepare” you but can’t really “prepare” you? My call was the infamous suicide caller.
I was sitting in Ops2, when I received a phone call from a man named Will. (It’s been sometime, so my memory may be a bit foggy on the details). I took the call following the “call control”, if you can actually ascertain true call control at that point in your career. I definitely failed in my typed message. The message itself would have looked much different if I took the call today. I’m pretty sure the message read:
Caller I.D. with some numbers and something along the lines of “caller is trying”.
It was not a complete written message by any means, but that is not my point – I was new. Will asked what the funeral home would do if he “offed” himself in his pick-up truck. Will wanted to know how they would handle him and notify his mother. At this point, I was choking back tears as I told him I didn’t know what they would do to clean up the mess in the truck or how his mother would take the news. Personally, being a parent I could not even fathom such an event. Mind you, I was sitting in a secluded cubical at the end of a row, in a new place at a new job and I was totally unsure how to continue this call.
Tears were rolling down my face. Yet, I tried to remain as calm as possible. I couldn’t let this man realize how distraught I was. I tried to continue the call and I finally decided to roll myself out of my cubicle to frantically wave my hands in the hope of catching the eye of the Supervisor at the other end of the room. He looked at me with confusion. He attempted to ascertain what was happening, saw tears streaming down my face, and rushed over to help.
He, along with another Supervisor Assistant, were crucial keys in helping me get through the call. I was told to keep Will talking. I tried my best to step outside of my emotions and be there for this man, whom I never met. As I continued to engage Will in dialog, he confessed that he was in one of the darkest places of his life due to alcoholism. Finally, I realized I could try to help him or at least personally relate to him. I know all too well about the destructiveness of alcoholism. I am the daughter of an alcoholic and I also have some friends who were addicts. I felt I could make a connection.
I distinctly recall the thoughts in my head – “I have this, right?” And another voice said – “No. You never have it when it comes to a suicide caller. You cannot completely relate to this person because you have never been on THAT ride”.
I explained to Will how my Dad turned his life around and tries to keep busy every day. When he is not at his office, he is painting, gardening, enjoying his grandchildren, or is tinkering in the garage. I tried to let Will know there is something at the end of the dark tunnel in which he was residing at the time. Or, at least I think that was what I was saying.
In my mind, I was trying to placate him. I had many thoughts.
“I’m new, come on, I don’t need this.”
“I can’t handle this”
“This is not what I signed up for”.
I also kept wondering how this call was going to end. The Supervisors encouraged me to talk about positive things and to stay away from the topic of women because Will had asked why he couldn’t find “the one”. I could have enlightened him with some facts that women can just be nutty at times, but I refrained. I held back on getting into the complexity of relationships and tried to redirect the conversation any way possible.
The Supervisor did a tremendous job finding things for me to discuss while, at the same time, trying to patch the Funeral Director into the call. When technology failed to help, he was still there to talk me through an extremely difficult call.
This was one of the most serene moments in my life, but I did not realize it at the time. When the Supervisor was unable connect the Funeral Director straight to the caller, an Assistant Supervisor helped me get through the rest of the call. In the end, I was able to get Will’s full name and phone number to relay to the Funeral Director. Without them both encouraging me, I don’t know how the call would have ended. No words can express the sincere gratitude I feel for their assistance in handling such an onerous situation.
Eventually, I had to disconnect from Will, as the Funeral Director was going to call him back. To this day, I do not know if Will found the peace he was so desperately seeking – but so helpless in obtaining. I do not know if his mother had to claim his body in his pick-up truck or if he ever understood the true meaning of riding this rollercoaster we call life. This will haunt me forever, as does the fatal accident on The Wild Wonder.
For my next shift, two days later, I was late arriving at work and was called into the Manager’s Office. They wanted to make sure I wasn’t late due to the call and wanted to ensure that I was alright. I told them I was fine and I was late due to my negligence in setting the alarm, which was true. But perhaps it was just a pause on the ride I was meant to take.
As I stated earlier, I was dealing with some personal issues at the time, so I know the feeling of life coming at you all at once while on that rollercoaster ride. Sometimes you just have to learn to deal with the queasiness. I hope Will is finding peace in an alcohol free life with his mom and the woman of his dreams to cherish. That call gave me a greater sense of what I must endure on this rollercoaster ride. It gave me a greater purpose in my personal life and I view this job in an entirely new perspective. I realized the trials and tribulations in my life could always be worse because someone always has it tougher. My rollercoaster has had many upside down loops and turns, some of which I cannot control – but it is meant to be my ride.
You either learn through experiences or you can choose to remain oblivious. The fact is – I am still here! Never once – during that call – did I anticipate that Will would make me stronger. I feel I may have helped him a little, but he also helped me. We were meant to connect. He made me a more balanced woman, daughter, mother, friend, and partner. He will live with me forever.
Will only needed someone to listen. I will forever be grateful I was his non-judgmental ear on that lonesome Friday evening. I have been through much, like most on this ride, but one thing I always try to remember is how lucky I am to have a family that loves me and I them. I have food to eat, a roof over my head, and an income to keep things on the track.
Many do not realize what it takes for us to handle life’s most somber and sorrowful calls. We must stay positive, especially when dealing with someone’s fragilities while barreling through life. From trainee to whatever title I may hold now, it never gets easier. I just gain more knowledge and perspective for the journey yet to come. This is rewarding. Sometimes the job can be challenging and sometimes, whether realized at the time or not, the most difficult calls can be worth the monotonous ones.
I’d love to hear that Will is flourishing – but that is part of the mystery. You don’t always find the answers for which you search. You just have to keep riding the rollercoaster to discover what will come. Enjoy the ride wherever it may lead, take a chance on a perilous path, and never lose faith in the tracks.
About ASD’s Suicide Telephone Operator Patch System
This call that is described in this guest blog post was handled by ASD when our company was in the process of developing and testing our Suicide Telephone Operator Patch (S.T.O.P) System, which allows our Call Specialist to seamlessly connect callers in crisis to a 24-hr suicide hotline. Our employee’s story illuminates why this solution is so critical. ASD Call Specialists can now press an emergency button on their keyboard to immediately alert a Suicide Hotline when they are speaking to someone in crisis. The call can be connected to the hotline without the ASD Call Specialist interrupting the caller or placing him or her on hold. The hotline operator will hear a recording alerting them that a distressed and possibly suicidal person is on the line speaking to an ASD Call Specialist and can press any key to be 3-way connected into the call. By linking ASD staff to qualified, suicide prevention operators, we can help ensure that those who are suffering receive immediate counseling, guidance and support.
ASD Implements Suicide Prevention Call Support System To Help Distressed Callers
Local Company Saves Lives with Suicide Prevention System
ASD’s Suicide Telephone Operator Patch (STOP) System Wins 2017 NFDA Innovation Award
About The Author
Jess Farren (Fowler)
Jess Farren (Fowler) is a Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer who has been a part of the ASD team since 2003. Jess manages ASD’s company blog and has been published in several funeral trade magazines. She has written articles on a variety of subjects including communication, business planning, technology, marketing and funeral trends. You can contact Jess directly at Jess@myASD.com