Posted by: Jody Glynn Patrick | 06/08/2013

Could your comment change the life of a bereaved parent?

A couple of weeks ago, I received a really strange inquiry by email: “This is going to be a weird question: Were you the suburban Milwaukee police chaplain in January 1991?” It was signed by a person whose name I didn’t recognize, obviously written while on the job because the signature line under her name revealed she was a “Claims Adjuster” with a care organization.

Hmm. In 1991, my position was better described as crisis interventionist; I signed on in 1989 in the role of Chaplain, but then my function changed over time to crisis counselor. By 1991, I only put on the official chaplain’s bars when I did a death notification.

Why would a claims adjuster write to me about a death notification? I must admit, I felt a modicum of unease as I pondered the mysterious message. Normally a later day inquiry comes from the district attorney’s office, when a cold case is reopened. My curiosity rose to a level 10. “Yes, if you are referring to a death situation; I was the only chaplain for the department at that time,” I responded, “but why do you ask?”

Three days later, after the weekend, the answer arrived in her reply email. She said that I had indeed responded to a death in her immediate family. The woman’s husband had died in 1991, leaving her with a three-year old child to raise alone. (She had since remarried, however, which was why I didn’t recognize the name). She remembered that during her weakest moment, I clasped my necklace around her neck suggesting she keep it close to her heart as a reminder that God was always close to her. God had sent me to her, and we would get through the sadness of burying her husband together.

“The cross has a pearl on it,” she reminded.

Yes, I remember the necklace.

The reason she was looking me up now, she said, was for a very specific and special reason. Her daughter – the little toddler during those terrible days – was now all grown up and getting married; the family would very much like it if I would officiate at the wedding as the ordained clergy. And by the way, the woman’s granddaughter would be wearing the cross for the ceremony.

So this September, I’ll be driving to Milwaukee to join that young woman and her groom in the bonds of Holy Matrimony on what, I hope, will be the happiest day of her life. Her mother says that I was with them both on the saddest day, so in some way, they will feel the father’s presence a little more keenly if I am there to officiate on the most poignant day as well.

(Another) moral of this story

On that day in 1991 (January 5), I reported for duty not expecting that my shift would be any different than most. I had no premonition that I would be opening the small case in which my two chaplain’s bars were kept, that I would polish the silver pins with a soft buffer cloth and snap the pin tack on the back to secure them to my right and left corners of my blue collar. I didn’t know, that morning, that later in the day I would clip on the black dress tie under that same collar and give my shoes a quick spit polish, straighten the badge on my shirt, double check an address, and ring her doorbell.

You and I have both been on the other side of that doorbell, too, to admit people who are only at our house because of a crisis. A death. Our child’s death.

Now that you have that experience, going forward you make a choice, every moment of the day, whether to be present, to witness, and to support many different people.

It was my job then, to serve her, and it is my joy now, to serve her daughter, and it is my privilege  to serve you as well with the occasional column that is a little outside your expectation. A reminder and assurance that you are not alone, and something you write for another grieving parent as a comment today could be the very thing they never forget.

Thank you for your readership and for the support you offer one another.


  1. I pray for the strength to help in these moments when my heart is broken. Words that just came from my fingers without thinking. xoxoxoxo

  2. My boss whom I have become very close to lost a child 25 years ago and this is the first year I have worked for her on her child’s birthday. I had 25 balloons delivered to work as a surprise and we went out and released them together. The anniversary of his passing is coming up and I will be gone I would like to send her some flowers and a note letting her know that I am thinking of her and she is in my prayers. Is this appropriate? I have other friends that have lot children and I do believe that as the years go by it doesn’t get easier the hurt just becomes a way of life. Some days are good memories and other days are sad. I just don’t want to offend her. I need some feed back please.

    • This is appropriate And also thoughtful. However, I would have them sent to a home rather than an office so that your boss not have to feel a public reaction or explanation is necessary rather than a private comfort.

      • What a sweet thing to do. Contrary to some peoples beliefs, I think sending them to work was OK. After time people move on from our looses, even though we never will. Sharing the pain makes it a little less unbearable. xoxox

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