[guest post by Dana]
Naomi Rosenberg is an emergency room doctor at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia. This weekend, the New York Times published her eloquent and powerful tutorial, How to Tell a Mother Her Child is Dead. One can only imagine what Rosenberg sees in one shift of work considering that this is a city where last year “…there were only 22 days when someone wasn’t shot in Philadelphia and [n]early 1 in 5 victims died”. One can surmise the manner in which any number of Rosenberg’s patients, including the one in the essay, have met their death. And given the high volume of gun-related deaths in the nation’s inner-cities like Philadelphia, there is the distinct possibility that they may have also had a hand, whether directly or indirectly, in the death of another young person. This is the madness.
First you get your coat. I don’t care if you don’t remember where you left it, you find it. If there was a lot of blood you ask someone to go quickly to the basement to get you a new set of scrubs. You put on your coat and you go into the bathroom. You look in the mirror and you say it. You use the mother’s name and you use her child’s name. You may not adjust this part in any way.
I will show you: If it were my mother you would say, “Mrs. Rosenberg. I have terrible, terrible news. Naomi died today.” You say it out loud until you can say it clearly and loudly. How loudly? Loudly enough. If it takes you fewer than five tries you are rushing it and you will not do it right. You take your time.
After the bathroom you do nothing before you go to her. You don’t make a phone call, you do not talk to the medical student, you do not put in an order. You never make her wait. She is his mother.
If she asks you, you will tell her what you know. You do not lie. But do not say he was murdered or he was killed. Yes, I know that he was, but that is not what you say. You say that he died; that is the part that you saw and that you know. When she asks if he felt any pain, you must be very careful. If he did not, you assure her quickly. If he did, you do not lie. But his pain is over now. Do not ever say he was lucky that he did not feel pain. He was not lucky. She is not lucky. Don’t make that face. The depth of the stupidity of the things you will say sometimes is unimaginable.
Before you leave you break her heart one more time. “No, I’m so sorry, but you cannot see him. There are strict rules when a person dies this way and the police have to take him first. We cannot let you in. I’m so sorry.” You do not ever say “the body.” It is not a body. It is her son. You want to tell her that you know that he was hers. But she knows that and she does not need for you to tell her. Instead you tell her you will give her time and come back in case she has questions. More questions, or questions for the first time. If she has no questions you do not give her the answers to the questions she has not asked.
When you leave the room, do not yell at the medical student who has a question. When you get home, do not yell at your husband. If he left his socks on the floor again today, it is all right.
I would like to think that we can set politics aside for a moment, and listen to Rosenberg’s straightforward step-by-step narrative of the most respectful way for a doctor to light the fuse on a stick of dynamite and hand it to a fearful parent, and then wait and watch as a mother’s world explodes into unspeakable grief, anger and sorrow. All of this culminating in enormous frustration at the seeming unfairness of life. I’ve never been that parent. I can only project how I think it might feel. And I’m guessing it would be something akin to a sledge hammer shattering my heart into a million tiny splinters of vicious shards that mercilessly pierce my soul with every breath. That kind of pain. Rosenberg’s instructions of this necessary evil have nothing to do with the politics and pathology of the inner-city struggles and its attendant problems. She is giving readers a glimpse into her world of that one single, solitary moment in which she alone must confirm to a parent that the nightmare in which they find themselves is very real, and in just a short moment, will become far worse than ever imagined.
But by extension, how can this not be about politics at some level, and the moral collapse of the family structure in certain communities? Surely it is the inevitable outcome of something gone terribly wrong. However, at the end of the day, no matter the socio-economic status of the families involved, or even if their own offspring set this tragedy in motion, there still remains a parent who must be told that their child is dead.
As I read Rosenberg’s essay, I was reminded of Patterico’s recent post in which the Los Angeles Times intentionally buried the fact that a 14-year old boy, killed by the LAPD, was first “suspected of writing gang-style graffiti before leading officers on a foot chase and firing a gun at them[.]” The gun having been found later. A commenter cynically said:
The Darwin effect is alive and well.
The blacks are basically self-exterminating. Barry’s home town, Chicago, is a great example.
Thugs offing one another, or shooting at police and being taken out…. yes..more please.
This also shrinks the Democrat’s voting base.
To which our host replied:
When I say “all lives matter” that includes gang members. I deal with a lot of families of murdered gang members. They hurt just like everyone else. And not every gang member is the same.