My wife and I are owners of a company that provides what technically is known as biohazard remediation. We provide cleanup and sanitization services when people are dealing with the aftermath of challenging incidents at their homes. We work with people at some very difficult moments in their lives.
Examples of how we help people at grim moments in their lives include:
- Aftermath of suicide
- Aftermath of a violent crime
- Discovery an unattended death
A Sunday Morning Phone Call
Because of the nature of our business, we are nearly always on call. On a Sunday morning, my family and I were enjoying brunch when I received a phone call on our business mobile phone. The person on the other end of the line was a clearly distraught woman. She introduced herself as Maggie and explained that she had arrived at LAX.
Directly after she noted her arrival in town, she broke down entirely. It took her a few minutes to gain enough composure to begin speaking clearly enough to be understood. Maggie was able to explain that she flew in from Phoenix to surprise her mother, a woman in her 80s that she’d not seen in almost two years. She was calling from her mother’s home in Santa Monica.
She explained that when she arrived at her mother’s home to surprise her, there was no answer at the door. Her mom was not a regular church goer, so even though it was Sunday morning, she thought her mother would be home. Her trip was a surprise, so she didn’t try to reach her mom by phone before her arrival.
Maggie did have a spare set of keys to her mom’s home. She retrieved the keys from her purse and unlocked the front door to her mother’s home. When she opened the door, Maggie’s life took an unexpected, truly tragic turn.
The Unattended Death of a Loved One
One of the most horrendous circumstances we face in our work is a situation in which a person has died what technically is called an unattended death. An unattended death is one in which an individual passes away alone and whose remains are not immediately found. The shocking reality is that days, weeks, or even months can pass before the remains of a person who dies an unattended death are discovered.
When Maggie opened the door to her mother’s home, she was met with an unmistakable smell that can only be associated with death. Most people only encounter the odor if a nuisance animal like a rat or mouse dies somewhere in a person’s home.
Maggie explained that she covered her nose and mouth as best she could and began calling out for the mom. She made her way quickly through the home, finally entering her mother’s bedroom. Her mother’s remains were in bed, tucked under the blankets. Emergency personnel and the police explained to Maggie that her mother likely went to bed and died of natural causes sometime during the night. Emergency personnel estimated that Maggie’s mother had passed away four or five days earlier.
Arrival at the Home: Meeting with Maggie
I arrived at Maggie’s mother’s home with a couple of our team members at the time the police and the coroner were wrapping up their work at the scene. Maggie’s mother’s body was transported to the Los Angeles County Coroner for an autopsy to determine the cause of death. (A determination at the autopsy was made that Maggie’s mother died of heart failure, likely in her sleep.)
Maggie understandably was grief stricken, bereavement that was magnified by the fact that her mom had been deceased for several days before her remains were found. Maggie explained that she tried to stay in regular contact with her mom, talking to her once a week. She was intentionally laying low when it came to her mother during the past week because she wanted to surprise her.
Helping Maggie Restore Her Mother’s Home
My team and I immediately went to work remediating the aftermath of her mother’s passing. We were able to restore Maggie’s mom’s home to a completely livable condition.
When we finished this dealing with the aftermath of the passing, Maggie asked us to aid her in getting the house packed as part of preparing it for sale. During these efforts, Maggie continued to share with me how devastated she was that several days passed between the time of her mother’s death and when she learned about the death.
A Bright Spot After a Tragedy
In the aftermath of the death of a loved one, particularly a situation like that experienced by Maggie, the grieving and bereavement process can prove to be very challenging. Having worked with clients in situations like Maggie in the past, I was familiar with the type of guilt I imagined she was enduring.
One of the steps we take when we clean out a house after a person’s death and in anticipation of sale is to find and secure important papers. Important papers are far more than just legal documents. Important papers include items of sentimental value as well. Sadly, these types of items oftentimes get overlooked in the rush to get a house ready for sale after the death of an owner.
Perhaps by happenstance, perhaps because it was something that was meant to be, in sorting through items in the house on behalf of Maggie we came upon a poem that her mother had written. Indeed, the poem was dated a week before the fateful day Maggie had arrived at the residence for a surprise visit.
The poem was a loving tribute to the deceased woman’s daughter, my client Maggie. The gentle words penned by Maggie’s mother served as an important step in what had been a challenging healing process. And, the poem served as a reminder to me that brightness can be found in even the darkest of times.