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‘Death Notification Course’: grieving Alberta mother helps police deliver tragic news

WATCH ABOVE: Being told your child has died is a devastating moment that can be made worse depending on how you find out. As Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, a Calgary woman is sharing her own awful experience to help police officers with the terrible task of death notification.

Shirley Thiessen will never forget Oct. 18, 2012, when she and her husband were on vacation in Palm Springs and a police officer showed up at their condo.

“He comes inside and fires off some questions and says ‘Do you have a son living in Calgary, Alberta Canada? Is his name Jordan Thiessen? Well then you need to call this number at Calgary police immediately. I don’t know what it’s about’,” Thiessen said.

“The fact that there was no empathy or compassion and the officer that did come just made us feel lonelier in that moment. He had come with an obvious edge to him. He didn’t want to be there first of all, we were kind of a nuisance,” Thiessen said.

You’re just so numb, you don’t know how to think. Any offer of help we received, we would have been so grateful,” said Thiessen.

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When she was finally able to get a hold of a police officer in Calgary, the Thiessen’s were told over the phone that their 23 year old son Jordan had died working at a power plant in central Alberta.  He was just married on October 6.

“It was brutal, it was just brutal,” Thiessen said.

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While Thiessen is thankful for the extra effort members of the Calgary Police Service put into trying to help her, she wanted to make sure no other family would be notified the way they were.

“I have the highest regard for the whole organization because of these gentlemen,” Thiessen said of the Calgary police officers who she says went out of their way years after her son’s death to check on her family.

“You have an opportunity always to improve, but particularly with a death notification, they are going to remember how you made them feel. Always,” Thiessen said.

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Thiessen is now sharing her experience with the Calgary Police Service.  She takes part in the “Death Notification Course.” It’s a voluntary two-day training session to help officers with one of the most dreadful parts of their jobs.

“I am desperate to see any redemptive purposes or any good purposes for my pain. So this is a very tangible thing that I feel I can do,” Thiessen said.

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Sgt. Andy Woodward, who teaches the Death Notification Course, is grateful for Thiessen volunteering and the first hand perspective it gives officers in the training course. She has given her emotional presentation seven times.

“Because we’re going to deliver probably the worst possible news anybody could ever have. We need to get that right and to get that right we need to use our empathy, sympathy and compassion when we put that information across,” Sgt. Woodward said.

Reliving the experience each time she tells her story is emotionally draining for Thiessen but she is committed to providing insight on this difficult subject to CPS officers.

On Monday, Thiessen was recognized for her efforts when she was awarded the Chief’s Award of Exceptional Recognition at the Chief’s Awards Gala in Calgary.

“Very appreciative. I know how it affects Shirley and I know how it affects her for the day after but she keeps coming back and she’s an absolute blessing to us,” Sgt. Woodward said.

Recently, the CPS was approached by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police to produce a death notification video which has been distributed across Canada as a training tool for all police officers to use when delivering death notifications.

Thiessen also agreed to be part of the training video.

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