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Calmly Planned out Suicide

I worked numerous suicides but one stands out in my mind. I responded and found a woman, from a well-to-do family, in the upstairs bathroom off the master bedroom. As I walked into the small bathroom, I saw a .22 caliber rifle on the floor. The barrel was pointed toward the bathtub which was on my left.

In the tub I found the woman lying on her back, her right arm was dangling out of the tub. She had a small bullet wound to her right temple with powder burns around it. There was a much larger exit wound on the left side of her head. There was blood and flesh all over the wall, tub and her.

The woman was in her late forties or early fifties. I was able to accept her suicide. My years on the streets had hardened me to life and death both. I had become cold to events such as this. If I hadn't grown cold and pushed my emotions deep inside me I would not have been able to continue my work. The suicides that seemed to bother me were those by teenagers, whom I felt had their whole lives ahead of them. How could anything be bad enough for them to take their own lives?

As I said, in this case I accepted the fact that she had killed herself and calmly went about my business of fitting the case together. We always looked for a suicide note but in the cases I had worked, we very seldom found one. Somehow it made the suicides easier to deal with for me. I formed a picture of a person who had reached the end of his rope and proceeded to end his suffering. However this woman threw me a curve which made it hard for me to fit her suicide into a sterile neat package.

I found her note in the bedroom, just feet from where she now lay dead. In a legal sense it was a suicide note but yet it was much more than that. It was an open letter to her family.

She opened it by saying that she loved all of them and that they should not blame themselves or each other for her death. She said she hoped that they would all get together because of this, she felt that it was important that they all meet as a family. She went on to say that she was sorry that the house was such a mess but she had not gotten around to cleaning it. She stated that she did not want to make things any worse so she would try to keep the mess in the bathtub where it could be cleaned up easier. She wrote that she was sorry she was not stronger and hoped they would understand and forgive her. She said goodbye and told them she loved them and please take care of each other.

That note bothered me. How could someone sit and calmly plan their own death like that? Before I read the note she was just another suicide victim, but after I had read it she became a real person.

In the end the whole incident became another shovel full of dirt thrown on the grave of my emotions. I became colder and harder.

The suicide rate in the Police profession is alarmingly high. One reason I have heard given for this is the stress from the job. I believe that, but I also believe part of it is that day in and day out you live with the realities of life and death until the separation of the two becomes almost nonexistent. Death becomes a sort of relief from the dirt and filth of this life. In order to keep your sanity while working on the streets you beat your emotions down until, whether you noticed it or not, you no longer care about things as you once did. If this could be done in a selective way it would be fine but it can't, it affects you as a whole. You see the world and life and death through new eyes.

Ralph L. Dettwiler
(Former) Sergeant
Beaufort County Sheriff's Department
Beaufort, South Carolina

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