Many people don’t want to think about death, let alone the details of what to do when there is an expected or unexpected death of a family member, neighbor or friend.
However, there are many volunteers in Park County who train for and prepare to help families when there has been a death in the county. Volunteers are part of the Coroner’s Care Team and provide assistance in a variety of ways.
Some of the specific tasks that a Care Team volunteer might be asked to tackle include helping notify additional family members, friends, employers; contacting religious organizations for support and providing information on next steps and resources such as mortuaries.
In addition to providing information, Care Team members often just listen and provide a caring presence for someone who might be all alone, dealing with a great loss or an unexpected tragedy.
Jim Whiting, Care Team leader said, “The volunteers provide comfort to the family and move them away from the deceased, giving the coroner space to complete his death scene investigation.”
Currently there are 16 volunteers on the team.
Some might think the deaths Care Team members are assigned to only involve county residents, but the team also assists people who are visiting from distant Colorado communities and, far away places in the U.S., and even other countries.
Sometimes a death is expected, but other times volunteers might be called to an accident scene where they are dealing with shock and trauma, in addition to grief.
Budd and Carolyn Rice are volunteers based in Hartsel, and like other volunteers, keep their phones on and ready for a call from the coroner at all times. They might respond to a call at 2 a.m. or 2 p.m., but what they do when they arrive at the death scene is the same.
Carolyn Rice, a former hospice nurse, uses her experience working with families through grief, however she says this experience is different because unlike hospice, the death might be unexpected.
Budd Rice, self-described better half to Carolyn, is usually the chief driver when the couple gets a call, and in addition to driving, Rice carries big shoulders, which have absorbed buckets of tears from surviving family members and friends.
“Sometimes finding the remote location can be the hardest part for us,” Rice said, “On a recent call, the coroner told us to just follow the tire tracks after we got to the stables.”
In fact, an upcoming training session will deal with how to find the routes on a variety of dusty and bumpy backroads.
Sometimes a volunteer simply gets someone a cold drink of water or helps facilitate a phone call, which is a great skill due to the nuanced cell phone signal availability in the county.
In addition to providing a helpful packet of information, care team members also bring a communication radio, flashlight, Kleenex, notebook, pens, water bottles, nutrition bars, and sometimes small stuffed animals, coloring books and other children’s toys.
There are volunteers available to cover all of Park County’s fire districts.
More About the Care Team
Team members may be called to assist in a variety of situations, from a death of an elderly relative at home, motorcycle or vehicle accident, hiking or ATV accident, for example.
The role of the Care Team member is to provide support to the family member or friend, provide information about grief and what will happen next.
Per the Care Team brochure, questions that families have include, but are not limited to, the following:
-Where will my loved one be taken?
-Is it necessary for me to personally identify the body?
-Is viewing allowed?
-Why is the Coroner involved?
-Will there be an autopsy?
-What if my deceased family member wanted to donate organs or tissue?
-Where can I find a funeral home?
-What if I don’t have money for the burial?
Additional information the Care Team distributes, personally and through their handouts, includes material about death certificates, notifying agencies such as insurance, pharmacies, credit card companies, social security and more.
Helpful information about what to expect after trauma and the process of grieving is shared with the surviving family members, as well as resource information such as a list of grief counselors.
To find out more about volunteering with the Care Team, contact the Park County Coroner’s office at 719-836-4340 or email the office from the coroner section on the Park County website.