The Ridge Meadows RCMP is offering its new Profiles series which highlights the work and the people of the detachment. This is the second instalment, a first-person narrative about a volunteer with Victim’s Services.
Victim Services has grown my soul – Lynn Rajala
I was introduced to Victim Services by a longtime friend who has been with the Volunteer Services for a number of years and he thought it might be a good fit for me.
I have been a volunteer all my adult life, with a wide variety of charities, with a strong belief in service to your community. I don’t know what’s coming after this life, but I am convinced we only get one opportunity, and we should take every chance we can to help others and contribute.
I was kind of gobsmacked when I realized the depth and breadth of Victim Services. My initial training was comprehensive, but every training session has reminded me of how much I didn’t know and how much I needed to learn so I could be useful to our clients.
One workshop that stands out in my memory was in Delta, where over a dozen PADS service dogs attended with their owners. I remember thinking, “Good grief, this is going to be chaotic.” Was I wrong! The dogs sat or slept at their trainers’ feet and were extraordinarily well behaved. Only when given the signal by their handlers did they come up to different people, myself included, and wag their tails and lick hands as if to say, “Is there any way I can help?”
I’m a retired school teacher and I think two of the skill sets I brought to Victim Services was a thick skin and an ability to compartmentalize. In Victim Services, we often see people on the worst day of their lives and how they respond to that trauma is incredibly individualistic.
Some people are very vocal with their anger or anguish, others are struck dumb, not saying much, you can only hear their tears.
Whatever the response, sometimes all we can do is be a human shock absorber for their pain. We can empathize, but still have a job to do. We offer support, suggest resources and explain what’s going to happen next. I once sat with a woman all afternoon waiting for the funeral home’s transport team to arrive.
Helping support a family through a decision-making process takes time. Reaction to grief is varied and there’s no set response, or progression. A man once told me he didn’t want me on scene and so I left after giving him the sudden death package. When I followed up with him and ended up having several meaningful conversations I could see a side of him I hadn’t witnessed on scene. He shared details of his life that offered me insight into his on-scene reaction. I learned it’s important not to take a client’s reaction personally.
I can’t emphasize enough the wide variety of experiences I have had in my Victim Services work. I have attended sudden death files with varying responses required; in one instance my interactions with family were brief and to the point. In another I have had end-of-life conversation with the loved one and all the arrangements were made. I have assisted with families where there were lots of family and friends around and I wasn’t needed for support and I just provided information. I have also been the only person sharing the space with the family member. I have accompanied police to assist with notifications regarding the loss of a loved one. Some families were absolutely shattered; others were more resigned because they had seen it coming and while grieving, weren’t surprised because of their loved one’s life decisions.
Being retired, with good availability, has allowed for the opportunity of many diverse call outs and provided me with innumerable opportunities for learning. We are called out regularly by the police and follow up with clients met at calls, often developing a strong connection with them. The police also send us lots of email referrals, and we follow up as soon as possible.
In our office we have a very good resource directory that is always being supplemented and I probably refer to it every shift. Victim Services provides more than just on-scene supports at a police incident. I have had the privilege of accompanying a number of clients to court and helping them through the process. In my experience, many of us don’t understand how the Canadian legal system works as it is a complicated process – nothing like we see on television.
I have completed training with prosecutors about court processes from charge approval to sentencing. This was helpful to explain to clients why the process seems to take so long and assisted with managing victims’ expectations. My time as a VS volunteer has been diverse. I once spent a whole Saturday with my coordinator as we ferried a victim from a shelter, to the hospital for a forensic exam, to her house to pick up clothing, and back to the shelter. I attended a motor vehicle incident in the middle of the night and went to an drive-thru to get the witnesses some coffee and a snack. I attended a call-out for the sudden death of a young man where there were at least 30 people on scene, including five RCMP officers who were overseeing the comings and goings. This is a good opportunity to mention how well I have been treated by all the police officers I have come in contact with. I have always been included as “part of the team” and my efforts mentioned and appreciated.
My involvement with Victim Services has given me back as much as I have given to the process. For any service I have provided throughout the six years I have been involved, I have been reimbursed tenfold. I have a wonderful life with a great husband who, astonishingly, still loves me after 47 years of marriage; my son is terrific and continues to enrich my life; I am blessed with many friends; I enjoy financial stability.
Victim Services has allowed me to know my community better and the struggles and challenges many of our citizens deal with. Their experiences continually remind me how fortunate I am and to not take my life for granted. Victim Services has grown my soul.
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