The first few years of experience I gained in the field was filled with memories of sights, smells and facts that would cause many sleepless nights. I had not expected the learning curve to be quite so steep. There were more than a few occasions where I wondered if I was taking this new ‘hobby’ a little too far. It did seem that I was providing a really needed service for the medical examiner and the families of the victims. Slowly, my tolerance to the material I examined became more manageable.
Why do you do this? I get that question a lot. ‘I don’t see how you stand being around all that stuff all the time!’ Not sure I have a really good answer. The grossness of the endeavor is without question, but that is something that you just have to overcome, and it usually does, after time. Realizing that we all smell bad if/when we decompose. And guess what? We all smell the same. No one is pretty. When our life is finished, we all become reduced to the same elements. You almost have to look at the project as if you were dissecting a frog in biology class. It is in no way any attempt to minimize the significance of the loss of human life. By concentrating on keeping it strictly clinical, it makes it a little easier if you can divorce yourself from the actual human element of the event. By associating a case number with a name, many times it is possible to keep the emotions located a safe distance away. Only then, can the scientist be totally objective in his assessment of the mysteries of each case. When the scientist loses his ability to be objective, he yields himself less effective in the overall analysis.
Although it sounds somewhat like a cliché, the one redeeming factor in forensic identification is the fact that we are able to finally bring closure to the families whose lives have already been turned upside down from the disappearance of their loved one. The confirmation that truly the ‘search is over’ is somehow able to bring some measure of peace is an element that probably cannot be completely understood unless you walked in that families’ shoes.