Saturday, June 13, 2015

Death Be Not Proud

Growing up in bucolic Amherst during the carefree pre-Internet days just before Vietnam changed our national psyche, my Irish mother had a superstitious habit of lowering her voice to a whisper when using  the word "cancer" to describe how a friend or acquaintance had recently passed.

Her way of dealing with a killer that still a generation later accounts for a sizable percentage of "routine" deaths.

Ball Lane:  one of the last unpaved roads in Amherst (privately owned)

On Wednesday evening Amherst police responded to a Ball Lane apartment to perform a "well being check."

Neighbors had called because the tenant who lives there had not been seen in quite a while and a strong stench was emanating from the general direction of his apartment.

You can guess what happened next.

After a "keyholder" (property manager) arrived to let authorities in the officer promptly radioed Dispatch saying ,"Recode from a well being check to a 63."  A '63' is an "unattended death."

Since all unattended deaths have to be investigated by the Northwestern District Attorney I asked for a statement concerning the sad incident.  I was told no statement would be issued.

I asked for simple confirmation that an Amherst resident, age 31, had actually died and was again told "no statement would be issued."

Okay, I can take a hint.

As of yesterday the Amherst Town Clerk has on file 109 death certificates for the year 2015.  And just so as not to slip into a melancholy morbid stupor I also checked births:  64.

And while I was there looking at them (since they can't be removed from her office or photographed) two couples came in to file for a marriage license.  Life, indeed, goes on.

The vast majority of deaths resulted from cancer, heart attacks, renal failure or dementia.  And for the most part their ages were well past retirement.

But six of them -- all but one -- college to middle aged had "pending" appear prominently on the cause of death line.  That means the Medical Examiner had been called in because the death was not "routine."

And more often than not those eventually (takes six months) return as a suicide or drug overdose.

For instance one of the names with "pending" is Zachariah Spaulding another the recent well publicized Chris Linehan, who died in the bathroom of the Hess Station in South Amherst. 

In fact two other death certificates did outright confirm "suicide".  Neither of which were covered by the local media or even so much as acknowledged by public officials.

Perhaps if people knew the extent of the problem with deaths nobody wants to acknowledge or talk about, preventative measures would be sought -- in earnest. 


Anonymous said...

Last I checked everyone dies sometime. Seems to be epidemic.

Larry Kelley said...

Whatever that was requires its own special font.

Anonymous said...

Heroine is epidemic in this country right now and even the governor has declared a state of emergency for it in Massachusetts.

Richard Seymour Bogartz said...

Larry- You raise an excellent point. We need to know who is responsible for this policy of secrecy. The Chief of Police? The Town Manager? Why isn't the policy one of transparency: openness and truth?

Anonymous said...

Car accidents, suicide, and now heroin OD leads the list for deaths in those under 25.

Larry Kelley said...

Richard: Police always defer to the District Attorney who has jurisdiction over any "unattended death." It was the DA's policy in this particular case to not comment.

The Town Manager pretty much stays out of situations like this.

Anonymous said...

If you are talking about suicide prevention, perhaps if we were a little bit more humane than locking people up in a cage to "help" them, we might be a little bit more effective in actually helping them.

On the other hand, if we applied the mental health approach to Heroin -- and the case can be made that anyone taking Heroin has to be crazy -- then we wouldn't have any overdoses because anyone who tested positive would already be confined to a locked ward and hence unable to take the fatal dose.

Why the discrepancy between the two? Heroin is actually illegal, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

I knew the person who passed away on Ball Lane and he was a very nice guy who I played scrabble with on occasion and chatted
with from time to time.

Anonymous said...

He was a 4 year US Army veteran and friend. He was more courageous than I and I will miss him dearly.