Death in Family (known in prison as a DEE-EYE-EFF) is probably one the most difficult situations chaplains need to deal with.
The news of the death of one of an inmate’s close family members is usually conveyed to the chaplain by a distraught member of his/her family. They either leave an emotional voice message or reach the chaplain directly. (Whenever I enter my office and see the red light that indicates an unheard voice message, my first thought usually is “Is that a DIF?)
DEE-EYE-EFF has a way of completely changing my day…just as it completely changed the life of a family “on the outside”. Death is so final…there is no re-play button, irrespective of how it came about. This is true for all humans, but receiving that message while in prison, adds another dimension…that of amplified regret.
“If only”, “Why Now?”, “What now?” and a host of such questions are asked…usually accompanied by heart wrenching cries and uncontrollable tears. Men who appeared tough when they enter the office with a big question mark on their faces, melt like babies when they hear that a loved-one passed away.
Responses to this news varies…from stunned silence, wailing, cursing and violent anger that have created situations where I, the messenger, have been closest to being assaulted in prison. The focused training and support of professional correctional staff have been “my saving grace” in many cases. Inmates breaking their fists on my desk, wrecking furniture or trying to escape into the building occurred…but the inevitable truth eventually sinks in…”they’re gone and I’m here in prison”.
This crisis creates incredible opportunities to share the “GOOD NEWS” of a Savior who overcame death, the grave, sin, and Hell. Pointing distraught and broken men and women to the Lord Jesus Christ is really all we can do. Sadly, this door does not remain open for too long before “it’s business as usual” and living life with a fatalistic worldview where there is hardly any “good” news.
Pray for us as chaplains to handle every DEE-EYE-EFF in a Christ-like manner and in obedience to the Holy Spirit, our ever-present Counselor.