Ramon Presson: A source of comfort in the terrible night
Our local men and women in law enforcement also know Corky French as a dear friend, a listening ear, an arm to lean on, and sometimes a shoulder to cry on.
He’s also been my friend for over a decade. I thought it was time for you to get to know him too.
Columnist and counselor Ramon Presson
Corky French is a big man with broad shoulders, which is a good thing because he helps carry the burden for many traumatized and grieving people in Williamson County.
Corky, we’ve seen in TV shows and movies where a policeman or a military officer appears at the door of a home to deliver tragic news to a family. Typically we see a spouse or parent’s sudden realization of why the man in uniform is present. We see the shock and instant grief … and then the scene changes. For you the scene does not cut away, it follows you into the house and into the living room. What can you tell us about happens in that room? What is that experience like for you?
“The scene is generally horrific. I have just given them information that will change their life forever. The responses range from stoic, shock, denial, anger, rage, physical violence, and even passing out. I have been physically attacked.
“I have picked people up off the floor. One person would not quit holding onto my face because they did not believe that I was real, that the news and the moment was real.
“After dealing with the initial reaction, I move to allowing them to absorb the news. When they have settled in a little, I begin to try and surround them with family, friends, and their pastor if they have one. Actually, few seem to have a pastor or have one they feel they can call, so I often fill that role too. I frequently make the calls to family or friends due to the person’s emotional condition. I generally do not leave until they have some supportive people there around them.
“I, or the officer that accompanies me, try to answer the numerous questions that they might have about what happened. Eventually, I go over with them what will happen next and what they will need to do (few people know what happens after someone dies and the processes that must be gone through). The “not knowing what is next” is very difficult, and I try to relieve them of that uncertainty.
“Throughout the entire process, I try to be as compassionate, patient, understanding, supportive and loving as I possibly can. If they are people of faith, I point to their faith as a source of strength, and often at that point in their lives, survival. When possible and appropriate, I spend some time praying with them before I leave. I might spend anywhere from 30 minutes to five hours with a family after delivering this news. When appropriate and feasible, I try to follow up a few days later to check on them.”
Most of us cannot fathom doing even once what you do on a regular basis. Why do you do it?
“Simply put, it is an opportunity to bring light into a very, very, dark place. God has something to offer, even, or maybe especially, to this kind of devastating moment. The information has to be delivered. I want to do it in a way, and deal with it in a way that brings God to the moment through me. I want to do more than just deliver information. I want to bring something to the moment. The mission of our ministry is to bring help, hope, and healing to the broken, bruised, wounded and often invisible or forgotten of our community. You don’t get much more broken, bruised and wounded than when receiving this type of news.”
What are the hardest visits to make?
“They are all hard. You are delivering the worst news possible. There is pain, regardless of the situation. But, the calls that involve children or young people tend to be the worst. Our community has been hit hard recently by several deadly vehicle accidents involving teenagers. I have been involved in some of those. They were extremely tough.”
You also get called to the tragic scene itself on occasion. What’s your role there?
“First, at the scene I want to make sure that my law enforcement officers are OK. They’re human. This stuff is hard for them as well. They have families. They have feelings. No one should have to see and do the things that they must do. But they stand in the gap and do whatever needs to be done. I provide any support and help that I can at the scene. I also gather all the appropriate information that I need to effectively deliver the notification.”
How does this work not take its toll on you?
“For me personally, it’s excruciating work. I have seen unspeakable physical trauma in my ministry. But dealing with the emotional devastation of the families is the most difficult part for me. The immediate trauma for them is overwhelming. I’ve learned, and have been trained in, how to deal with this myself. I know there are certain things I have to do to take care of myself when I deal with such stressors. I am blessed to be surrounded by a strong support group and a great family. These things, and moreover my faith, allow me to deal with these things regularly and stay healthy. But, this kind of trauma is cumulative, and after 17 years I know that it has affected me.”
You are a chaplain to police officers. What difficulties do people in law enforcement deal with that the general public doesn’t see and understand?
“Law enforcement is one of the top-three most stressful professions in the world. A lot of factors play in to that. Never has it been more so than now. The cultural environment, lack of support from national “leaders,” fake news, social media and other factors have made their jobs even more difficult. They deal with the worst of the worst. They work in difficult environments. As I said before, they have to see and deal with things that no one should have to. They have to make split-second decisions. Everything that they do is scrutinized to the nth degree.
“In the big picture they’re just human like me and you. Most see what they do in law enforcement as a “calling.” Most go into law enforcement to try and make a difference. They are overworked and underpaid. Most work a second job, and many a third, just to get by. They are sons, daughters, husbands, wives, parents, and have families and lives just like us. At the end of their shifts, they just want to go home safe to their families. Just like us.”
**For more information about this and other services provided through Community Outreach Ministries visit www.CommunityOutreachMinistries.org.
Learn how you can be involved and serve as a volunteer. The work of COM is completely supported by charitable contributions so donations are always welcome and needed.
Ramon Presson, PhD, is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Franklin (www.ramonpressontherapy.com) and the author of several books. Reach him at email@example.com.
Since 2003 Corky has been making house calls — the kind you’d never want to make and the kind you hope to never get.
A former pastor and the head of Community Outreach Ministries, Corky is on call 24-hours a day to respond to emergencies. He responds regularly to accidents, suicides, shootings, domestic struggles, and various other incidents where the police officers and citizens involved can benefit from a caring presence and compassionate support. Corky is regularly tasked with delivering the life-altering news of the death of a loved one and with providing critical support at that most painful moment.