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Safeguard Magazine

Comment—The death knock

Fifteen years on, DANIELLE ZINZAN will never forget the day a police officer knocked on her family’s door.

The ninth of August 1999 was a fairly standard August day. I got home from Tech at around 6pm on to find the house empty and dark. The weather was clear but cold given that we were in the middle of winter. I wasn’t sure where everyone else was but they couldn’t have been far away. Dad didn’t usually work past 5.30 in the winter as it got too dark. Dinner was in the oven so Mum must have been pretty close too.

I called Dad’s cellphone to see how far away he was. No answer. Mum didn’t have a cellphone in those days so I just checked the dinner to make sure it wasn’t burning. Just then Mum flew in the door, obviously also worried about the dinner. There were a couple of kids from my brother’s soccer team with her, just on their way home from practice. Toni and Brett, my sister and brother, quickly followed her inside and set themselves doing something in the lounge. The lights and the TV started to come on.

There was a knock at the door. Thinking that it was one of the boys I poked my head around the corner to see them, only to find a police officer had followed Mum home. I remember thinking: what is he doing here? He asked for Mum, so I assumed it was something to do with her driving home. Until that moment, I had no idea that a police officer at your door is the last thing you want to see. I don’t remember his words; I just remember the look on the 12-year-old faces behind him as he told Mum that her husband, my Dad, had been in an accident at work. He wasn’t coming home. Not tonight. Not ever again.

The rest of the night is both a blur and a memory that will forever be burned into my brain. The police officer was not that old and had tears in his eyes as he relayed to Mum what had happened. He helped me to lead her into the dining room and sit in a chair. We had to step over my brother and sister, who had grabbed hold of each other and collapsed on the kitchen floor. Two grief counsellors came in. I can’t remember what they said but I remember the scratchy woollen jumper and sharp broach as one of them hugged me to her.

Knowing there were kids who needed to get home and not knowing what else to do, I asked my boyfriend who was there with me to drive them home. I remember asking my mother if she wanted me to call her mum, my grandmother. I didn’t know what to do or say, but I felt that she would know what to do and we needed her with us. What I hadn’t anticipated is that telling someone that their beloved son-in-law has died is hard. It is the worst news you have to share; unfortunately I had already dialled the number. I couldn’t finish the call and neither could the grief counsellor. The poor police officer, who I’m sure was intending to tell them in person, had to tell her over the phone.

Soon the house was filled with people. My brother’s poor friends who had been home with us to hear this awful news had gone home and told their parents. Being from a small community, they were all Dads’ friends. It was chaos and the next week or perhaps even month passed in a blur. I can’t remember at what point the lights in the house were turned on that night. I remember it being dark in the kitchen for a long time.

Dad was a bobcat driver. He owned his own business and was proud of this. He was working in a kiwifruit orchard that day. The arm of the bobcat had come down on top of him and crushed him. Officially, they term this death by asphyxiation.

How do I feel 15 years later? I’m sad that he isn’t here to share our lives with us. He has missed so much: weddings, birthdays, graduations and grandchildren. He was the best and made everything more fun, more exciting and could always fix things. Now, I worry about others who work with machinery and hope they are taking all the precautions necessary.

Because Dad didn’t answer his phone that day, I now have a fear of unanswered phone calls which drives my husband, brother and sister crazy. If they tell me they will be somewhere at a certain time, and I ring them and the call goes unanswered, it’s because something terrible has happened, not because they are busy, driving or just missed the call.

Scheduled maintenance, following the rules that are set in place in your workplace and always thinking about the safety of yourself and others will mean other families don’t have to go through what we did on 9 August 1999. Be safe. Get home safe.

Danielle Zinzan is internal communication manager with Coca-Cola Amatil (NZ) Ltd.

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