The Sadness of a Life Swept Away

Ever watched “CSI” and wondered, “Why would anyone choose to become a pathologist?” Well, I used to feel the same way about crime scene cleaners (and proctologists, but let’s not go there…)

Isn’t it a creepy job, cleaning up the mess left behind when someone has been murdered, or committed suicide or just been left to die because no one knows they’re there? You’d have to be some sort of morbid freak to want to do a job like that, wouldn’t you?

Well, as it turns out, the answer is “no”. And it took the testimony of two people to help me understand why.

The first was a young Californian guy who pretty much “invented” the profession of crime scene cleaning. I met him a few years ago when I was researching his world for a screenplay I was writing. This guy intrigued me by saying that he had identified this unfilled niche in the “clean-up crew” marketplace because he had been looking for a job that fitted his personality. Initially he had thought about being a mortician…

“Ah-ha!” I hear you say. “He was a ghoul, a death-freak, some sort of whacked out necrophiliac…” In fact, he was none of these things: just a clean-cut guy in a sparkling white polo shirt (complete with corporate logo) and neatly-pressed chinos, with a charming smile and a dry wit… not the least bit what I was expecting. He was – by his own admission – a “neat-freak”: he didn’t like mess, he saw a gap in the market, and voila – an industry was born.

My second revelation came while I was watching a documentary about another crime scene cleaning pioneer. Her story was very different… and much more moving. Her brother-in-law had committed suicide, messily, and after the cops and the coroner had done their work and the body had been removed, she was horrified to discover that the mess and body fluids were left behind for her to clean up.

And it was while she was scrubbing her brother’s blood from the living room carpet and cleaning bits of his brain from the walls, that she had her own moment of truth: nobody should have to do this for a loved one. The next day, she started her own crime-scene cleaning business.

And that’s the thing that astonished me, that I’d never thought of: she was doing this job because she cared… cared that those left behind shouldn’t be further traumatized by the aftermath of a violent death. Cared enough, in fact, to dedicate her life to providing a service that would help ease the pain of those recently bereaved and return their world to some semblance of normality.

But what affected me most of all was when she revealed that, as the years passed, it wasn’t the murders or the suicides that really upset her: it was the “undiscovered deaths”.

It’s the work of the crime scene cleaner to sweep that life away, to not only scrub away the “decomp” left behind when someone dies unnoticed and unmissed, but also to shovel the detritus of their lives into so many bin liners and take it to the incinerator, their possessions unwanted, their passing unmourned by anyone.

And that’s what haunts Erdogan, a crime scene cleaner and the lonely hero of my thriller “Implicated”, a man who embodies the very reason why you might pick this seemingly grotesque profession: not because you care too little for your fellow human beings, but because you care too much.

7 thoughts on “The Sadness of a Life Swept Away

  1. What a moving post Peter. Have you seen the movie “Sunshine Cleaners”? I believe that is what it’s called. It is about this subject and is surprisingly deep. I am going to have to read Implicated!
    laura thomas

    • Hi Laura, Thanks for your comment; it’s an odd subject to talk about so it’s very gratifying when someone responds so positively. Yes, I have seen “Sunshine Cleaners” (I’ll watch just about anything with Amy Adams in…) and was worried at first that there might be some overlap with Implicated, but it approached the matter from a very different perspective. If you get around to reading Implicated, please get back in touch and let me know what you think of it.

      • The strangest thing happened after we commented here. A few days later I went to work, I detail interiors of autos, and had to do a clean up. A man in his thirties had shot and killed himself in his Jaguar. This is the second time I have done a clean up because of someone shooting themselves in the head. I can’t begin to describe how sad you feel, but also angry at that person. The family was from out of town and had not seen the vehicle, Thank God! I paid special attention to every inch of that car. The only thing I could not fix was the bullet hole in the roof. There was no fixing that. The only reason I could even do the job was because I did not want the family to see the aftermath. It was horrible. When I was done, all traces were gone. I hope to never have to do it again. It was a very sad day.
        laura thomas

  2. Interesting post. Completely different perspective…glad there are people that care that much, because it must be a difficult job to do, day in and day out.

  3. After reading this, I too am moved, and I am going to get your book. I have thought on occassion about what happens, or who cleans up after a death. It would absolutely take a very special person to do the job of removing the ‘leftovers’ of a life.

    I was an apprentice embalmer for several years, and was often asked why I did that job, especially because I was a woman. And you are right about ‘caring’, because that is an important aspect in wanting to learn the profession.

    Again, I look forward to enjoying your book. It really sounds like a ‘good read’.

  4. Interesting how reality is so rich, with motivations being so much deeper and unexpected than where my mind goes–to sort of a grisly callousness–when I think about a crime-scene cleaner or mortician.

  5. Hi Peter! Like this blog about the crime-scene cleaners! I am a writer, but in my main job I am a surgery nurse. Pretty much people ain’t able to understand why one do that bloody job…
    Therefore my stories aren’t cruel and bloody. I need love and erotic and men…
    Greetings from Germany! Reg Dixon

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