A friend left a note and flowers for the young man who died in front of Eugene Weekly. Photo by Todd Cooper.

The Aftermath

Reflecting on a Trauma Intervention Program ride-along

When Trauma Intervention Program (TIP) volunteer Dan Isaacson and I walked away from the scene of my first TIP ride-along he said, “When someone dies, it feels like the world should stop, but it doesn’t.” 

Cars kept driving past us, construction workers kept working, couples kept holding hands, kids kept giggling, friends kept texting, and nobody knew that just half a block away someone’s kid was dead. To keep moving felt ignorant of that fact, but to stay put felt isolating. 

As a journalist embarking on my first year at a newspaper, new experiences are around every corner. I was going to protests with cops dressed in riot gear, learning how to get public records, interviewing politicians —  all for the first time. Some things, journalism school prepared me for. Other things were more of a crash course. 

But nothing could have prepared me for the first time I saw a dead person.

As Isaacson and I continued walking back to my car, he asked me what I was going to do for self care that night.

“Self care” is a phrase I used to despise. 

A few years ago, I used to edit for a fashion and lifestyle magazine in college where I was forced to read piece after piece about “self care” that mostly involved getting a facial and watching “your favorite TV show.” I got so irritated with the phrase and how meaningless it had become that I vowed to stop accepting pitches in the self-care realm. 

So when Isaacson asked me what I did for self care, my mind drew a blank. 

“Hmmm, um, well, I don’t know…” I trailed off, stumbling over my words as I tried to come up with a healthy coping mechanism. “Maybe go for a walk? Clear my head, I guess.” 

And so after writing down everything that had happened that day, my editor let me leave work a little early to process. I put on my “after work” clothes, rolled a joint and decided to set out for a walk to no end. 

A couple of my roommates caught me on my way out the door and asked to come, too. I’m not sure if they  knew what they were in for when I said, “Uhh, sure, yeah, you can join,” but in hindsight, I couldn’t be more grateful they were there. We walked all over town, talking about death. 

We talked about how wrong sunshine feels when someone dies and how slow and fast time moves and how important a community is in a world that feels so heavy at times. It felt like taking a deep breath for the first time. 

If this is self care, maybe I was wrong for being such a cynic. 


About a month after my first ride along with TIP I found myself standing in front of another tarp on top of another dead young man, but this time the tarp was yellow instead of blue, and I wasn’t with TIP. 

I was walking into Eugene Weekly’s office on Thursday morning, April 25, when I saw police gathered outside. When our office manager, JJ Snyder, arrived at work that day, she found a young man crumpled in front of the building. She thought he was sleeping, but realized he was dead after trying to wake him up. His death is still under investigation, but signs point to a fentanyl drug overdose. 

“He was only 24,” she said. The same age as one of her own children.

I found myself reaching for what TIP would say. 

I told her how sorry I was that she had to witness that. I told her to take some time for herself today — process. The words leapt out of my mouth before I could even begin to realize what was happening. We hugged. She got in her car and drove away before the adrenaline wore off. I got in my car, too, and drove to an appointment I was already 10 minutes late for. 

As the rain trickled down my windshield and the shock began to wane, I thought about what Isaacson said. The world keeps moving. Cars keep driving, people keep walking, and though you wish everyone could stop what they were doing and grieve this young man’s life, they can’t. 

I called Isaacson that afternoon to ask where TIP was that morning. He told me the police are in charge of dispatching TIP and they only come when deemed necessary. I later learned that a Lane County Behavioral Health professional was present that morning.

When I came back to the office later that day and people tried to fill me in on what had happened that morning, I said only, “I know, I was there.” 

It wasn’t until I debriefed with my editor that I realized just how different that day would have gone had I not spent the last few months entangled in TIP. I am not a mental health professional by any means, and I was not prepared for what I would walk into that morning in the slightest, but I knew I was better off because I have seen what TIP volunteers do every day. I watched them parachute into the worst day of someone’s life and give them a tissue and a hug, knowing they can’t erase their grief, but giving them a roadmap to navigate it. 

Witnessing the impact of a sentence as simple as, “Hey, I am here to listen to you. You are allowed to take some time for yourself today,” changed me. Those words rattled in my brain all day long as I searched for what to say to my coworkers at the Weekly and what to tell myself. It was both comforting and empowering.

When I got home that evening I put on my after-work clothes, rolled a joint and went for another really long walk with my roommate. We talked about death all the way to the top of Mount Pisgah, and I felt the weight of the world lift off my shoulders. 

The world doesn’t stop even in the face of something as tragic as death, but we have each other to help us slow it down — and maybe that’s enough for now.

To learn more about TIP Lane County go to TIPLaneCounty.org.

Comments are closed.