At the tender age of six, Shalene Botha witnessed a crime scene that no one of her age should ever see – her grandfather committed suicide right before her eyes, Krugersdorp News reports.
But to her the most devastating memory was to see how cleaning up after the incident affected the emotional state of her grandmother and father.
Years passed as Shalene tried to understand why those who had cleaned the scene were in a state of emotional decay. For a short period of time, she was oblivious to the effect the incident had on her. But after years of studying forensic sciences, psychology, and crime scene investigation, Shalene began unravelling her family’s tendency to commit suicide because of what they had been through. But she refused to let her past stop her from helping others.
‘Suicide victims are often criticised and called cowards, but after experiencing the emotional decay some people go through I’ve begun to understand why they do it.’
“A few years after the incident, a unique opportunity surfaced,” Shalane said. “A crime scene clean-up franchise was for sale and knowing the effect that cleaning up a crime scene had had on my family, I didn’t even think twice about buying shares in the company.”
Since then, Shalane has become a member of the crime scene clean-up crew. Their job is to ensure all traces of the deceased person are cleaned up before a family reenters the premises where the crime occurred. “Long before I started this line of work, I had to learn to block my past and the way I felt about witnessing the remains of awful crimes or accidents.
“This is because there is a fine line between empathy and sympathy. If family members of the deceased witness other peoples’ emotional state on scene, they can suffer additional trauma.”
‘It is utterly traumatising for a family to have to clean up the remains of a victim.’
Shalane says this is the reason why the cleaner’s job is crucial to the psychological state of the people left behind. When a family member cleans a scene, they often leave small traces of blood or spatter behind. And if someone finds even the slightest reminder of the deceased, they could be emotionally devastated.
“I’ve witnessed many terrible things,” she said, “but the worst was a suicide that occurred last year just before Christmas. The man covered all the valuables around him, ensured his family was taken care of, made sure his children weren’t home, and arranged someone to clean up afterwards.”
She said that it was his absolute certainty that he didn’t want to live any longer that shocked her most. “He knew exactly when he wanted to do it. It scared me the most because I knew what kind of backlash he would receive from the public after his death. Suicide victims are often criticised and called cowards, but after experiencing the emotional decay some people go through I’ve begun to understand why they do it.
“Suicide victims are often criticised and called cowards, but after experiencing the emotional decay some people go through I’ve begun to understand why they do it.”
Shalane says her career has made her realise life is unpredictable, and what happens behind the scenes often has its roots deep within a person’s emotional state. “It is utterly traumatising for a family to have to clean up the remains of a victim.
“I want people to know there are services that can do this for you and spare your family additional emotional harm.”
– Caxton News Service