In August there was a small news item about the death of 59-year-old Ray Crocker, who died after the moped he was riding was hit by a station wagon.
One name was not in the story: Frances Crocker, Ray’s mother. She is 85 and the sweetest self-described “little old lady” anybody ever met.
Members of the York County Coroner’s Office Care Team had the sad duty of telling Crocker that her son had been killed.
“They were just wonderful,” Crocker said. “Caring and sweet. They were so nice to me. They checked on me many, many times.”
That caring shows that the Coroner’s Office is not just about death, autopsies and crimes that must be investigated.
“Every case has a family with it,” coroner Sabrina Gast said, “real people who have suffered a loss.”
As Christmas approaches, the Coroner’s Office is still helping Frances Crocker and some 1,200 other families.
The office staff has again put up a Remembrance Tree, inviting families to hang ornaments as a way to remember those they have lost.
The Care Team has 16 volunteers who deal with families after the initial death notification. The volunteers notify employers that people might need time off, and let schools know that kids have legitimate reasons for absence, among other tasks.
Mostly, they are simply there for people who have lost a loved one.
Sam Zeitler, whose regular job is at a jewelry store, is one of those volunteers.
“If we can be there for families, for people,” he said, “we can help them get through this time that can be so hard on them.”
It’s not uncommon for staff at the Coroner’s Office to go above and beyond.
In November 2012, the office collected, sorted and returned thousands of personal items blown miles away by the tornado that killed three people south of Rock Hill. Many of those items were pictures and other irreplaceable items lost by people who had lost family or their homes – or both.
Such efforts can’t replace a son or daughter, a husband or wife, or father or mother. But in such times, small gestures can make a difference.
Frances Crocker placed an ornament – with the words “Youngest child, mom’s favorite” – on the tree.
“I loved my son and I lost him,” she said. “These people here made sure I was looked after when it happened.
“This ornament means they didn’t forget him, either.”