When it comes to death, Elizabeth Ortiz has always been interested in the why and the how.
Growing up in El Paso, Texas, Ortiz remembers reading paper clippings from adjacent Juarez, Mexico. Each mention of a death led her to wonder why and how they happened.
“I was just always curious,” she said.
Ortiz, CCLS ’13, has spent the better part of the last 25 years with the Arapahoe County Coroner’s office. As a death investigator, Ortiz works with the pathologist to ensure a death correlates to the scene. She’s often the first person to talk to the family.
Working so closely with families has helped Ortiz find tremendous meaning in her work. Even though she deals with the dead, she tries to make her work as human as possible.
You often deal with people right after they’ve lost someone. How do you do it?
I go to these people’s homes when they are the most vulnerable. I have a job to provide them with comfort and some answers. When I first arrive at a scene, I don’t talk to the family initially. I know it sounds cold but it is for my preservation of mind and also to provide a thorough examination without placing my emotions on the decedent of how he/she died. Then I can empathize with the family. I can see the person they lost. If they want, we can pray together.
How do you deal with all the death?
I’m a servant. I believe that I’m there to serve the people. That’s what keeps me going. I want to provide the best service to grieving families in their darkest time. You have to be respectful.
I think it’s also the compassion I have for people and the loss they are experiencing. I’m a believer of Christ and God. That’s where my grace comes from. It comes from Him, not from me.
How do you take care of yourself?
It’s essential that you do. To survive in this, you have to be able to let it go. The career doesn’t define you. You have to learn to let it go and walk away. I worked last night, but once I walked out of the office doors, it was behind me, that was it. Today, I’m going to be out and about enjoying the day.