Late-night calls and heartbreak


She is no stranger to late-night phone calls. Or those that come in the wee hours of the morning.

She knows they will come; and she knows it’s never good news. It’s news no one wants to hear. That a relative, especially the young, has died suddenly and often violently: murders, suicides, shootings, stabbings, traffic accidents, fires.

The Rev. Alfreda Owens, 56, has been a volunteer chaplain for five years with the Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy.

On leave for the past few months taking care of her sick husband, the elder at Ebenezer AME Church on Nassau Street is preparing for the late-night calls again.

She expects to return later this month or early next month to work that can be “a heartbreaking experience” but one that she loves and feels God has called her to do.

Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy started in the early ’90s by the Rev. Rob Dewey and now has two full-time chaplains and 16 volunteers. They assist the coroner in notifying family members of those who die unexpectedly. They console employees and families of emergency personnel. They were there June 18, 2007, during the Sofa Super Store fire, where nine firefighters died. It’s a night few in Charleston will forget.

Owens said chaplains worked during the fire until the next morning, doing whatever was needed: bringing water, consoling firefighters and family members.

Dewey prayed over the bodies of all nine firefighters.

Owens prayed all the way home.

One of the most difficult parts of being a chaplain is consoling a parent who has lost a child, Owens said.

Sometimes your presence is what’s needed; not words. Hold their hands or give them a hug. At that moment, they don’t always hear you, but they can feel you.”

As a mother of three and a teaching assistant in the mentally disabled program at Burke High School, Owens said they are seeing more young people dying tragic deaths.

For that reason, she finds herself reaching out to students before they become statistics.

“One mother fainted when she was told her son was killed,” Owens said. “It’s hard when a young person goes before their time.”

The biggest problem she sees affecting teens is the need to fit in. She tells them: “Don’t just follow the crowd. Love yourself. You don’t have to fit in. Find your own space.”

Teens are looking for adults they can trust. She said they need people to talk to them, on their level.

“Put yourself where they are, in their place and feel their pain, the struggle and the peer pressure.”

Owens, who has a son, said she especially reaches out to black males. She tells them they will “have to lead and become men who must take care of their families.” She tells them they must get an education and have a strong mind because they are important to the black race.

“That’s what I taught my son.”

Owens’ passion is helping people. By talking to teens beforehand, she may cut down on the number of late-night calls that are sure to come.

Reach City Editor Shirley A. Greene at 937-5555