Judy Watson has seen things that might make some of us break down and cry – or pass out.
The nature of her position as Precinct 3 justice of the peace requires witnessing many death scenes caused by accidents, homicides and suicides.
Despite those experiences, she indicated she’s still sorting out her personal feelings in the aftermath of the May 15 tornado in Rancho Brazos.
Others might think that officials who deal with death and tragedy would be immune to such events.
“No, we’re not,” Watson said last week. “I was just sick. It was so traumatic. Seeing people (who had been) killed and people who lost everything carried over to me.”
Watson brought up the topic during a recent phone conversation I had with her. She’s been coming to the realization that keeping it locked up inside isn’t in her best interest.
“My daughters said I was carrying too much of a burden,” said Watson, who has served the county as a JP since 1995. “I have never wanted people to think I was weak. I’m learning I can’t just handle everything. I’ve got to give it to somebody else – sharing it with them.”
Watson said she hasn’t taken advantage of the counseling services made available not only for the tornado victims, but also for the first responders and others like Watson and Precinct 4 JP Danny Tuggle, who were on the front lines dealing with the tragedy that took six lives and seriously injured many others.
Watson has been staying busy not only at work but at home as well. In order to keep a closer watch on her 85-year-old mother’s health, Watson moved her into her home. Her mother had recently been released from a hospital.
The fact that Watson had dealt with and documented numerous individual deaths over the years didn’t insulate her from the impact of the tornado’s death and destruction.
“Every time I drive by (Rancho Brazos) it makes me sick. My heart is heavy,” Watson said. “Seeing all the devastation … everybody was rushing here and there and doing what they could. It was very difficult.”
Watson, somehow, was able to hang in there that night and perform the grim duties.
“I wanted to go home and sit in a chair and just cover up,” she said.
The bad memories were present even beyond that evening, of course. Watson and Tuggle still had to contact next of kin of the deceased and complete all of the necessary paperwork.
Watson said that dealing with individual deaths doesn’t have the same impact as a widespread scene with mass casualties.
“When I was down there in Rancho Brazos, you can’t remove yourself from that,” Watson said.
I can’t picture myself being able to handle such emotional matters – even an occasional death – as part of my job description. Covering news, sometimes we see things we wish we hadn’t. But if we see a dead body at the site of an accident, it’s usually at a distance.
What Watson said about not wanting to be thought of as weak shouldn’t be an issue. She pulled herself together and got the job done.
If I ever have to receive a family member’s death notification from a justice of the peace, I think I’d want him or her to have the sensitivity and the humanity of Judy Watson.
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