FOREST LAKE, Minn. - It's the daily contact with his co-workers that Sgt. Pat McArdle will miss the most in retirement.
But there's one thing the 32-year-veteran of the Minnesota State Patrol won't miss at all. "That's the hardest part of our job," he says, "to tell someone their loved ones aren't coming home."
It was state troopers who were called on Monday to make notification to the families of four college students killed in a wreck. McArdle was not among them, but he remembers every one of his death notifications.
His first came more than 30 years ago, when an old state patrol sergeant took the rookie along to notify the family of a woman killed when her car was broadsided by a semi.
At the time, troopers receive no training for such things, but McArdle still heeds the advice of that seasoned sergeant. "He said, you know, 'Just be calm and have the people sit down, and then you've just got to tell them.'"
McArdle says his heart would always beat harder as he approached the house, especially if the driveway was long. "The closer you get, the more you're thinking about what you're going to say, wondering what's going to happen when you get there to tell the people."
Troopers almost always work in pairs for death notifications. Often families know their worst fears have been realized, the instant they see the uniforms at their door. "A lot of disbelief; 'No. No.' and a lot of anger, and it's kind of directed towards us because they're shocked, you know."
A crash near Forest Lake in November of 2009 was the hardest for McArdle. A father and his young son were killed when a pickup truck crossed a median and collided with their vehicle.
"It's hard when kids are involved. You kind of realize the impermanence of life. You're alive one second and the next you're not."
McArdle has the kind eyes of a man who might have a hard time even writing a speeding ticket. He swears he's written plenty, finding if he's nice to the offenders, they're generally nice in return.
It's the same kindness that has compelled McArdle to step up time and time again for a trooper's toughest assignment. If it was McArdle's crash to investigate, he insisted that he also be the one to deliver the news.
"It's the least I can do for the family," he reasoned. "They're going to have a lot of questions."
Then McArdle, and whatever trooper he was paired with, always stayed to provide comfort and support for an hour or two, waiting for friends and relatives to arrive and providing information to help families connect with a funeral home.
Some memories will fade for Sgt. Pat McArdle, but not those intimate, awful, moments shared with families.
"No, it'll be part of me, forever."
(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)