Grim job helps find light in dark times
October 18, 2007
NEVADA CITY ” Nevada County Chief Deputy Coroner Cathy Valceschini has learned many lessons from death, and the most important one is valuing life while it lasts.
The 54-year-old Nevada County native has worked for the sheriff’s office for 29 years, with the majority of her time spent tying up loose ends left by the dead.
She notifies families that have lost loved ones, works to identify John and Jane Does, temporarily manages estates and often helps to investigate the cause of death.
“People should never have to lose their children,” she said, adding that the toughest aspect of her job is breaking the terrible news to parents that their child has died.
It’s also sobering, she said, when she tries to locate someone to notify, and she realizes the deceased had no one in their lives ” no loved ones, family or co-workers.
“You just think there has to be someone out there who cares for this person,” she said, her hand resting on a case file on her desk for a still-unidentified man found face-down in Rollins Lake in 2002.
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There are five cases of unidentified bodies in the county, Valceschini said, and she remembers the circumstances of every one.
The job, she said, teaches her to live her life to the fullest and to take good care of herself and her husband of 29 years. They go to San Francisco Giants games as
often as possible, she said.
Valceschini also is a cancer survivor, which adds to her appreciation of life.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” she said, pausing to wipe tears from under her glasses. “You really need to do the things you’ve always wanted to do while you can. Life is a gift.”
The tiny, five-feet-tall Valscechini cries easily, she admits, and she’s learned it can be an asset in her work.
“I used to try to avoid doing it in front of family (of the dead),” she said, sitting in her small office crammed with plants, cat pictures and paperwork. “I would talk to them, then come back to my office to (cry).”
Death can be an unexpected blessing, she said, in that it will often re-connect estranged family members and bring closure to any unanswered questions they may have had about the deceased.
Death can also be a pain in the neck, according to Valceschini’s long-time colleague, Nevada County Sheriff’s Capt. Ron Smith.
“Once there was this murder-suicide where the guy left 30 racing pigeons and (Valceschini) had to figure out how to board these birds while everything was tied up in court for months,” he said. “She found a place for them.”
Valceschini is no amateur, he said. She has two years under her belt as president of the California State Coroner’s Association.
“That’s pretty prestigious,” Smith said.
Valceschini said she enjoyed her time as president of the association, but she despised the public speaking, because she is normally a quiet person.
She is reserved, except when she starts talking about her pets.
She brags about her cats ” Redneck Wild Bill Cody, Mr. Wiggins and Sassy Sasquatch Zoie ” any chance she gets.
She pulled up a photo of Zoie, a Himalayan, on her computer screen.
“I just love ’em,” she said, a smile lighting up her face. “They’re my stress relievers.”