Dealing with the death of a co-worker
By Leanne Billiau
When a co-worker dies, it can be devastating. Many of us spend most of our waking hours with our co-workers. They become our “work family” and sometimes special bonds of trust and friendship form that are unlike our other relationships.
So it’s not surprising that it can be difficult to deal with the death of a co-worker, particularly if you were close to that person. Whether the death was sudden or after a long illness, no one can ever be fully prepared.
You may feel guilty, blaming yourself for not doing or knowing more, or for not dealing with any “unfinished business”, especially if your last interaction was not pleasant. It may even bring up fears about your own sense of mortality.
Grief is a natural process that requires time. Here are some things you can do along the way that may help in your adjustment to the loss of a co-worker.
- Let yourself grieve. You may have difficulty sleeping, eating, concentrating or focusing. You may become tearful, fatigued, or irritable more easily than usual. These grief reactions will fade as you adjust to life without your co-worker.
- Acknowledge individual reactions. Everyone grieves in their own way. Try not to make judgments about how someone else “should” or “shouldn’t” be feeling.
- Memorialize your co-worker. Attend the funeral if possible. Create a memory board. Take up a collection to donate to a special cause in your co-worker’s honor.
- Reach out to your co-worker’s family. Send a card or note letting them know you have not forgotten them or your co-worker.
- Support each other. Talk to trusted co-workers about your feelings. Mutual support can help everyone get through the grieving process.
- Self-care. You may need to give yourself extra amounts of things that nourish and replenish you – rest, relaxation, exercise, massage, etc. Remember most workplaces have Employee Assistance Programs where you can get additional support if needed.
“Grief knits two hearts in closer bonds than happiness ever can; and common sufferings are far stronger links than common joys”– Alphonse de Lamartine