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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

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. It helps to have a compassionate employer at a time like this. I lost 2 co-workers at my last position. One was very high up and well known in the community. Her funeral was attended by news media and the political higher ups as well. As a work unit we took a week to mourn and counselors were brought it. It was a sudden death and we were all devastated. The second death came a few years later after an illness so we were more prepared but nevertheless spent time together to grieve and attended her memorial. I felt we were fortunate that our employer gave us the time and resources to deal with our loss.

    April 27, 2012
    • You make a vital point about the importance of having a compassionate, supportive employer during times of loss, whether that is loss of a co-worker or loss of a loved one. Too often, we are expected to ‘move on’ after three (or less) bereavement days. It is important to take time to acknowledge and mourn our loss. The support of other co-workers and the ability to talk about our loss in the work environment helps. I am glad that your employee provided the support you needed during these difficult times.

      Thank you for sharing your story and for following Caring with Confidence.

      May 1, 2012

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