Grief in the Workplace
5. Death of a Co-Worker
In the case of death being preceded by a long illness, your anticipatory grief will not make the loss of the person any less painful. But it can give you time to get used to the idea of the person's death. A sudden death has a shock value that often takes a long time to process. In either case, the loss felt by you and your staff will seem bottomless. Each person in the organization will grieve in a different way and be at different places along the grieving process spectrum. However, just because everyone grieves differently does not mean that you should ignore how people feel and pretend that nothing is different. Ignoring the signs of grief will simply postpone the process; it will not go away by itself.
Death may be a natural part of life, but the death of a co-worker will make everyone feel anything but normal. We may be listless and unable to do our own work. We may be prone to crying and sobbing. We may be sad or depressed. We may be angry, resentful that the person left so many projects undone. We may be unable to think about hiring a replacement or having others do parts of their job. We may be in denial that anything bad really happened. All of these reactions are coping mechanisms that help us get through the hard times.
Talk about the person. Remember the strengths and their quirks. Think how they would react to certain policies or ideas. Laugh and cry. Perhaps you want to hold your own memorial service to honor and remember the person. Such a service can help coworkers process their grief and pain and give closure for others.
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