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How to Handle Grief in the Workplace, when Your Colleague Passed Away

Kally of MiddleMe invited me to write another guest post and this time she would like me to address the topic ‘How to handle grief in the workplace, when your colleague passed away‘. Honestly, I cringed a bit, an automatic response to the word grief. However, I also immediately knew I would agree to do it. Since grief might not be an easy topic to talk (or write) about, however, it is part of life. Denying life is finite, is not a healthy habit.

Symptoms of grief

We can grieve for many reasons, mostly because we lost a beloved one. Who could be a family member, a friend, a mentor, even a pet and unfortunately also a colleague. Death and grief are not easy topics to discuss, because we all know they are connected to feelings. Pain, sadness, anger and/or disbelief are often the first emotions we have to go through. On a physical level, the loss of someone we appreciate a lot can also be noticed. Tears, headache, flu-like issues, fatigue, insomnia are probably recognizable symptoms for everyone.

Coping with grief in the workplace

Depending on your personal relationship with death, the time you need to grief will differ. In addition, a sudden death will, in general, cause larger shock in comparison to the loss of someone who has been terminally ill for a while. That will be no different when losing a colleague.

Especially during the first months, a literal void will be felt. Even when another person takes over the responsibilities, a new person sits behind the desk: the absence of the peer will be highly sensed. Direct colleagues most likely need more time to adjust to the new normal. Crucial is going to be giving each other the space and time to cope with this void.

It is ok to cry, feel down and grief.

Maybe a few days off, maybe to talk regularly about the deceased, maybe a memorial for the department is a necessity. We all handle grief differently. In addition, culture, religion and spirituality are factors to consider in how we respond to death. Don’t judge the way your co-worker (or anybody) needs to grief. Be a listening ear when needed and be honest when you don’t know how to respond. Be aware that not everyone likes to be hugged all the time: ask what the grieving peer needs.

Social support

As long as your boss, co-workers and/or yourself are able to continue focusing on the job, to adjust and return to their natural selves, there is no need to step in or involve a professional skilled helper. Still, social support is important. Remind each other of all the beautiful, funny and special moments shared. Again, allow each other to retreat and/or not discuss the situation, the emotions.

Natural outcome of life

Life is finite. We need to accept this, to be able to cope with the loss of a beloved one. Don’t suppress the emotions and at the same time realize you will always be reminded of the person who passed away. The physical pain will decrease over time, the emotions may overwhelm you unexpectedly, even after several years have gone by.

Death is a natural outcome of life. Therefore, let us create wonderful memories, both in the workplace and beyond. We never know when we will need them ; -)

Patty Wolters

This article is also published @ MiddleMe
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