Death of a Co-Worker

Matthew Gates 7m 1,713 #death

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Dealing with Sudden Death of a Co-Worker

Empty Desk

When it comes to most days at work, no news is usually good news, unless you are getting a raise or a bonus. I came in to work, on a Friday, at my scheduled time, as I normally do everyday, Monday through Friday, five days a week, for about 9 hours a day with an unpaid lunch break. This day, however, when I entered work, would be the same workplace, same work space, same work pace, same tasks, same people, but slightly different, counting one less employee.

His name was Rich and everyone knew him because he was the IT guy, who fixed everyone’s computers when they had issues with viruses, the network, or just general computer maintenance. He was a 7-year veteran of the company and never seemed to be in his office, but you could always catch him working on a computer around the office, walking around, checking in on everybody, making small talk and good conversation. Rich always seemed to know everything and was just a fun loving guy to talk with. He would enter the room and everyone knew he was there, with his charismatic personality, funny laugh, and energy. Rich was a part of the corporate and company culture.

Rich grew up in the same state I was from so when we spoke, we would make references to specific places or terms and understand each other. Rich also served in the military which brought him to this part of the country. He was like family, like a brother, like someone I could confide in with anything. Rich would always make sure my computer was optimally functioning and if I had any complaints, he would make sure to take care of them almost immediately. It was just a pleasure to see him around the office. Although I was about 25 years younger than Rich, who must have been in his early- to mid-fifties, I could connect and relate to him about a variety of topics, especially his favorite television shows which I also loved, such as Welcome Back, KotterTaxiThrillerStar TrekM*A*S*HHogan’s HerosGilligan’s IslandDragnetIronsideMork & MindyHappy Days, Sanford & SonGood TimesThe JeffersonsThree’s Company and many other popular shows of the 70s.

Rich was very intelligent too, having acquired degrees in Computer Science, Engineering, and receiving his MBA. If there was a problem, Rich would think outside the box in order to solve it. He had a very different way of thinking that was logical, and his ideas were brilliant, as well as his warnings to the company for not doing something correctly. It seemed he could carry on a conversation with anyone and no matter who he talked to, young or old, he could carry on an intelligent conversation. I speak of only the positive things about Rich because I do not really have anything negative to say about him. Rich did like to exaggerate some things, but all in all, he was just a nice guy with a big heart and a smile that made you smile, no matter what mood you were in.

A few days earlier, I noticed he was not present in the office and I figured, like most people in this office occasionally do, he may have taken a vacation, a few days off, a few sick days, or may have been called to another state for business. Although I did not ask anyone about him, I assumed he was just out with good reason that I did not need to question. This Friday, however, I would get the news: Someone came to the office looking for Rich because they had not seen him in a few days. The office called the police after giving them his address. The police would soon discover that Rich had passed away and was no longer with us.

Utter shock. Disappointment. Sadness. Pain. Disbelief. I never hung out with Rich personally as a friend at his house, but as co-workers, we did spend moments together a few times a week, talking and conversing, whether I went for a walk, sat in the break room, or stood at the water cooler, so when it hit me, it felt like I lost a family member who I would never see again. There are other co-workers of mine who never spoke with Rich, never got to know him, and may not be feeling what I feel, but for those that did know him, they felt the same sadness too.

Life and work will continue to go on as normal and the workday on Friday did continue like any other day, with many people having to go for short or long walks. I did happen to tear up and needed to leave for several minutes, but Rich would expect nothing less of this day, but coming into work from now on knowing there is a beloved employee who will be gone forever is sad. There are hardly any words I can type to describe it. As the days go on, only the memory of Rich will remain, but I am glad to have spoken with him and even took a photograph with him, which I will always cherish, as he was part of the entire family of our company, he was my co-worker.

I have certainly had friends and family pass away and I have had to take some time off for work, but never had to grieve over a co-worker. It has helped that co-workers are experiencing the same thing, my supervisors and the Human Resources Department has opened their doors for talking, in additional to the Employee Assistance Program my company offers.

For those who are experiencing a similar situation, I wanted to provide you with the same information that my company provided, a document entitled, The Death of a Co-worker.


Death of a Co-worker

Death is an uncomfortable situation. You spend a tremendous amount of time together with your co­workers and when a co-worker dies, it often feels confusing. Although you are a part of the same work family, you may not be close friends. The loss will be felt as you experience reminders of the interactions you have had. For example, walking past their empty desk may cause strong feelings to come up.

Due to the demands of the workplace, it is often difficult for co-workers to experience grief. As a result, people often try to deny their feelings. It is realistic that co-workers are affected by the loss. It may take some time before we feel like ourselves again in the workplace

Why I React the Way I Do and You React Differently

There are many factors that affect the way we respond to crises in general and death in particular.

Past experience have a major influence on the way we react and perceive the situation. These circumstances may include the context and quality of the relationship with the person, our earlier experiences with death, and how we have struggled with other recent losses.

Way of looking at the world includes our religious beliefs and customs. It may also mean the strength with which we hold on to the “rules of living” which dictate who, when and how the world “should” go. The more we believe that this death “should not have occurred,” the more difficult it is to accept.

Physical Status, including our health, has a significant impact on the amount of energy — both physically and psychologically — we can invest in dealing with the loss.

Lastly, the availability of social supports has a big influence on our responses. Are there people with whom we can talk and share our reactions? Are others pretending that none of this is significant? Are there others who understand the special meaning of this death for us?

Given these factors, there are a multitude of responses that we can have. While we usually believe that our reactions are justified, it is equally important to accept that others may react differently. We may mourn publicly, others privately. We may be able to see the person’s name calmly, while the sight of it causes someone else to get very upset. We may feel comfortable mentioning what the deceased had said, while another is upset by that reminder. We may want to keep the person’s memory in the present, but another may need to act as if nothing has happened. No one really has the one and only way to respond.

Why Am I So Affected By This?

Critical incidents — accidents, sudden deaths, injuries — often trigger feelings of vulnerability and upset those that were dormant. Though the reason for the sensitivity may have nothing to do with the present event, it may initiate a chain reaction. Talking and thinking about current losses may trigger feelings of sadness about divorces, moves, lost friendships and illnesses, to name a few. This happens because there was not ample opportunity to deal with these feelings when the event occurred. We often discount the importance of these reactions because “that has nothing to do with this – I am over that!”

Adults often show at least several of the following symptoms when an occurrence has been overly stressful:

  • Headaches
  • Backaches
  • Outbursts
  • Brooding lethargy
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Sleep disruption
  • Lack of concentration
  • Making mistakes more than usual
  • Increased use of alcohol/medications

These reactions are a valuable sign for us to complete our unresolved feelings. Talking and sharing feelings with good friends or family can help. It may also be valuable to talk with a trained professional who can assist you in defining the issues and can provide guidance in moving forward. Regardless of how you approach this, do not ignore it. Reburying it only means it will resurface again later.

Employee Assistance Program
Phone: 866-621-0554

© 2012 Copyright Of Anthem Insurance Companies, Inc.
Anthem EAP products are offered by Anthem Life Insurance Company.
In New York, Anthem EAP products are offered by Anthem Life & Disability Insurance Company.
In California, Anthem EAP products are offered by Blue Cross of California using the trade name Anthem Blue Cross®.
Anthem is a registered trademark.

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