death of a coworker

The Death Of A Co-Worker Leaves More Than An Empty Desk Behind

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Shannon Burberry

Shannon Burberry


Experiencing a death in the family is never an easy thing to go through, especially with heightened emotions being shared by everyone you tend to rely on for support in times of grief. But what about when a death occurs in your work family?

You may not be related by blood, but there is a special bond that forms when you spend 40-plus hours a week with the same people. Even though you are there for your colleagues, at the end of the day the business world does not stop when there is a death in the workplace.

When your work family is like a second family

The workplace is where many adult Canadians spend a significant amount of time. In some industries we may find ourselves spending more time at the office than at home.

No matter our profession, our lives are impacted daily by those we work alongside. Though in some cases the individuals we interact with in the workplace are simply viewed as colleagues, in many instances these special people become our second family.

Throughout my career, I've had the opportunity to collaborate with like-minded people that I came to value beyond our working relationship. Twenty years ago, I lost one of them very suddenly. It was a huge loss for our company, and for me personally. Although we were all experiencing grief, as funeral directors we knew what was required following his passing to ensure we delivered a send-off that honoured him and his memory.

The days and months that followed his passing were difficult. It was hard not to look for him when we needed his expertise or opinion. We were left with a huge void at work that he used to fill with his insight, camaraderie and his sense of humour. There was much sadness in the weeks that followed his passing, but there were also times of joy when we were able to share his stories and reminisce about the amazing times we had together. It's important to hold on to those memories and remember how that person made you feel when they were here.

Some of the most memorable parts of my career were during the years we worked together; he left an indelible mark on my life. His photo remains in a prominent place in the lobby as recognition of all he did for his colleagues and the community.

It's hard to fill their shoes

One thing that can be initially overlooked as you're grieving the loss of a colleague is the workplace void that must be filled when that person is gone. It will take time and can be a challenge to find a replacement for that position. It is hard to rebuild the structure of the business and the role they filled day-to-day. The situation can become even more overwhelming if the owner or leader of the company passes, that may result in many structural and operational changes as well.

While a personal loss may offer time to slow down and reflect, in the business world it is important to maintain the status quo and stay ahead of the game. Having a supportive team that comes together during this time of need can help your clients receive the same level of service they have come to expect from your company.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve

Everyone handles death in different ways, and depending on the employer employees may have access to grief support professionals to help process their feelings about their loss.

Tragically, people die in the line of duty or in workplace accidents, which causes an increased level of distress and grief for their colleagues. In these instances, some type of immediate grief support should be offered to those closest to the situation and for anyone deeply affected by the loss. There are lots of support services and resources you can use to help deal with your grief.

As with any loss, the most important part is to acknowledge and honour your feelings. We are never truly alone, and our colleagues can be of great support when we lean on each other in difficult times.

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