We’ve all lost coworkers who moved on to new jobs or retirement, but the death of a coworker is a completely different kind of loss. It may be as painful as losing a close friend, especially if you saw the employee on a daily basis.
If you anticipate losing a colleague who is terminally ill, you might consider how best to interact with him or her in the time remaining:
- Respect the individual's needs. Some people are comfortable disclosing details of an illness, while others prefer to keep it private.
- Stay connected. Continue to invite him or her to meetings and social events.
- Find ways to communicate and offer support, even if your coworker is no longer coming in to work. Calls, letters, or email updates may help someone feel included, and offers to deliver food or run errands may be much appreciated.
When a coworker dies–especially if it is unexpected–the loss can be quite significant. Many people see their work group as a "second family." The following suggestions may help in coping with such a loss:
- Attend the funeral or memorial service. If this is not possible, consider creating some type of service.
- Create a memorial at work. This could be in the form of a scrapbook, bulletin board, or fundraiser for a charitable cause that your colleague supported.
- Realize that strong feelings–whether sadness, guilt, fear, or anger–are a normal reaction to loss. It’s okay to feel all of these things. Be aware that you may have difficulty accepting a coworker’s replacement, as well.
- If fellow employees are also grieving, take time out for mutual support at lunch or after work.
- If your reactions interfere with your work or home life for a significant length of time, consider seeking help through your doctor, clergy, or a counselor.