after a death or severe loss in workplaces…….


We live in a unpredictable and sometimes brutal world. Our world in Australia or New Zealand is a lot more predictable than a lot of other places.  Often we think that life is going to be predictable. A predictable day . A predictable work place . A predictable and routine visit to the Doctor. Plans are made to live out a reasonable and safe life. A predictable relationship or financial income or plans about the future involving family or friends. We also have in our minds an unconscious belief that good things happen to good people. In fact we know that its not true. But we hope that right will be done and that life will be fair. 


 Any number of incidents can happen that involve the loss of life or injury or a near miss. They can involve death or serious injury or deep hurt.  A critical incident might be a death or suicide or assault in a workplace. Or it might be a serious accident in a workplace which results in serious injuries for one or numerous people. An accident offsite or in its proximity affecting  family members or workers. It might be the death of a friend or colleagues family member or the failure of a medical procedure. 


 It might include violent or very threatening behaviour on a site such as a robbery. It could be a catastrophic industrial implosion or explosion. 


Or it may be one of those life tragedies that never makes the media. Some one young dies because of medical issues that no Doctor ever detected or suspected. No one ever saw it coming. But it leaves people and workmates crushed and hurting. All these events might be considered to have an affect on people emotionally psychologically and behaviourally.



The time after death or severe loss in some ones life.


If you or workmates or family members have been involved, or have witnessed or been in the vicinity of a grief event, it can bring about dislocation and disruption to life in some shape or way. Sometimes its not about witnessing anything but listening to the narrative or just becoming aware of what has obviously happened. Our imaginations feed our feelings.  We will feel sadness and hurt that may not or cannot match a colleagues loss.But it is real and it does effect us.


 Being involved in grief after a friend or colleagues death will affect us in our thinking, it will affect our emotions, and even our behavior and physical health. A great deal will depend on the degree to which we are directly involved in the person who has died.


A spectrum of thoughts and emotions. 


There can be a whole series of emotions when someone dies suddenly. There can be guilt, or shock and numbness, regret, agitation, anger or fear or rage. The range of thoughts and feelings can be jumbled together or experienced like a rollercoaster ride. 

Grief is real in our lives and initially people can experience a sense of being emotionally and psychologically “all over the place” This is not uncommon and does not mean people are losing their minds.


Some of the responses to grief.


People react to grief and loss in different ways depending on their personalities and characteristics. The invasion of the unexpected into an otherwise predictable world sets the thinking and feeling world of individuals on its head. 

It should be noted there are no set rules about how feelings are expressed. Nor are there rules about what people should be feeling. Or time frames or rules of how long it should take for people to recover.

People who have gone through grief sometimes speak of it as if they are on a journey. They are  making sense and responding to the thoughts and feelings or images of real life events in slow motion or with a heightened sensitivity. Its a place where  those close to the person who has had the loss or has died will know the depths and anguish. Some of us on the outside of the grief can imagine it. But we can't really know they anguish of a family member or close friend. But we can still be affected. .


Getting practical 


•  Confusion and disbelief that the grief  has happened at all. Some people report feeling physically numb or initially being in a dream like state.

•  Disbelief and denial and an ongoing thought, that this awful thing, should  not have occurred.

•  People will feel overcome with emotion and cry. They can might display great resentment or anger and want to blame someone for the episode.

•  Personal guilt at being involved can be a behaviour and as much as it was not a persons fault in any way. 

•  Many questions buzz around a grieving persons head .”I could have, I should have, why didn’t I,”.These are all very normal.

•  Sadness and feeling isolated or hopeless in the circumstances or just pushing friends away. 


Being practical:

If a colleague is hurting or in grief we can  feel unsure about what to do or what to say.  In work situations colleagues can be fearful of saying the wrong thing. I think its far better to be real. If you have shared information with a colleague about your family or children and have laughed together in the past your safely in the category of being able to share your sympathy. Simply express your pain or hurt or sadness at what’s happened. You will pick up the clues if they want you to stay or go.  If the grief involves a whole workplace with a colleague dying or having died don’t be flippant but simply respect the space of others and take lead in making sure people are going well and safely. I always find asking people how they are travelling rather than “are you OK is” a far better starting place for conversations.

People also want to be treated normally in the work place without others treading around them preciously . If people are having a bad day they will show it or tell some one.

At times of grief its important to know that no words or lengthy optimism will alter the circumstances. People who are grieving just want to know that genuinely caring people are there to listen and then listen some more. They may want to be in a private alcove in the office or just express it publically. Let them initiate that. 

Don’t be alarmed or surprised by the roller coaster of emotions or thoughts that people might have. Once again to sit with a person and listen .To convey understanding without sentimentality or cynicism is very important.

Being practical with food, with transport, with toddlers, with the small but essential matters of life is important. My own rule of thumb is allow 6 weeks for such practicalities.

Some matters of grief are discrete and people want it kept that way. Others may say they don’t care who knows. It’s always important for those close to a grieving person to ask what they want and if the matter is public or they wish the matter to be respected as private.

Don’t assume that people will not be able to function at work. Work  and being with friends at work can be one of the more therapeutic  environments for people to recover in. 

What’s going on in the mind and with the emotions also affects behaviour. Don’t be surprised by different moods.