Most of us have to work for a living. It's the American way of life. You graduate, start a job, and start climbing the career ladder. Many people spend a significant amount of time at work.
You get used to seeing your coworkers every day during the week. Sometimes work life spills into home life and coworkers become close friends and a part of the family.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- How Might You Feel or React After a Coworker Dies?
- How Can You Send Condolences to Your Deceased Coworker’s Loved Ones?
- How to Cope After a Coworker Dies
- How to Honor or Remember a Deceased Coworker
Generally, no one likes to think about what would happen if one of the crew dies. In the event of a sudden or unexpected death, it can be extremely difficult to accept. When news of the death of a coworker hits, you may feel confused and angry.
You may question, “Why did they have to die when you have a large project due?” Or “Who's going to give you a ride to work now?” The following can help you gain perspective on their death and how you can cope.
How Might You Feel or React After a Coworker Dies?
Having strong emotional responses to the death of a coworker is expected because the people we work with tend to become a part of our lives in some way. There’s no way to determine what your grief reactions will be after learning of the death of a coworker. The way you think and feel might surprise you because grief has a way of manifesting in ways that we least expect.
For example, you might resent that your coworker died because they left you with an overload of work. Or, you might feel relieved that a pesky coworker died, even though you also feel bad and are mourning their death. Try not to be hard on yourself if you’re experiencing negative emotions that conflict with how you think you should feel.
If your adverse reactions to a coworker’s death have a lasting impact on your grieving, give yourself time to process your loss and reflect on why you might be feeling this way. Typically, the initial stages of grief last a few weeks before subsiding and may link to fears of your mortality.
When you experience a significant loss, this is an excellent time to sit with your close loved ones to discuss end-of-life planning and other death-related issues that can potentially trigger anxiety. Some individuals experience a fear of dying after a coworker’s death because unexpected or sudden losses serve as reminders that life is fleeting.
To counteract these feelings, consider doing a self-assessment of the things that cause you stress and worry. You may want to leave written instructions for your loved ones in the event of your untimely death, such as account passwords, a written will, and decisions on your funeral and final resting place. Having these matters delineated in writing will help you regain peace of mind.
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How Can You Send Condolences to Your Deceased Coworker’s Loved Ones?
Reaching out to your deceased coworker's family to express your condolences is a nice gesture that shows your regard for their loved one. Families suffering from an untimely or unexpected loss will generally look for ways to fill in the blanks about their loved one's life away from home.
They may want to know everything about them to help paint a complete picture of who their loved one was and the work they did, the contributions they made, and the impact they had on the lives of others.
How you choose to send condolences to your deceased coworker's family will largely depend on your relationship.
Share sentiments in person
If you and your coworker shared a close bond, and know their immediate family well, consider expressing your condolences in person well before the funeral or memorial service. If any, the surviving spouse or partner may find comfort in knowing they can rely on you as they struggle with coping with this life-changing loss.
During the funeral, you may want to volunteer as a pallbearer or in some other meaningful way, like reading the eulogy or organizing an online memorial page on their behalf to lessen the family's emotional burden of their pain and suffering.
Send flowers to the family
When appropriate, another way to show you care includes sending condolence flowers to the family or directly to the funeral home. Flowers are a traditional way of expressing sympathy even when you don't know the family of the deceased well or at all. When you don't know the family, the most appropriate place to have flowers delivered is to the funeral home.
You can generally obtain funeral information by doing a quick Google search or asking your employer if they have it. When you're acquainted with the survivors and know their home address, send any condolence gift directly to their address with a sympathy note or card attached. Remember to include your name and phone number if they need you for anything in the days to come.
Post an online message
Posting condolences online through social media is also an acceptable way of expressing your sympathy to your coworker’s family. Online memorials offer a place where friends and other loved ones can leave public messages and share their stories of loss.
Individuals needing additional comfort and support may also benefit from posting on their deceased coworker’s social media memorial page because it allows people with a shared loss to come together to talk about their grief experiences and offer hope and encouragement.
How to Cope After a Coworker Dies
We all experience different types of grief when we’re faced with loss. Coping with the death of a coworker is not any different. You're likely to experience grief in ways that you would if a close loved one died. The stages of grief typically include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. You're likely to experience these stages in a different order, and some not at all.
Grief can pop up when least expected. It can strike even if the two of you weren't very close or were competing rivals. It can also manifest even when you think that their death didn't affect you much at all. Recognizing the signs of grief will help you better cope with your coworker's death. Regardless of the relationship you had with them, it's important to assess how their death is affecting you.
1. Talk to colleagues
Sometimes it helps to let others know how you're feeling. It may be difficult for you to open up past the superficial formalities and condolences.
A close relationship with a coworker who has died will likely cause you pain and sorrow. Their death will likely affect you in ways that you don't yet recognize. Talking with other coworkers about what you're going through allows you to release some of those emotions that you may be holding in.
It may be that everyone is still shocked by the news, but eventually, the news will start to settle in enough to begin talking about it.
2. Talk to your significant other
A significant other can be a great source of therapy and support when your feeling bereaved. Talking to them about your loss may not only offer you the support you need but it may also strengthen your bond with them.
A significant other may often feel left out when it comes to being a part of your work life. Sharing what you’re going through allows them into this part of your life that they may not have had access to before.
Try inviting them to join you in the celebration of your coworker's life, or have them escort you to the funeral. Either way, having the support of your significant other will likely help you better cope with your grief.
3. Seek counseling
When you’re struggling to make sense of your coworker's death, talking about it to others may not be enough. It may be time to consider seeking professional counseling. Most companies offer access to grief counselors following a death or tragedy at work. You may want to inquire about how you can start getting help dealing with what you’re experiencing.
If help is not readily available, consider asking for it. There's no shame in admitting that you need help to get you through this rough patch. You may also consider joining an online grief support group if you aren't able to get the help you need through your employer.
4. Go for a walk
Going for a walk can be a therapeutic way of healing your grief. You can choose whether you want to go alone or with a supportive friend who understands your pain. Nothing has to be said. Being alone with your thoughts is sometimes all that's needed when feeling overwhelmed with grief.
If you choose to go alone, consider using this time to meditate on your relationship with your coworker. If accompanied, ask your companion to give you the mental space you need to work through your grief.
5. Finish their projects
Burying yourself with work is a way of deflecting what's in front of you. It can help ease your pain by distracting you from it, but it's not a healthy way of confronting your grief long term. This may work to temporarily ease your sorrow and keep you going for the time being. Consider turning this time into something productive that honors your coworker.
Ways in which you can do this are:
- Volunteering to finish their work projects
- Meeting their deadlines
- Managing their team
- Overseeing ongoing projects
- Making phone calls to business associates
- Collecting on project payments due
- Responding to emails
- Keeping the team motivated
6. Allow yourself time
Above all, allow yourself time to process your coworker’s death. It may take you several weeks or months to go back to feeling like your normal self again. You'll need to take the appropriate time for you to go back to functioning at normal capacity. Talk to your coworkers and ask for help when needed.
Give your superiors adequate notice of what you may be experiencing. Ask that they accommodate you whenever possible. Working through your grief is a process. It can’t be rushed or molded into a strict timeline. You’ll experience some good days and some not so good days. It'll feel like an ebb and flow of emotions with some days being harder to cope with than others.
How to Honor or Remember a Deceased Coworker
Honoring the memory of your coworker can be an important part of your grief journey. It goes beyond attendance at their memorial service or funeral. You can find many creative ways to remember them and to let others know how special they were to you.
You can make an impact in the lives of others, or you can choose a more private way of expressing what they meant to you. The following should help you with some ideas on how to celebrate the life of your coworker.
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7. Set up a fundraiser
One of the most helpful ways to show that you care is to set up and manage a fundraiser in honor of the deceased. The money raised can be used to offset the funeral expenses, help the family through financial hardship, or for any other reason you see fit.
It’s important to discuss this with the family first to see where their needs are. It may be that they don’t need financial support, and any money raised can go to a charity of their choosing.
8. Host a luncheon
A special way of remembering the life of your coworker is to host a luncheon in their honor. Consider enlisting the help of the company you both worked for or seeing if other coworkers are interested in helping out.
You can use this time to enjoy a meal in unity and share memories of your coworker who has died. Consider displaying a montage of photos set to music as a conversation starter.
9. Send flowers
One of the more traditional ways of expressing condolences is to send an arrangement of flowers to the funeral home or directly to the family. You can include a simple card that says “sorry for your loss” or you can choose something more elaborate on a ribbon draped across a standing spray or funeral wreath.
The more common types of flowers and arrangements to send are standing sprays and funeral wreaths.
10. Donate a memorial plaque
A memorial plaque is a wonderful sympathy gift idea that can be displayed at work in honor of your coworker, or presented to the family.
Either way, it serves as a remembrance of your coworker. It can be placed along a workplace corridor or in a garden to create a special place to go and contemplate.
11. Share fond memories
Sharing memories of your coworker with others helps keep their memory alive as it helps you heal. The more you talk about your loss, the easier it becomes coping with their death. Talking about your emotions releases them so that you can deal with them as they surface.
12. Help clean out their office
Cleaning out the belongings of someone who has died can be a sad task for anyone. But there are some people that may find it therapeutic to do so.
You can take your time looking through the things that once belonged to your coworker as you think about what they meant to you.
Remembering a Coworker
When death hits the workplace, it can be difficult to process this type of loss. Opening up to others in remembering your coworker who has died may help you in your grief.