How to Act When You or a Peer Is Dealing with Death

Talk about things your mother never told you.  We so rarely talk about death in any way we just instantly get uncomfortable with anything surrounding that subject.  Our behavior can be wonky as well.  Yet, it’s part of life which means it will make it’s way into the work place for you and others at some point.  Don’t run out of the room.  Be an adult and stick with this subject.  It’s good to know a few things when the time comes.

While I’m certainly no grief counselor, I’ve faced my share of family death and that of others I have worked with.  I can tell you what works and what doesn’t work.

Obviously, there is an order of magnitude on this subject.  On the “as bad as it gets” end of the scale is the death of an immediate family member like spouse or child.  Right behind that is “bad” such as a sibling, parent or best friend.  Your behavior might be slightly different yet it’s good to know the basics.

When it impacts you:

– Communicate – Minimally tell your boss what is happening and work out your absence.  While follow up with the boss would be good, you may be flaky because initially you won’t know what you’re schedule or demands on you will be so suggest they call you at a given point.  Give them several phone numbers to locate you.  Communicate tends to be the first thing that goes in these circumstances.

– Consider a surrogate – It may be hard to talk to anyone comfortably for a few days so you may want to have a spouse or close friend act as your communicator.  Give them email or phone numbers plus the messages you want to convey.

– Share some information – There are two basic things people want to know about the person in your life that has passed: 1- how to send any tokens of support such as address or funeral home.  Keep in mind that while you think you may not need support, you probably do and your friends do to because they care about you. Strangely enough, this event isn’t all about you. 2- basic reasons for the death like illness, accidents are things people want to know.  While you can reason that it’s no ones business, you can count on people to ask if you aren’t somewhat forthcoming.  You don’t have to be detailed.

– How you function when you return.  Even if you are holding it all together really well, there are probably a couple of things where you won’t be fully functional.  Try to create a lightweight schedule for the first couple of days upon your return.  You’d be surprised at just how poorly your thinking is so if you mess something up, make it a low impact item.  You don’t need another reason to feel bad.

– Be cordial and expect a few acknowledgements.  When you return you can expect a few people to extend their condolence.  Your best way to handle this is to keep it simple, warm and thank them for their support.  You might feel you need to give them the whole story or you might want to.  Either way, it isn’t going to go well if you do.  If it’s a close friend, save it for after work.  At least if you do tell the story you won’t have to pull it back together so you can work.

– Seek professional help.  If you can’t be composed enough to work without breaking down after a reasonable period of time, seek professional help.

When it impacts others:

– Volunteer to pick up the work.  You will make a friend for life if you can help reduce the stress or burden of the ongoing work during this time.

– Extend a gesture.  You don’t have to send a floral arrangement but a card, email or even an acknowledgement upon their return will be welcome.  It will be remembered.

– Don’t avoid contact.  After my dad died, I had more than one person go out of their way to avoid contact with me.  It only made me feel worse.  If you usually see and speak to this person, get back to your usual routines.  You’ll both benefit.

How you handle things during the aftermath of a death can go a long way to build lasting relationships.  While it’s not a fun subject, it is important to handle it well.

For more career tips and advice – FREE newsletter and eworkbook:  From Dorothy Tannahill-Moran – Your Career Change Agent from and

(Visited 180 time, 1 visit today)

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *