Facing the Loss of a Co-worker

This article is a guest post written by Cortney Drake-Heck, a funeral director at Helke Funeral Home and Cremation Service.

On Monday, September 23, 2019, life as we knew it at Helke Funeral Home changed. Our co-worker, friend, and mentor was gone. At the age of 46, Patrick Mayo’s life ended. The hole that his death has left us with is very tangible, and the grief is insurmountably real.

Many times, we consider our co-workers friends, and sometimes we even consider them to be a part of our family.  And yet when we experience the death of a co-worker, we often don’t feel as if we have permission to grieve in the way we would grieve another friend or family member. There are many reasons why coping with the loss of a co-worker can present unique feelings and emotions that we might not know how to deal with.  We don’t always realize the significant role they play in our lives. Because of this, we might not feel supported in our feelings of grief.  People might assume that the sadness will pass quickly.  It may be unclear or confusing how involved we should be in funerals, memorials, or other remembrance events.  If we cannot grieve with our co-workers, we may feel completely alone. Our employers may not encourage us to grieve openly or together, leaving us to feel as if there is no one to turn to or to share our grief with.

Most, if not all, of us understand that there are steps in the grieving process, and while we are making our way through these steps, it might feel as if we are on a roller coaster of shifting emotions. There might be physical responses such as fatigue, sleep disruption, appetite changes, tenseness, aches and pains. There could be psychological symptoms of distractedness, forgetfulness, irritability, and feelings of confusion or disorientation. Though this is normal, we must also understand that there are methods and ways to cope with the feelings accompanied by loss.

It is important to acknowledge the loss and to give each other permission to talk about the impact the individual’s death had on us, rather than go on as if nothing happened. It may be helpful to allot time at staff meetings for checking in on how everyone is doing. Keep in mind that grief affects each person in a very different way. Some are deeply affected by the loss, while others are not. Some people want to talk about their feelings, while others want to deal with them in private. Some may take much longer than others to adjust to the loss. We must understand how each person reacts differently to a loss and be respectful of those differences. Remember to be gentle and understanding with one another.

We also need to take care of ourselves. Grief can be emotionally and physically exhausting; consider rest, relaxation, exercise, or diversions. Find ways to express thoughts and feelings. For some, it helps to write things down as a way to get feelings out. Professional assistance might be needed, so remember it is okay to ask for help.  

Finally, consider honoring the loss of a co-worker in an appropriate way. Collect money for a charity, a memorial bench or a plaque in their name. Create a bulletin board in their memory. It is important that everyone is allowed to take part in honoring and memorializing the individual.

The loss of Patrick Mayo rushed over our funeral home like a giant wave washing over each one of us, as we were instantly aware that his physical presence was no longer here. Some of us have begun to drag ourselves to the shoreline, taking in air as we start our journey through the grieving process, while others are still feeling the weight of their personal loss.  As each of us struggles to find our new normal, we know that Pat is here with us. We carry him in our hearts every day, and we will continue to honor his legacy by caring for each of our families as he did, with dignity, empathy, and professionalism.

In loving memory of our dear friend, Patrick Jason Mayo. May he forever be in the hearts and memories of all those who knew and loved him.

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