How to Cope With Death and Grief In The Workplace

It is not uncommon that many of us spent most of our waking hours at the workplace than our own home. Some of us will form close bonds with our colleagues from spending so much time together outside of work. As such, loss of a colleague at the workplace (whether from an accident or illness), can have a significant mental impact on the co-workers. This traumatic event can affect the workplace in many ways.

Grief is a universal, natural and normal response to such a sudden and significant loss. Our grieving process usually depends on the closeness of our relationship with the person. It is important to understand the grieving process to give us the strength to help us cope and recover from any type of grief.

Stages of Grief (Elizabeth Kubler- Ross’s model)

There are 5 stages of grief. If you are experiencing any of these emotions following a loss, it is important to realise that this is natural and that it is part of the NORMAL healing process. It is also normal not to go through ALL these stages and NOT NECESSARY in the sequential order described below. You may experience going back and forth between these different stages.

Remember that healing happens gradually and it should not be forced and hurried. There is no specific timeframe to say that you will feel better, as all of us will experience grief differently.

  1. DENIAL. This is the normal reaction that protects us from being overwhelmed (going numb and being in disbelief). It is nature’s way of letting in the pain only as much as we can handle
  2. ANGER. As the numbness begins to wear off, the pain of loss starts to firmly take hold. It helps by providing a temporary structure in making sense of the loss
  3. BARGAINING. The ‘What ifs’ or ‘If only I could have done something’ stage of grief may take the form of a temporary truce. The stage often accompanies some feelings of guilt
  4. DEPRESSION. There is an intense feeling of sadness which is a normal reaction to a sudden loss. This is different from clinical depression
  5. ACCEPTANCE. We still feel hurt but not to the same extent as we begin to accept the reality that the deceased is physically not with us anymore. We begin to recognise that this is the new permanent reality and begin to move on with our lives
Watch the 5 stages of grief by Counsellor Carl

How to cope with the loss at home

During the grieving process, you may experience a range of intense emotions – just like riding a roller coaster, which can be very draining. Hence, it is crucial that we take care of ourselves. Take care of your own physical needs

Have plenty of rest and sleep

  • Eat healthily
  • Exercise daily
  • Avoid drugs or alcohol

Express yourself in creative ways

  • Write your thoughts or feelings down in a journal
  • Express your feelings through art (by drawing or painting)
  • Write a letter to the deceased
  • Make a scrapbook to celebrate the person’s life

Find support

  • Talk to your friends and family to find comfort
  • Talk to a therapist or counsellor when your emotions are intense or severe

How to cope with the workplace

Acknowledge that your co-workers have different ways of responding to the loss. Some may want to talk about their feelings, whereas others would want to deal with them on their own. Hence, be respectful of their different ways of coping.

Find someone or groups of mutual friends to talk about and celebrate the life of the deceased. Attending the deceased’s funeral helps to memorialise the loss by coming to terms with the loss. You can establish a memorial at work by planting a tree or creating a memory board with your colleagues.

Remember that your grief is your own. It is ok to be angry or be sad. If you want to cry, just cry. You may also want to laugh so do find moments of joy and just smile and laugh. Let yourself feel whatever you feel without the need to fear embarrassment or judgment.

As time passes, the pain of these emotions will become less intense as you begin to accept the loss and start to move on. However, if you find yourself not feeling better and that the pain of loss is so constant and severe to the point that it impacts on your daily life, do get in touch with a mental health professional for help!


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