Posted June 28, 2012 by

How to Deal with Death in the Workplace

“What Can We Do to Help?”

Q: “Hi Heather,

My co-worker “Brenda” has a husband who was diagnosed with lung cancer a few months ago. It seemed like he was doing better for a while, but over this past month, Brenda has missed a lot of work and it sounds like her husband isn’t doing very well (He had to quit working himself, and Brenda called his condition “incurable”).

Most of the office made donations in his honor to a cancer fund last Christmas, but I feel like we should be doing more now. I’m not exactly sure what’s appropriate however. I don’t want to make Brenda sad or make her think about her husband’s situation if she’s having an OK day. I think she could use some help, but when I asked what she needed, she said she didn’t know. Most of us have worked in this same department for over five years. What can/should we do?”

Reach Out, Don’t Disappear

A: Without knowing the medical facts of your co-worker’s situation, I can tell you this: knowing that people are aware and that they care always beats feeling unnoticed and possibly ignored. Brenda doesn’t “forget” her husband’s health battle during the workday, and when illness or death touches an office environment, compassion is always appropriate.

We work at our careers to enable a good and fulfilling life for ourselves and for our loved ones. That includes meaningful engagement with those in our circles. As a co-worker, Brenda inhabits one of your circles. There are many ways to be supportive of her situation without smearing professional boundaries.

Almost anything is better than nothing at all. When situated in a front row seat to another’s tragedy, the instinct is often to avert one’s eyes. The desire to avoid saying the wrong thing, while laudable, often renders would-be supporters speechless at a time when simple syllables of encouragement might be spirit sustaining. Don’t be silent.  Continue reading . . .

Article by Heather Dugan and courtesy of

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Posted in Career Advice, Personal Life Issues | Tagged Tagged , ,