The office had sensed something was going on; she had gone on leave suddenly and had minimal contact with coworkers. When they texting her-she only responded sporadically.
When I arrived at the office to conduct the grief counseling sessions, I was met by a manager who had worked closely with Natalie. The manager started to tell me about her lively late colleague and pointed to a picture near Natalie’s cubicle of Natalie leaping in the air with open arms and a big smile on her face. The manager went on to describe how Natalie grabbed co-workers to do interesting and fun activities, such as going to casino’s, amusement parks and drinks and dancing.
The grief counseling session started, and ten of Natalie’s former coworkers started to share their stories. The discussion was lively, filled with tears and funny anecdotes about Natalie. They were miffed that the family did not communicate with them or allow them to visit while Natalie was in the hospital. “We respect the family’s wishes, but why are work friends seen differently than friends outside of work?”
The group was able to process Natalie’s quick exit from work and their feelings of being excluded. They also had heard that certain coworkers were allowed to visit her.
One manager was concerned about a relative of hers who worked in the company and was close to Natalie. This relative was young and had not experienced any major losses and the manager was concerned she would have a difficult time.
The group process provided support, education, and space for people to grieve in their own way. The organization also provided time off to attend the funeral.
Later in the day, an employee named Mary asked to meet individually, and she disclosed that she had seen Natalie in the hospital at her request. She wanted to keep this issue quiet as she knew Natalie was close to many people at work, but for whatever reason, only allowed this one coworker to visit her. Mary had suffered the loss of her mother early in her life, and this compounded the loss of Natalie. Through this individual session, I helped her process how this early loss was connected to how she was coping with the death of her coworker and friend.
Natalie’s sudden death was a unique challenge to workplace counseling, because not only were most coworkers not allowed to see her, but the family also did not communicate any specifics about her illness.
Nobody ever knew why she died, but they had to accept the uncertainty and resume their work as best they could.