I was working ... I would have hit the murderer with a chair or grabbed
her from behind. I wouldn't have let her take my friend away from me.
If I had gotten shot also, well so be it.
- friend and co-worker of murder victim
the grief of coworkers
Employed adults spend the majority of their waking hours at work where
they often develop strong friendships. There are many instances where
employed adults consider their co-workers as surrogate family members.
Today's workplace environment, which includes the extensive use of work
teams, fosters the formation of these close relationships. However,
with workplace violence at an all time high, the incidence of grieving
co-workers is on the rise.
The emotional ups and downs of mourning may be considered
verboten in the workplace, particularly as it negatively impacts job
productivity, increases sick leave, and leads to increased workers'
The grief of co-workers may also be disenfranchised to the degree
that their feelings of loss are discouraged and disallowed.
+ bereavement policies by employers
Grief in the workplace is not an issue that has received much attention
from Human Resources Departments or Employee Assistance Programs.
Developing protocols to deal with the problem should be a priority.
When a violent death of a colleague occurs, whether in or out of the
workplace, many employers are clearly not prepared to deal with it.
The murder of a fellow employee triggers many strong emotions in the
other employees, including past issues that have not been resolved.
Bereavement policies that are in place need to take into account the
manifestations of grief that appear later in the continuum of traumatic
grief. This is a challenge in many social service, or other helping,
professions where the priority is to help the clients rather than
In addition to group crisis intervention, co-workers, who are co-
victims, will benefit from services such as peer support groups, referrals
to victim advocate agencies and other community resources, and participation
in memorial services or scholarships funds.
telling the truth or hiding the facts
Trauma and loss reactions take time, and thus they have a potential
need to talk about the disaster or its consequences long after it
happened. It is, however, not enough to point out the need for open
and honest communication, families need practical suggestions and
role models for how they can communicate about traumatic events, and
the family changes that can originate following such events.
Early intervention in families who experience trauma should include
helping families to develop constructive ways of communicating openly
and honestly about what happened and its effects on the family.
By providing a model for emphatic listening, ways of asking questions,
clarifying affects, allowing children to have their say, providing
feedback, etc., a caring, supportive climate within the family can
be established. By making the discussion of communication, role distribution,
emotional gratification, conflict, etc., part of the follow-up sessions,
it is possible to work directly to establish a favorable climate for
recovery from loss or trauma. By regularly having family meetings,
at increasingly spaced intervals over an extended period of time,
this supportive communication climate can be sustained.
We need to educate adults on children's need to make sense of events,
by creating or constructing a narrative or total picture of what happened,
even when children are quite small.
For children more directly exposed (or having problems as a consequence
of the extensive media coverage), they should be allowed a chance
to describe what happened, the thoughts related to what happened,
understanding what caused the disaster and what they did to survive
it, as well as giving words or another form of expression (i.e., drawing)
to the different sensory impressions experienced during the disaster
(or media exposure), and the reactions that ensued.
This is recommendable to prevent the event from having unnecessary
consequences. If parents and children or adolescents experienced the
disaster together, this detailed review should be done with all persons
involved present, as this increases the chance of getting a full picture
of what happened. We need to talk to children directly about traumatic
This is the only way to ensure that we understand what children have
experienced, how they have understood their experience and the facts
they are missing to be able to construct a full narrative from what
happened. We also need to make sure that children are asked, or that
we listen carefully, about their understanding of "why" something
Cause and meaning are important aspects of the reality construction
that takes place following adverse events, and this construction have
an important impact on the development of basic assumptions throughout
childhood. When telling the truth we do not need to hit the child
over the head with facts.
While the focus is on open, truthful and direct information, we need
not give them all details, i.e., about parental disputes that preceded
a death, etc. If children ask about details, however, I suggest we
tell the truth without deliberating on the grotesque or scary details.
Telling the truth is a good strategy also when it comes to more advanced
explanations for the background of a tragic event, i.e. why persons
can commit such atrocities. Trauma will oftentimes affect the family
system in different ways, and thorough family intervention will need
to explain family dynamics to children and adults alike in addition
to providing information on common trauma reactions. The therapeutic
tasks of preparation, explanation, interpretation and teaching are
activities that help foster the intra-family environment and can prevent
the development of blocks to recovery.
While there is a wealth of studies documenting the importance of preparing
children and adults for surgery, there is little written about the
importance of providing children and adolescents with a map of the
terrain they are going to walk in following the experience of traumatic
Good quality trauma intervention must be specific in providing children
and adolescents with advice on how to handle the after-effects of
traumatic events. This information will have to be provided both verbally
and written. We need to reconsider how we include children in rituals.
Although clinical experience and empirical research support including
children in such activities, we do need to put more emphasis on preparing
for and helping children through such activities.
Following a trauma it is hard to face the future, one dwell on what
has been (past), and the present is so painful. As helpers, friends
or family our role is to help the family to live in the present, not
being overwhelmed by the past, and build up positive expectations
for the future. Most people underestimate the time course for trauma
and loss reactions.
Regardless of the time it may take to establish new meaning in life,
most families can learn to live with what has happened in a way that
ensures the continued health of all family members.
If the disaster is dealt with openly and directly within the family,
and children and adolescents' needs are acknowledged and met, they
can go on with the tasks of development in a constructive manner.
As adults we can help children maintain and develop the inner representations
or images of their loved ones, not embedded by the anger resulting
from the tragedy, but as good memories they can continue to experience
Copyright 2002 International Critical Incident Stress
Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc
10176 Baltimore National Pike
Unit 201 Ellicott City
... or ...
Family Recovery From Terror, Grief and Trauma