If 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 + friends

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' compensation claims.

The grief of co-workers may also be disenfranchised to the degree that their feelings of loss are discouraged and disallowed.

protocols + 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 the staff.

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 events.

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 happened.

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 events.

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 in fantasy.

Copyright 2002 International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc.

Contact International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc
10176 Baltimore National Pike
Unit 201 Ellicott City
MD 21042
T 410-750-9600

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