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When A Colleague Dies: Common Feelings and Responses

Many of us worry whether the feelings we experience are "normal."

  • Knowing that the person has died, but having difficulty believing it has happened.
  • Feeling uncertain what to say and what not to say to co-workers and family members of the deceased.
  • Being preoccupied with thoughts of the person.
  • Telling and retelling shared experiences.
  • Feeling guilty for what one said or didn't say or for not having done enough for the deceased.
  • Being angry or irritated at the wrong person for no apparent reason.
  • Being overly concerned with one's own health and even developing symptoms similar to those of the person who has died.
  • The death of a colleague can stir up recollections of other times of illness and death. You may experience once again these common expressions of grief:
    • Feeling emotionally numb.
    • Feeling tightness in the throat or heaviness in the chest or in the pit of one's stomach.
    • Having a desire to smoke, eat, drink, or use drugs (especially tranquilizers) in a greater amount than before.
    • Feeling restless and looking for activity and finding it difficult to concentrate and complete tasks.
    • Having difficulty sleeping or waking in the middle of the night.
    • Feeling exhausted and lacking in energy.
    • Feeling mood changes over the slightest things.

Since there's no standard for grieving, it can be hard to tell if we're making progress. Whether you're coping with your own grief or someone else's, the advice and reassurance of experienced counselors may help. How do you know if it's time to ask for help? There is no wrong time and there doesn't need to be an emergency. It may be valuable just to hear that what's happening is normal.

Contact the Life & Work Connections Employee Assistance Counseling/ Consultation Program at 621-2493 for a free, confidential appointment.

Graciously offered and adapted with permission from the Employee Assistance Program of the University of Maine.