No matter what the cause of death; losing a colleague can be devastating for those who worked with them.
A job that had once appeared like a complete jigsaw puzzle made up of many pieces to create a great picture – has now become a jigsaw puzzle with a missing piece, and we all know that that jigsaw puzzle will never appear quite the same again. When you’re in a career where it’s only a matter of time when someone else you call ‘family’ – dies….this ‘jigsaw puzzle picture’ can begin to really not look like the picture it once was.
I’m sure you’ve all heard about the ‘stages of grief’ and how we all move through them at our own pace, but what are some ways that may help us cope with our losses, and in turn – help us to heal emotionally?
Here’s some things that helped me in the past….that may help you too.
(*Please note that these are from ‘personal experience’ – they are by no means meant to be a replacement for any ‘professional advice’ that you may require or have been given.*)
1.Acknowledge your emotional pain.
It’s OK – to feel whatever emotion you are feeling. If we didn’t care or love – we wouldn’t feel pain when we lose something.
So ‘be’ with that emotion…whatever it is – and don’t try to rush it because it’s uncomfortable. Chances are you need to experience that emotion. Suppressing it (pushing it down, or sweeping it under the carpet) – only allows it to build up, and eventually come out in other ways at a later date.
Would you rather deal with controlling a fire in a fire pit, or trying to control a bush fire that’s out of control?
2. Decide where you would like to be emotionally.
If you’ve been in that ‘emotional place’ for what feels like ‘long enough’ (remembering not to ‘rush’ it)….sometimes we need to make that conscious decision to move to a different emotional place.
For example: A close ‘family member’ of mine died, and of course I initially spent some time in a ‘sad emotional state’. When I felt like I’d cried enough for that time, I then asked myself “What do I need to do to get to a happier or more productive state – so that I can help myself (& others) move through this grief?”
3. Remember the things about the person – that makes you smile.
Rather than thinking of the ‘moments’ surrounding their death – as a memory, every time I found myself thinking of their ‘death’ and life ‘without’ them….I would say in my head “What’s one thing that was a happy memory of them?” or “What’s one thing that I’m really grateful to them for?” Over time, this trained my brain to automatically associate them with feelings of gratitude for having had them in my life, as well as brought a smile to my face – for how they made me feel.
What we focus on….expands.
4. Create some sort of positive ‘memorial’ / ritual.
What was something that was special to them, or they loved doing ‘outside of work’? – Was it a certain sport? Was it a certain place? Was it a ‘tradition’ they had?
It could be nice to have a ‘memorial’ moment / day / event – as an honour and tribute to the person. It could be a yearly camping trip, an annual bbq, a memorial sporting event, a dress up pub crawl….whatever signifies their uniqueness and is a positive tribute to them. And of course – it’s always a nice thing to include the family in the day.
5. Be an advocate for change.
This can not only help you, but on a bigger scale – it can help others.
If they died from cancer – then be an advocate to make a difference to help find a cure in their honour.
If they died from suicide, then be an advocate to reduce the stigma – and help create an openness in the workplace about ‘being OK – not to be OK’, & encourage your mates to speak up.
If they died from a traffic incident – then be an advocate for creating safer roads.
If they died in the line of duty – then be an advocate to make a positive change to prevent it in the future.
Like I said in the beginning, no matter what the cause of death; losing a colleague can be devastating for those who worked with them. And whilst we may not have control over ‘how’ they died….we can let that drive us to make positive changes in the future – so that others may not have to go through the pain of losing loved ones like how you just have.
We may not be able to control what happens, but in time – we can control how we respond to it.
6. Talk to someone
Last but not least, it’s important to take care of yourself. Talking to others – friends, colleagues, family, your GP, a counsellor / psychologist….can really help. Also, keep an eye out for your mates. If you notice any one of your work colleague struggling to cope; start the conversation to see if they’re OK. It’s important that we look after ourselves and others during times of grief.
RIP to all of those past & present Emergency Service workers. Thank you for your service.
And to all Emergency Service ‘families’ who are currently grieving, may you find some comfort in the ‘virtual arms’ of the rest of your past & present Emergency Service’s ‘family’ – worldwide.
Di McMath – Resilience Coach, NLP Practitioner, Author, Registered Nurse, Former Paramedic.