No matter what the cause of death; losing a colleague is devastating. Not only for those who knew & worked with them, but the Emergency Services ‘family’ as a whole.

The effect can run really deep.

Because they weren’t just a colleague, and they weren’t just a friend… they were family.

It’s this unwritten rule that is often unspoken, and officers just ‘get it’. We understand each other, we know what it’s like to be faced with other people’s devastation on a daily basis. We know what it’s like to have ‘guilt’ over having to miss certain family events and occasions because we’re out trying to keep someone else’s family ‘safe’ & ‘alive’. We know what it’s like to have some jobs emotionally ‘stick deep in your core’ and never forget them.

So when we lose ‘one of our own’….it can feel like you’ve just been struck by lightning – jolted, stunned, & in disbelief.

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….the picture of that ‘jigsaw puzzle’ can begin to really not look like the picture it once was.

I’m sure you’ve all heard about the ‘stages of grief’ (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance)and how we all move through them at our own pace; but what are some ways that may help us cope with our loss, and in turn – help us to heal emotionally?

Here’s some things that have 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 someone.

So ‘be’ with that emotion. Sit with it…whatever emotion that it is – and don’t try to rush it just 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. 

For example; would you rather deal with controlling a fire in a fire pit, or trying to control a bush fire that’s been burning out of control? 

Experiencing emotions are normal, and it’s OK  to say that you’re not OK.

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2. 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. 

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3. 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? Was it a particular music band?

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.

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4. Be an advocate for change.

This may not only help you, but on a bigger scale – it can help others.

In time (obviously after the initial grieving phase)…..

If they died from cancer – then maybe be an advocate to make a difference to help find a cure in their honour.

If they died from suicide, then maybe 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 maybe be an advocate for creating safer roads.

If they died in the line of duty – then maybe 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.

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5. Talk to someone

I can’t stress enough – how important it is 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 of your work colleagues struggling to cope; start the conversation to see if they’re OK.  Emergency Services are like one big family, so supporting one another is essential. It’s so important that we look after ourselves and others during times of grief, – and not just in the initial stages either…..make it ongoing. Dates can be a trigger for some people, so try to be aware – and support accordingly.

6. Decide where you would like to be emotionally.

After some time has passed, & if you’ve been in that ‘emotional place’ for what feels like ‘long enough’ (however – remembering not to ‘rush’ your grief)….sometimes what you may need, is to make that conscious decision to move to a different emotional place.

For example: A close ‘family member’ (colleague) of mine died, and of course I initially spent some time in a ‘sad  emotional state’. (And it’s totally OK to do so!). But 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?”  I knew that it’s OK to be sad, & I’d probably always miss my colleague/friend… but I knew I had to be the one to make the decision to move to a different emotional state. (That’s when I turned my focus into doing things like in step 4).

But I really stress the importance of being kind & gentle on yourself. 

Remember, grief has no time limit. 


To all Emergency Service ‘families’ who are currently grieving; may you find some comfort in the ‘virtual arms’ of the rest of your current & former Emergency Service’s ‘family’ – worldwide.


“R.I.P officer, thank you for your service. Your shift is now over.”


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Di McMath is a Resilience Coach, NLP Practitioner, Author, Registered Nurse, & Former Advanced Care (level 2) Paramedic. She has an online resilience & wellbeing program for First Responders.



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