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Expert Answers About Bereavement and Grief

October 9, 2001
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Barbara Rubel, a certified bereavement specialist with GriefworkCenter, Inc., answered questions on Workforce.com about how people handlesudden loss, how people can help HR, as well as related topics.
Our employees handled the news of the tragic events of 9/11/01 very well.This morning, however, one of our employee's fathers committed suicide. Doyou have any tips (that seems like such an ineffective word) on how to breakthis heart-wrenching news to my staff? I am uncertain how they, and I, willcope with this news on top of all that has happened this week.
My sympathies are with your employees at this difficult time. The deathof your employee's father by suicide is tragic. Thirty-two thousand peopledie by suicide annually in the U.S. Although research has shown that at leastsix people are intimately affected by a suicide, as a suicidologist, I believethat the number is higher. Your employees will share in that loss and allwill be saddened by this sudden and unanticipated death.
 
I would recommend that you inform your staff that the employee's fatherdied by suicide. Be honest with the staff about his death. Share with themthe details of funeral and viewing. A suicidal person feels hopeless and helpless.Sadly, his suicide ideation brought him to a place of despair.
Your organization could set up a memorial fund in the name of your employee'sfather. Suicide Survivor Support groups are located throughout the countryto help survivors cope. Friends and employees are welcome at groups, as theyare the support network to the survivors. There are free suicide survivorsupport groups located throughout the country. If your employees ask "Why?"share with them that there are no answers and when the employee returns towork, not to ask why their father ended his life. Suicide survivors may becomeconfused and angered by this question. Survivors are struggling with the whysthemselves.
 
Explore with your employees how they can be supportive by calling or visitingwith the employee, and saying that they are sorry about the loss. Acknowledgingyour employee's grief will bring comfort to all concerned. You mentioned thatyou do not know how you will cope with this news on top of all that has happenedthis week. You are not alone in your grief. There are organizations dedicatedto helping you cope and I am available to explore any questions or concernsyou may have in the future.
One of our employees lost a 15-month-old son in a fire in their apartmentin May 2001. She has another 6-year-old daughter who was not at home duringthe fire. The mother is having a really hard time getting her life back inorder. We have tried to get her to use grief and bereavement organizationsin the city and have not succeeded in getting her to take the first step,which is what all the agencies need her to do. Can you advise me on how wecan help her take that first step? If we ask her she says she needs it andwants to go for counseling but she does not seem to have the motivation todo it. I cannot begin to imagine how much she is hurting inside.
Our employee has experienced a great loss, her child's death. Your offeringof support which includes agencies and groups to help her is a step in theright direction.
 
 
Though well intended, you cannot force her to make the necessary calls toreceive the help. I would invite her to share with you who is personally supportingher emotionally at this time. Does she have a best friend or close relativethat is helping her deal with her grief? With her permission, and in her presence,you can speak with her support network and share with them the telephone numbersof the agencies. Her support system will be an extension of your guidance.They can assist her in getting the help she may need.
I am hearing so much about grief crisis intervention. Is it really helpful?What does the research say?
A challenging concern of grief-crisis intervention is providing appropriateemotional and educational support immediately after a sudden violent death.Research suggests that coping after this type of loss is laborious for theentire family, including children, adolescents, and adults. The survivor'sgrief response is intense with a prolonged trauma.
The consensus of the research indicates that grief-crisis intervention helpsthe survivors to want to go on living in the face of disaster and positivelyaffects their ability to cope.
My organization is located on the 40th floor of a mid-town office building,facing south directly at the World Trade Center. We have tall windows witha clear unhindered view. Several of us, from our desks, witnessed the entireWTC attack: the first building smoking, the airplane crashing into the secondbuilding, one tower pouring out thick black smoke the other tower in flames,the collapse of one tower, and then the collapse of the surviving tower. Weknew that thousands were perishing in the flames, or being crushed in thebuilding collapse. The staff was hysterical because so many had a loved oneor friend or neighbor employed in the World Trade Center. One person evenfainted. Although afterwards all staff learned that no loved ones were lostin the attack, what can we now do to help us return to normal? Thanks kindly.
You asked how you can return to normal. I invite you to think about returningto a place where you are surrounded by fellow employees that are safe andthat have your best interests at heart. Together you shared a great loss asyou witnessed the WTC plane crashes. Each of you will heal from that traumain your own way. However, you can come together and share rituals. A candlelighting ceremony, a moment of silence, a weekly support group at lunch totalk about what happened.
 
Each of you can address your feelings, concerns and fears at that time.Read books on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and trauma to educate yourselfabout changes in one's body, mind and spirit after a traumatic event. Youand your employees are in my thoughts.
I am the president of a recruiting firm for dental personnel in New Jersey.This past week, a few of my employees called in sick. Others said that theywere simply too upset to work. I offered support and know that things willget back to normal in time. I want to help my employees get through this tragedy.Can you offer some advise as to thinking positive and moving on with a goodattitude even in this terrible state that we are in?
During this crisis it is not easy for your employees to think positive.However, they do need something to hold on to. Faith sustains many as doeshaving a good support system. Family, friends and fellow employees can bringgreat joy and comfort during this most difficult time. There are many waysto share positive thoughts -- by helping those grieving, by making donations,being a part of prayer services, or other random acts of kindness. Thinkingpositive is one thing...doing positive is another. Perhaps your employeesneed "to do" something.
 
As an employer, you can make a donation to one of the many funds to helpthose in crisis. Ask your employees if they want to take part in some smallway. You also mentioned "moving on." At this time employees aremoving on step by step, no faster or slower than they can handle.
I am a concerned parent who has been having difficulty with the childrenwith the events that happened at the World Trade Center. My young children,6 and 8, have been viewing night after night the horrible plan crash and nowthe buildup of war. They have come to me afraid and wondering about if wewill all be killed with the war. They have expressed feelings after seeingover and over the planes crashing if it was happening again and again.
When childred watch the horror over and over again on television, they believeit is happening again and again. At a young age, they may not understand thatthe program is taped and actually believe that the buildings are continuallybeing bombed.
You said that they have come to be afraid and are wondering if they willbe killed in a war. I would share with the children that you will make surethat they are safe. Tell them that our government will do everything possibleto keep them safe. The child's regular routines should be maintained. Tellthem that something terrible has happened. But, it is okay to go to schooland to play. Their fears may be express in over clingy behavior, being tearful,and having nightmares. Tell them that it is good to talk about their feelingswith you.
Our company lost five employees with an additional 41 injured (we are basedin North Carolina). Our HR department is doing a great job supporting thevictims' families and the injured, but I am worried about how the HR peopleinvolved are coping. What suggestions do you have for helping caregivers/helperscope?
I appreciate your concern for the HR personnel. Figley said, "The processof empathizing with a traumatized person helps us to understand the person'sexperience of being traumatized, but in the process, we may be traumatizedas well."
 
If the HR personnel is withdrawing, worried, or have a lack of energy, theymay be experiencing vicarious trauma. It's about knowing your resources! Trybooks on compassion fatigue, specialists in post-traumatic stress disorder,and having a good self-care plan. A self-care plan is vital to maintainingtheir health as they are helping others. I would suggest being trained inempathetic listening and the grief process, journaling, exercising, and connectingwith other care-givers. As a bereavment specialist, I would invite them towork on their own personal grief issues. Being an effective helper stems fromone's knowledge and skills and approaches to helping. Refer out as needed.No caregiver is alone as they effectively support those in crisis and grief.
 
Someone asked a friend, "If you were shipwrecked alone on a distantisland, and could only have one book to read, which one would you choose?"The friend replied, "Johnson's Manual of Ship Building." By havingthe right resources, your HR dept will continue to do a great job supportingthe victims' families and the injured, and be better able to cope.

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