Workplace after a coworker's death by violence [adv/disc]

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Post by reboot on Wed Apr 01, 2015 11:31 am

I have been going back and forth on posting about this because I am still processing it, but maybe posting about it will help that process?

I woman who works in a different department from me died Monday or Tuesday. According to her coworkers she has had a restraining order against her boyfriend and was looking to move. On Friday she went to HR and was in there most of the afternoon. She was on leave this week. Yesterday, her coworkers came to me because they were worried. They had been trying to get in touch with her (they had been checking in with her since the RO). They asked me if I could help because they did not want to go to their boss for $reasons and I run the DV program.

We went on a wellness check (protip, if you are worried about someone's safety call the nonemergency number at the police and they will arrange to escort you on a wellness check in most jurisdictions). The cop entered the apartment when there was no answer and found her dead. I do not know if it was murder or suicide.

This all shook me up badly and I have these feelings of guilt and ...frustration, I guess, even though I only knew her to say "Hi" to. Obviously her coworkers are shattered. I feel like I should have done something even though I did not know what was going on. I wish she had reached out to more of us. I also am wondering what our HR person said to her because the HR person is not exactly a fountain of great advice (and often really terrible advice).

I do not know exactly what I am asking for. Advice? Thoughts? Ways to cope with my feelings around this? All of the above?
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Post by Izmuth on Wed Apr 01, 2015 11:37 am

No advice, only incredible inadequate hugs.

Does it help if I tell you feelings of guilt are completely normal in these kind of situations? You will always feel as if you could have done *something*, although rationally you know you couldn't have.
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Post by Enail on Wed Apr 01, 2015 12:00 pm

Oh, Reboot, that's awful. It really sounds like you all did everything you could, though I'm sure that doesn't stop you from feeling otherwise. You didn't know earlier, you weren't in a position to do more, and there's no way you can be responsible for protecting everyone around you anyway; that's not a power people have, no matter how caring, how aware, how smart, or effective or strong. And it's clear you are all of those things and that you would have put all of that into helping her if you could have - but you didn't get the chance, and anyway, you're human and the world is too big and sometimes too terrible for one person or one group to notice every sign and act on every observation and make the right guesses on every test you didn't know you were taking.

For some reason, it seems like the people who help the most feel the most responsible for those they couldn't, but please remember her death is not your fault. I know you know that, but sometimes it doesn't hurt to hear it an extra time.

I wish I had something useful to say, but all I've got is sympathy and jedi hugs, so I'm sending a whole lot of that your way.
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Post by kath on Wed Apr 01, 2015 12:01 pm

I'm so sorry, reboot.
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Post by reboot on Wed Apr 01, 2015 12:11 pm

Thanks everyone. It is weird because it is not like I was even close to her. I even had to have someone jog my memory because I am terrible with faces/names so I knew her from around but did not know her at all. But I still find this whole situation unsettling.

I think a lot of the guilt comes from me running the DV grant for our clients. I know we do not target employees but I kind of feel like if we were any use employees would come to us. Which is stupid because it is not like you want your coworkers to know your business
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Post by Enail on Wed Apr 01, 2015 12:20 pm

I can imagine that employees might even feel like they shouldn't use the DV, like they're supposed to be on the provider side so it would be wrong or weak somehow to make use of the service. And there are all kinds of personal reasons someone might not choose to use a DV service, even people who advocate for them.  I don't think it says anything about its value to other people.
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Post by eselle28 on Wed Apr 01, 2015 12:20 pm

Oh, I'm so sorry. I don't have anything practical to offer but Jedi hugs. Guilt is such an irrational feeling sometimes.
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Post by reboundstudent on Wed Apr 01, 2015 12:38 pm

I have nothing but Jedi hugs but I have a lot of them for you. I'm so sorry Reboot.
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Post by rj3 on Wed Apr 01, 2015 1:13 pm

On a more general note, more people should know about wellness checks.

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Post by Wondering on Wed Apr 01, 2015 4:53 pm

Virtual hugs, reboot. I'm so sorry this happened and that you're going through this.

I agree with enail that an employee may easily think the DV resources were not for her because she, like you, is there to help clients, not each other. You did what you could with the knowledge you had.

On a more general note, more people should know about wellness checks.
Yes, I did not know about these.

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Post by Werel on Wed Apr 01, 2015 5:14 pm

Oh God, reboot, that's terrible. Condolences and Jedi hugs. It sounds like you did everything you reasonably could have with the information that was available to you; there's always that feeling of "if only I'd..." but you couldn't have done anything more. Just because she didn't avail herself of the DV program doesn't mean that it's not helping the people it's targeting, like Enail said.

I also did not know about wellness checks. It's a good thing to know.
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Post by JP McBride on Wed Apr 01, 2015 6:21 pm

reboot wrote:I feel like I should have done something even though I did not know what was going on.

You did do something. It didn't save her, but you're still a goddamn hero for what you did for her.

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Post by waxingjaney on Wed Apr 01, 2015 6:46 pm

Wondering wrote:
On a more general note, more people should know about wellness checks.
Yes, I did not know about these.
Sheriff's department does them here every so often, usually for the elderly who live alone and miss appointments and don't answer the phone.
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Post by reboot on Thu Apr 02, 2015 12:15 am

I suppose the guilt is normal, especially if you are in a "helping" field. It is just kind of weird that I was there when they found her, but not one of those who knew what was going on (which was both very bad and very long), but am now one of those who was there and providing support to the others, who have some major guilt (not warranted mind you) because they did not do more. So it is a weird situation where I feel responsible after the fact or something? Or maybe I am catching the emotions of the others?

And yes, wellness checks. Anyone you are worried about, be it self harm, neglect, accident, injury, violence, whatever, call your local PD/sheriff/law enforcement. Even if you will feel stupid if the person is OK, feeling stupid is a small price to pay for maybe saving a life. The cops definitely will not get on your case for wasting their time unless you are calling them every night for months.
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Post by readertorider on Thu Apr 02, 2015 12:56 am

I'm very sorry. Hugs if you want them. Being one of the first people to find out things tends to make them hit harder in my (limited) experience so maybe that could be contributing? Best wishes for you and your co-workers.

And thanks for the tip about wellness checks.
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Post by eselle28 on Thu Apr 02, 2015 4:48 am

So, I have no idea if this is helpful and apologize if it ends up being hurtful. I have no experience with the guilt type feelings you're having, and with those, I again fall back to sympathy. I don't know if you also are reaching out to people about unexpected deaths in the workplace. I do know a bit about that. The founder and basically the "big boss" of the place where I currently work died in a plane crash a couple of years ago. It's a family company and it's had a lot of repercussions that we've all had to work through as a biggish group. I'm not sure if this horrible death will be something that will end up affecting your workplace as a whole, but if it does, I'd be up for talking about it a bit from the perspective of someone in a place that's worked past it to at least some extent.
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Post by reboot on Thu Apr 02, 2015 9:27 am

Thanks eselle, I will let you know. Right now I cannot see how it will change things much, but this is this workplace's first non-natural cause death, so I have no idea how it will play out. Workplaces are so different from each other.

I am interested to hear about othe experiences with other unexpected deaths from things other than natural causes and how the grieving process played out in other people's workplaces and changes that might occur. Because just because I cannot picture them does not mean they will not happen.
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Post by jcorozza on Thu Apr 02, 2015 9:19 pm

I don't really have anything practical to add, but just wanted to be another voice to say, that's awful, and that you did everything you were in your power to do with what little you knew. And to add to the Jedi hugs.
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Post by reboot on Fri Apr 03, 2015 12:12 am

Sorry for continuing to pick at this. I am finding that writing for an audience is helping somehow.

I was worrying that this was bothering me more than other times coworkers have died because of some latent bias. I have lost people before, usually local staff on foreign assignments, and it was horrifying but did not seem to linger like this. I was afraid that I felt different because they were "other" and this woman is like me. I figured out, though, that it is the place/circumstances that are different. When you work in places that are unstable, you accept death by violence as an occupational hazard, just like miners accept cave ins and fires as part of the job. I think this one hit me different because working in a stable place makes death by violence less expected.

Which is stupid because the US is a very violent place compared to other stable countries, so it should not have been something that felt as completely out of the blue as it was.
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Post by Barretts_Salt on Fri Apr 03, 2015 9:19 am

I'm so sorry that happened.

Best wishes.
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Post by Enail on Fri Apr 03, 2015 11:34 am

Reboot, I think that makes sense, regardless of the stability/violence of the US - like you say, you all take foreign assignments with the mindset that it's a risky choice, whereas when you're in the US, that's just where you live, you're not choosing to be there except insofar as you're not choosing to be somewhere else, if you know what I mean. I think most people put the risks inherent to their home base but that they haven't encountered into the category of "that happens theoretically, but it's not really real," and it seems very natural to me to be shocked by them becoming real.

I don't think that reaction is stupid; feelings are feelings, they're not about logic or knowledge.
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Post by Dan_Brodribb on Wed Apr 08, 2015 4:54 pm

So the fact that you didn't know what was going on, even though you were in a position to provide support/info, if she'd chosen to come to you left you feeling...guilty? Like you'd failed in your role somehow? And you're also wondering if part of it is also from your role supporting other people involved--be it there emotions or trying to live up to your responsibilities there.

It also sounds like at the time you posted there were some unanswered questions about exactly what happened.

How has this week gone? Now that the initial shock has passed, have you noticed any changes?

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Post by reboot on Thu Apr 09, 2015 12:20 am

Dan_Brodribb wrote:So the fact that you didn't know what was going on, even though you were in a position to provide support/info, if she'd chosen to come to you left you feeling...guilty? Like you'd failed in your role somehow? And you're also wondering if part of it is also from your role supporting other people involved--be it there emotions or trying to live up to your responsibilities there.

It also sounds like at the time you posted there were some unanswered questions about exactly what happened.

How has this week gone? Now that the initial shock has passed, have you noticed any changes?

Better, much better. Thank you so much for asking.

The initial shock has worn off. The family had a private memorial. We are collecting funds to donate to some groups she supported. We still do not know what happened. I have learned that her BF on whom she had the restraining order had been lingering around our office (he works for a delivery service so no one twigged), which is unsettling. Beyond that, it is more short bouts of guilt/sadness when I see her name/picture around the office.

Her closer coworkers seem to be bearing up well. Obviously they are harder hit than I am, especially because she did confide more in them.
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Post by kath on Sat Apr 11, 2015 8:06 pm

I'm so sorry, reboot.
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Post by kleenestar on Sun Apr 12, 2015 6:09 pm

I'm so sorry. I'm listening as long as you need me - though I'm also really glad to hear that you're doing better.
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