Coping with the Death of a Colleague

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Losing a colleague

The death of a coworker is a unique and often painful experience.

The loss of a colleague can be an unexpected and often painful event. We spend large amounts of time with the people we work with and often consider our colleagues to be our close friends. Their death can therefore come as a huge shock. 

Alternatively, if a colleague died who you weren't as close to, you may still sorely miss them or be deeply affected by their death. No matter what your relationship to the person who died, the loss of a coworker can come with a lot of surprising and difficult feelings.
 

Different feelings when a colleague dies

Whatever you're feeling, it's important to know your emotions are valid and there is no 'right' or 'wrong' way to grieve.

Numb 

After a death, it's common to feel 'nothing at all' at first. 

Shock

If the person died very young or in a sudden or traumatic way, you might find yourself feeling very shocked.

Exclusion

After a death, people tend to rally around the person’s partner or closest family members. Colleagues, employers and friends may feel left out of the grieving process.

Surprise

Sometimes people are taken by surprise by how deeply affected they are when a colleague dies. But it is normal to be shocked and hurt after hearing the news, even if we hadn’t seen or heard from them for a while.

Fear and anxiety

If our colleague was a similar age to us, it can be a reminder that we too will die one day, and this can feel very frightening.

Guilt

If you had a strained relationship with the colleague, you might feel a sense of guilt atbout the way you interacted when they were alive. 

Learn more about different feelings and physical symptoms after a death.

Get more advice about bereavement and the workplace including help for employers and information on bereavement leave.

Find out more

How to support yourself after the death of a colleague

Talk to someone

Talking to friends, family and other people in your workplace can be really helpful, even if it is over Zoom, the phone or even by text. Your HR department may also have a helpline or counselling service in place that can help you work through your feelings. If you find you're struggling to cope after a colleague has died, you can call our National Helpline for support – we’re here for everyone, no matter what your connection to the person.

Find ways to remember them

It can help to think of ways you can remember your colleague, and keep them as part of your life. This might mean making a special album of pictures, or sharing memories on social media. Cruse also has a number of suggestions of ways to remember someone who has died.

Get together

Meet with other colleagues who knew them and spend some time sharing memories and celebrating their life. If this can't be done in person, then try having a meeting online.

Plan ahead on anniversaries.

Birthdays, anniversaries and other celebrations can be difficult after someone close to us dies. It can help to think in advance about how you are going to manage. Read our tips on coping with anniversaries.

Journaling and writing

Many people find that writing letters to the person who died can be a real comfort. Others find that journaling helps them to organise their thoughts and recount memories in a meaningful way. Find out more about the benefits of journaling through grief.

Supporting others after the death of a colleague

Give them space to talk

After a death, some people avoid talking about the person who has died in order to prevent upset. For many, talking about the person they've lost can be a real comfort.

Be conscious of religion

Avoid using phrases like "they've gone to a better place" that are associated with certain religious traditions if you don't know what the person believes.

Offer them a chance to share their memories

Sharing memories of the person when they were still alive can be really cathartic. Try asking the bereaved person what their colleague was like when they were still alive.

Avoid using minimising language

Saying things like "at least they passed quickly" or "they had a good innings" tends to minise how a grieving person is feeling rather than acknowledging their pain. Learn more about what to say to a person who is grieving.

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