The word suicide was never too difficult to say or type until this week. I know others who experienced suicide with their families or friends, but not directly. This week, one of the members in management took his own life. He interviewed me for the current position I am in. I often consulted with him for specific questions. He also wore a referee shirt if a coworker and I took opposite stances. Processing the loss has been difficult. Two days in the office has felt like two weeks. Here’s how we are all trying to help each other.
The Sound of Silence is Real
Quiet time at home with a toddler is very rare; my husband I are usually answering the same questions on repeat, “Is it morning time? Can you play bat ball with me? Can I watch Moanna again? Is it your favorite movie too mom?!!”
When we learned about the death over the weekend, I did not realize the constant questions and distractions in my home filled the sound of silence. It blocked the full suicide impact on my mental and emotional state. After I dropped our son off at daycare on Monday morning, I was alone in my car driving to work when the suicide realization hit me like a tidal wave. I tried to keep it together, but when I arrived at my cube, the office was unbearably quiet.
It’s always quiet, which I usually love because I can jump in and focus on my work, but this time it was different. The tears started rolling and so I walked out of the office debating if I should go home. I got it together enough to go back in to gather my things, but then overheard my supervisor say we were all going to meet right away in the conference room. Reluctantly, I grabbed some tissues and dashed to the conference room to get a coveted corner seat. Like any millennial, I pretended to text in awkward situations to avoid looking at grieving coworkers who would likely trigger me blubbering again.
Group Meetings are Helpful
We sat in the conference room together for almost 2 hours. At first, no one spoke, then the head manager filled the silence. He went over the timeline of events this past weekend, as much details he could share after his conversations with the police and our coworker’s spouse and we were able to ask as many questions as we wanted.
At the time of this meeting, it was not officially ruled as a suicide yet as the police were still conducting their investigation. Which, worsened our need to know how he died and why did it happen. This meeting also brought our position in this matter in perspective: we were the coworkers. We were not in the close friends and family circle. When a family member or close friend passes, we are privileged to know immediate details of the situation as it unfolds. I think this immensely helps in the understanding and grieving process.
Whereas in this situation, we were treated like the general public. This was difficult as our coworker was extremely close to members in our office. However, just because we spent over 40 hours a week with him, knew his favorite coffee creamer and could identify his lunch containers in the fridge, did not give us a right to know about the situation more than his family.
Working Together Breaks the Silence
After the meeting, I felt like I could continue staying at work as I was surrounded by people who all felt the same way as I did. We laughed, cried and some even lashed out in anger as expected during these situations. I returned to my cube and was again welcomed by the sound of silence…uggh. The group meeting did have a positive impact on me. It made me realize I needed to be busy and work with others. I marched into my supervisor’s office and made it clear I could not work on my activities today and gave my ideas how else I could be helpful.
Her stressed-out, sleep-deprived response was empowering, “Go forth and do great things. Fix anything that you see needs fixing and work with whoever you need to get it done. I trust you.” Another coworker overheard my conversation and joined in. Together we began canceling our deceased coworker’s travel and fall business meetings. I handled everything I could do by online or email, and he made the personal phone calls.
This wasn’t our job, it was the office assistant’s job. But, this gave us a purpose for the day we could handle. Our office assistant was unfortunately answering the main phone line ringing off the hook and fielding all the questions of why and how that were hitting our office. I would not have wanted that job, but she handled it with grace and dignity. She was the right person for it, referred callers to the lead manager when needed and I was glad we were able to help lighten her load in a small, productive way.
Prepare for the Inconsiderate Remarks
Inside the office, we were all in triage mode working with others on the same mission and page to get things done. In our own little bubble. However outside the office, I did not expect to be hit with the situation. Randomly, a person recognizes me and asks if I worked closely with the person that just committed suicide. I acknowledge yes and become defensive as the investigation had not been ruled a suicide yet.
The person continued on and provided more details supporting the suicide. Clearly indicating they knew more about this death than I did. I wasn’t prepared to deal with these type of blunt and untactful questions. I managed to find a way to turn the table on the person by stating our office was grieving the loss of our coworker whom we were very close with. But have not been privileged to know specifics about the situation since we weren’t family. I emphasized everything will eventually come out soon enough after the investigation is complete. Insert mic drop and walk away.
The Final Ruling: Suicide by a Single, Self-Inflicted Gunshot Wound
When the obituary came out in the paper, we were again hit with the unexpected. In lieu of flowers, they asked donations be sent to suicide prevention charities. This is how we were officially notified it was ruled as a suicide. The date of death also did not coincide to the timeline of events were were given.
This caused a new wave of uncertainty and panic attacks, “Did he suffer days before dying?!” It made me want to argue with any report the police may have written up and discredit whoever the coroner was, “This death was accidental you fools! It was immediate and he did not suffer!” Clearly, I am somewhere stuck in between the denial and anger phase and can only be comforted by facts that we may not ever know.
We had another group meeting at work after the news came out. Further follow-up conversations with the police and the family provided more details about the death. A single, self-inflicted gunshot wound. If it would have been accidental, the report would have noted it. Apparently, they must be the experts and see this all the time. Denial is still strong with me, “It was an accident! I am sure of it!!”
Where Do We Go From Here?
Most of the members of our office plan on attending the funeral. We are continuing meeting as a group in our office. Some members look annoyed and want to move on with life and work. Other members still cry. We all have questions. No one may know the answers, but we recognize everyone grieves differently so we are respectful and continue meeting, speaking and coping.
We plan on donating to a suicide charity as directed in the obituary, but because this was such a key member in our office we want to do more of a memorial for how much he contributed to our workplace. Turkey trots, suicide walks or other upcoming social events have also been discussed to participate in as a group together where we can also show our support for our coworker.
Most importantly, we all agreed to honor and focus on his life and not his death. The hardest part we are trying to accept are the facts we could not have prevented it, nor could have recognized any signs leading up to it. We are all intelligent people, but realize we could drive ourselves to the point of crazy if we spend an endless amount of time and stress trying to compile what and where things went wrong in our coworker’s life to lead him to believe whatever demons he may have been battling outweighed his will to live.
Until we find acceptance, we will try and positively influence what we can in our circle of control. The tragedy in Las Vegas, coupled with this suicide event, rocked us to our core. Looking at what may be in your closest circle of control, if you have kids, nieces, nephews, siblings or are around other littles: please love them. Teach them kindness, patience, forgiveness and how to be a good human. The best gift is to give back. Try and give this world another human who works to save life, and not end it.
How has suicide, or another tragic event, impacted your life? Has it shaped it? How have you coped?