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Workplace Grief

"Work As a Refuge"

A Study from 1988.



Case Study 6

Pat is a thirty-nine year old white female whose only son, an eighteen year old, committed suicide. She has been married for twenty years and her husband, in his mid-forties, is a quality assurance inspector for an international corporation. Her husband had been married previously and has a son living in another state with his former wife.

Pat holds an administrative assistant position in the probation office in her county. She has worked in this position for the past eighteen years. She and her husband are Protestant but have not attended church for years. Prior to her son's death, her experiences with death had been limited to her grandparents.

The first interview was taped in Pat's home with her husband present and participating. The three and six month interviews were taped in privacy at her workplace. The one month interview is a mixture of responses from both Pat and her husband. His contributions are included for the valuable perspective they offer.

When asked about her son's death, Pat stated that the ordeal began nine months ago when her son's best friend committed suicide.

We were out of town so he stayed there with the family; spent the night, and he's just been with the family ever since, going up there every day. He helped plan the funeral, taped all the music, and well, since that time he's been spending a lot of time with the parents and he just never got over it. And we thought he was strong, you know, for going through all this and for being so close to the family and trying to help them.

Pat's son was a freshman at the Junior College and at the time of his suicide was taking a course on Death and Dying.

. . . and one of his assignments, just a few weeks ago, was writing his own eulogy. And we sat and talked about it and I remained real calm, talking to him about death, what I thought, and I think maybe this gave him an idea that I could accept his death--him writing his eulogy. And we've looked at his books since then--and if you wanted to commit suicide, this is how to do it. It gives you the best way and samples of letters to write to your family. But he's been really depressed lately and Monday before he died, he came home at noon and I tried talking to him about school and tried to get him interested.

Soon after, Pat's son withdrew money from his credit union and bought a gun like the one used by his best friend.

That night he came home about six o'clock at night and Monday Night Football was on. He was real quiet but I had dinner ready, so he got his dinner and came, brought it out in the living room and watched Monday Night Football with his dad.

The next day Pat's son borrowed the family car and told Pat to call him and he would give her a ride home from work.

I called at eleven thirty and there was no answer, so I was going to walk home, but then I decided to wait until twelve and call him. And about quarter to twelve my husband called me and said, "We're in real trouble. [Our son] just shot himself but he's still alive. Call an ambulance." And so I, I couldn't even think. I just yelled to my boss, "Help me. [My son] has shot himself. Please call an ambulance," and gave him the address. And I ran up the hall and got one of the guys I worked with and yelled at him, "Take me home. [My son] has just shot himself!" And so he took me home and my husband was here, which he never, never, comes home at noon. But it just happened that his company was having a picnic that day and they told him to come home and get his radio or stereo player to play at the picnic. And that's why my husband came home, or else I would have found him if I'd come home at noon.

At that point Pat's husband spoke up about the horror of finding his son that day.

I guess the body blocks out a lot--but still to think about it--you know, I remember looking at the, for some reason, the time in the car and I still remember, eleven thirty-four. It was not significant at the time that I pulled up in the driveway, but that picture is still there. And I came in and the car was here but I knew that he didn't take the car to JC [junior college] because we're only two blocks away or so from the JC. But I thought, "He should be here." For some reason I had that feeling and I went into the kitchen and on the refrigerator was a clip and there was a tape, and he wrote a note on this little board. It said, "Mom, Dad, please listen to this tape and song," and wrote, "I love you." And immediately I thought, "My god, where are you?" I just, you know, he wasn't here, and I just stepped over and put the tape on the player in the kitchen and it started out, "Mom and Dad, I'm so sorry that I have to do this," saying this is something that he had to do. And just a sentence or two later that he said, that he just wanted to be with his friend, and with that, I just, without even thinking, I just made a beeline for his bedroom and he had the door just about closed and the house was very orderly and I just opened the door to a nightmare.

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