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Workplace Grief

"Work As a Refuge"

A Study from 1988.



Review of the Literature

This chapter is divided into two major sections. The first section reviews literature that pertains to the loss of a child. The themes in the literature that pertain to this study are organized in the following manner:

  • 1. Bereavement relating to the death of a child;
  • 2. Sudden and unanticipated death vs. protracted illness;
  • 3. Characteristics of normal and pathological grieving;
  • 4. Impersonal and indifferent attitudes toward the bereaved;
  • 5. Long-term effects of the loss of a child;
  • 6. Intrafamilial effects of the death of a child;
  • 7. Positive and transformative effects of loss.
  • The second section reviews a sampling of relevant organizational literature. Themes concerning the juxtaposition of the basic needs of the individual and those of the organization are explored. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivational needs of an individual are addressed as well as the social phenomenon of group interaction.

    The Death of a Child

    The profoundness of the death of a child has been addressed by many researchers. Sanders (1979) acknowledges this problem in her study which compared 102 adults grieving the death of a spouse, parent, or child. Her research demonstrates that the death of a child, compared to the death of another loved one, produces more intense grief reactions: more somatic complaints, greater depression and sharper anger, and more intense guilt and despair. Sanders' research is supported by Clayton (1982), who also believes the death of a child to be the most traumatic of any family member, and Rando (1986), who contends that parents' grief responses tend to be more intense than those of other mourners. Rando also believes that grief following the loss of a child is "everlasting."

    Schiff (1977), who lost a ten year old son, expands upon the idea:

    To bury a child is to see a part of yourself, your eye color, your dimple, your sense of humor, being placed in the ground. It is life's harshest empathetic experience and must therefore be the hardest one with which to deal. In reality, when children die, not only are we mourning them, we are also mourning that bit of our own immortality that they carried. (p. 23)

    Bordow (1982), whose full-term baby died in labor, further adds:

    Our children exist not merely as our children. These bodies, temperaments, personalities with particular thoughts and feelings are also a metaphor for that which is to come. Their deaths are not only felt as the absence of a particular individual but as an amputation of an essential part of ourselves, something that is gone and cannot be replaced. They leave an emptiness, a hole that seems to stretch from one end of the universe to the other and swallows up everything. (p. 18)

    Yalom (1980) observes that when a child dies, the parents simultaneously mourn the child and themselves.

    The loss of a son or daughter is often the bitterest loss of all to us and we simultaneously mourn our child and ourselves. Life seems to hit us, at such a time, on all fronts at once. Parents first rail at the injustice in the universe but soon begin to understand that what seemed injustice is, in reality, cosmic indifference. They also are reminded of the limit of their power: there is no time in life when they have greater motivation to act and yet are helpless; they cannot protect a defenseless child. As night follows day, the bitter lesson follows that we, in our turn, will not be protected. (p. 170)

    To Yalom, the death of a child means surrendering totally to the truth of not being in control. No matter how educated, how wealthy, how strong, or how powerful one is, Yalom believes one does not possess the power that really counts . . . the power to keep one's child alive. Yalom feels it is as if one is stripped of everything he once thought he possessed.

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