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Workplace Grief

"Work As a Refuge"

A Study from 1988.



Case Study 1

Howard is a thirty-six year old Korean male whose youngest child, a six month old daughter, died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). His wife is employed full-time as a nurse and he has two surviving children, a four year old daughter and a two-and-a-half year old son. He and his family are very active in the Assembly of God church. Howard worked as an engineer in Korea and is currently employed as a printing mechanic for a disposable polystyrene cup company in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The first interview, one month after his daughter's death, was taped in his home. In this interview, Howard described his unusually close relationship with his baby daughter. His wife worked days and he worked nights. Therefore, Howard had the main responsibility of caring for his children during the day. He described his baby daughter as the quietest of the three children and, "just a little darling that everyone loved, including her brother and sister." Caring for his baby daughter all day created a much closer relationship with her than most fathers experience with their children at this age.

On the morning of his daughter's death, Howard described coming home from work at 7:40 a.m. as usual.

My wife was preparing to leave [for work] and get the things that she had to do before she left, like formula and diapers and clothes, and all those things, and she thought the baby was sleeping unusually well that morning. And when she finished with her work she went to check on the baby, around, I guess, 7:20 a.m., and she found her like that. She told me how she checked the baby around 2:30 a.m., and her face was covered with a blanket, and at that time she didn't feel anything was unusual. She usually kicks the blanket instead of covering it on her face but at that time she didn't think there was anything wrong with the baby. So she just removed the blanket, and moved it down, and put it under the baby--the way she put it--she usually puts it--and she checked her back around 5- 5:30 a.m.; and she thought she was sleeping well at that time, so she didn't actually touch her or anything like that at that time. And then, as I say, it was around 7:20 a.m. when she found her like that. So--she was really sure that it was SIDS or suffocated by the blanket. That's what she is going through right now. Whether she was suffocated by the blanket, and she really thinks that she killed her.

When asked how he reacted, Howard responded:

Just I guess, I guess I was just kind of blank for a few seconds when I saw her like that, but we had to rush her to the hospital. Whether it was too late or not, we didn't want to stay like that and try to think what to do, so we just rushed to the hospital.

Howard mentioned that eight years previously he had lost his mother. She had been sick for a couple of months prior to her death. He described the shock he felt with his mother's death as, at first, not feeling too much because he really didn't think it had happened. But as the time went by the sorrow really "got to him." By contrast, Howard described his daughter's death as a shock which was devastating from the beginning.

During this interview Howard reported having good friends who have been calling them and asking them how they were doing and offering help. Howard and his wife both felt they had good support surrounding them.

Howard described the pain of watching his children, especially his oldest daughter, experience the baby's death:

Her brother, who is two-and-a-half years old, I don't think he feels too much--once in a while he's looking for the baby, or asking where the baby is, but that's it--about how he feels, I guess. But the older one, who just turned four a couple of weeks ago, I think her behavior changed quite a bit. She cries a lot more than usual, and she gets annoyed for very little things that wouldn't seem to have annoyed her before. She just cries, and I think she understands that she really loved her baby sister but she's not going to see her again. That's just--making--things are tougher for us, much harder for us to deal with. It's really hard to have them feel sorrow and pains, I think. She's going through pain too, you know.

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