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Workplace Grief

"Work As a Refuge"

A Study from 1988.



Case Study 2

Barbara is a forty-two year old Caucasian female whose only child, a nineteen year old son, was killed in a head-on automobile collision. Once a single parent, she is currently working part-time as a mail carrier for a private contractor and part-time for an answering service.

The first interview, one month after her son's death, was taped in her home. In and out of her marriage since her son was a baby, Barbara has for the most part raised him alone. In this interview she described the accident that took his life.

He was coming home from Santa Rosa, and it was ten o'clock at night. He had just stopped--he was with two other friends in his friend's sports car and he had just stopped at his best friend's house to say hi. They had all been drinking and right after they left his best friend's house they continued on the Old Highway instead of getting out on the freeway. There was a little straight stretch behind the winery and they took the corner--they came up on a corner that was a thirty-five mile-an- hour corner and they took the corner--the highway patrolman thinks it could be up to seventy miles an hour. There was a pickup coming in the southbound lane and they went across their lane head-on and hit the pickup--the oncoming pickup--and they were all killed. The driver of the other vehicle was also killed. He was seat-belted and no alcohol content and on his way home from work. The boys were coming home, like I say, from a friend's house. My son had a .15 alcohol and his friend, the other passenger, had a .19 and the driver had a .25 which is quite, quite drunk. My son was not much over the legal limit for driving which sounds, may sound funny, but I did find comfort in knowing that he was not trashed out of his mind because he knew better than to do what he did, driving with someone that drunk. It's something that keeps--I can't quit going over the accident in my mind, although I'll never really know what really took place. I keep living that accident over and over and over in my mind and going around that corner and what went on and what was said, and that's where I'm at right now--not being able to move from that place.

All four people were killed instantly. Barbara was not notified of the accident until approximately four hours after it happened. When first hearing of the accident, she described the shock and accompanying numbness she felt.

It took them that long to get everybody out of the vehicle. The accident happened at ten o'clock and at two o'clock in the morning the sheriff or coroner came and knocked on the door and that's how I was notified. He told me that my son had been in an accident and I said, "Is he dead?" and he said, "Yes." And he came in and offered to call somebody because I just, I had no emotions at the time. I just kind of went into shock and was just shaking but I couldn't talk or cry or anything at that point. The only word I can think of for it would be as in shock. Because I had feared something like this so badly because I knew the boys drank beer and I used to talk to him a lot about not driving drunk and driving with people who were drunk. And every night I went to bed, I prayed that he would be spared that. And it happened.

Barbara was given a lot of support after her son's death. She had lived in her small community for thirty- two years and had several best friends. She commented on the importance of support for her after her son's death.

The main support that I've been getting and the support that helps me the most is my girlfriend because we've been so close that we understand each other. So speaking to her and her speaking to me is just so genuine--I can let out all of the anger that I'm feeling right now that I wouldn't care to go around saying to just anyone, I can let out to her. So actually, that is my main support and I mustn't leave out my boyfriend who is living with me now, since this happened. We didn't live together. But I couldn't be alone after this happened and, he's moved in and he's been a tremendous support also. Because, if I were alone --I know I could not be alone right now and be handling this. And so it is of utmost importance that people--your support network after something like this happens is crucial.

Barbara reported problems with concentration. She also felt that she would not be sleeping properly if her boyfriend was not there to support her. She felt unstable about being alone at this time and concerned that her son's death would "take over her mind." She reported a loss in appetite and a gnawing feeling in her stomach from the grief, but for the most part felt her changes were mental and not physical.

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