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Workplace Grief

"Work As a Refuge"

A Study from 1988.



Case Study 3

Carmen is a forty-eight year old white female whose fifteen year old daughter was stabbed to death. This is her second child to die suddenly. Her first child, a baby daughter age three, drowned in a swimming pool fourteen years previously. Her husband, also in his late forties, is in sales. She has one surviving daughter twenty-two years old. Carmen has been a nurse since she was seventeen years old. She has worked for the past fourteen years in the surgical ward of a Bay Area hospital. She enjoys her profession and feels she has a positive outlook on life.

A religious person, Carmen grew up in the Bible Belt and is an active member of the Baptist church. She has a deep faith and described this faith as one of the most important elements in her life.

The first interview, as well as the two following, was taped in the privacy of the nurse's lounge in the hospital where she was employed. This was the same room where Carmen had first received word of her daughter's death. She had been eating her lunch in the lounge when her husband and daughter arrived at the hospital.

Anything like that is quite a shock. You don't expect anything like that. It was just a terrible thing. One would not wish anything like that to happen to anyone. I still don't understand it. I don't know why it happened. It shouldn't have happened. We're still very unclear. There are a lot of gray areas and there is still a lot of investigation and things going on. I cannot remember a lot.

My husband and daughter came to the floor--it was my last day of work on a Sunday morning, or it was Sunday noonish because I was in here eating my lunch when they came to tell me. I couldn't comprehend it. I couldn't believe it. It was such a shock and I really don't remember how I acted too much. I had this giant heart-ache like I had been hit or somebody had taken--knocked my arm off or something. Almost like a physical thing, you know, somebody socking you in the chest or something like that. It was like a blow. I guess I was just traumatized by the shock and I don't know what I said or did except they had their arms around me and my Head Nurse was here that day. She and I were the only ones on duty, actually, and she came in and started hugging me and I guess everybody else was kind of in shock too.

So I really don't remember too much except they took me home, my daughter and my husband, but obviously, they had a little more composure and my daughter's boyfriend took my car. I vaguely remember them saying, "Rick's going to drive your car," and I went home. It was just a powerful blow to the psyche, plus, I felt--physically I could hardly walk. It just overpowered me.

Carmen's daughter had been found lying on a couch in an apartment that morning with multiple stab wounds. Witnesses had stated that she had been at a party at this address on the evening before that had extended into the early hours of the morning. She had decided to stay over and sleep on the couch. Later, the autopsy report showed blood levels of cocaine and benzoylecognine. (This information was not furnished by Carmen, but by the coroner involved in her daughter's autopsy.)

When comparing her reaction to this death and her toddler's earlier death, Carmen said:

I think I had more composure before. I mean, this was such--the other was very shocking, a very similar type shock, but I think this shocked me even more. I don't know if that's possible. It may have been worse.

After the death of her fifteen year old daughter, Carmen and her family received much support from family, friends and church. She described that period of time as a blur, but does remember being surrounded with love throughout.

At the time of this interview, active support was continuing. People would call and come by, often bringing food to the family. She described the District Attorney's office as being extraordinarily generous in their support of her family. The woman working on the case had been available to help her in any way needed. She had given them advice on the Victims' Assistance Program, as well as how to deal with the many newspaper reporters calling them. Carmen described the woman as compassionate yet professional and a neutral person for her to talk to.

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