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Workplace Grief

"Work As a Refuge"

A Study from 1988.



Case Study 4

Mark is a forty year old white male whose five day old daughter died of a fatal chromosome disorder called Trisomy 13. He is a senior computer analyst and designs computer business systems for an equipment leasing company. His wife, a project manager for a bank, was on a four month maternity leave at the time of this interview. In the previous year, she had had two miscarriages, both within the first trimester. They have one daughter, three-and-a-half years old.

All three interviews with Mark were taped in his home. At the beginning of the first interview, his wife was present. When it became apparent that he was uncomfortable talking about some of the issues surrounding his daughter's death with her there, she agreed to leave the room. They had been in couple's counseling before and after their marriage to work on communication differences. He describes her as the expressionist and himself as the quiet analytic.

This is the first marriage for both. They were married in their mid thirties and have been married for five years. His wife is thirty nine years old, and because of the miscarriages feels a time pressure to have another child.

Mark's wife had had a normal pregnancy and they were expecting a healthy baby. When their daughter was born, she immediately began experiencing difficulties and was taken to surgery. Despite signs of a serious problem, they still had hope that she would live. Not until after her surgery did the test results come back with the fatal news. Trisomy 13 is a chromosome disorder where death is inevitable. They were told by the doctors that their daughter would be so retarded she would not even be able to smile.

Mark described his baby daughter and her illness:

She's a full-term baby, average weight, height, and she was a Trisomy 13, which meant she had chromosome problems and when she was born she wasn't breathing. I was there in the room. My wife had the C-section and they had problems getting her out. She wouldn't breathe. They had to--they had problems getting her to breathe. Then everything was fine and we were kind of led along in that process in terms of every couple of hours they came back and said something else was wrong with her. It was just kind of dribs and drabs that we heard she was really having problems, and it wasn't really until Thursday, which was two days after she was born, that we got the true story--or didn't get the true story but knew that it was serious. And when she went to have an operation, and actually--for my wife it was before then, for me it wasn't until after the operation, at eleven thirty at night--I had been up since five that morning, I was exhausted, and I was kind of in a daze so it didn't really begin to sink in--didn't really sink in especially since nobody really told me what the real problem was or how serious it was. Even when I found out what it was late Thursday night--late Tuesday night--I was still of the opinion that things would work out all right, at least that she wouldn't die immediately. It was a potential problem we had to look out for, but I did not know it was as serious as it was until after it was over, just about.

Mark felt that one or two of the doctors were good with him and his wife but the rest were not and were, "in it for the job and not really concerned about the people involved." When their daughter started to fail, no attempt was made to save her. He and his wife felt too numb to insist on anything and letting her die just seemed to be what everyone expected them to do.

When Mark first realized the seriousness of his daughter's illness, he visited the head of personnel at the company where he was employed.

When we first heard about our daughter's seriousness, I went into the head of personnel and sat down and talked to her, 'cause I know her fairly well, and I--I broke up just talking to her. And she--she seemed--she was being supportive and said, "Well maybe things aren't going to be really bad." And she had a daughter that had a lot of problems when she was born and now she's fine. So, you know, and I had no idea of the seriousness and so I kind of had reassured myself also that, you know, it could be bad, but we don't know yet. Things could be better

. . . . and then when our daughter died, I called up the head of personnel and I told her that she died and would she please get the word out--let everybody know. Because everybody up to this--for all they knew, everything was fine with our baby. Because even though I knew she was sick, I wasn't saying anything 'cause I didn't--I chose to behave in a manner that sort of like everything was okay-- partly for privacy reasons. I value my privacy and didn't think it was any of their business anyway.

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