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Workplace Grief

"Work As a Refuge"

A Study from 1988.



Case Study 5

Natalie is a forty-three year old white female whose seven year old daughter died suddenly of heart failure while on her school playground. Her husband, in his mid-forties, is an architect. She has two surviving sons ages sixteen and thirteen. She and her family are very active in a nondenominational Christian community.

Natalie moved to California from New York approximately twelve years ago to teach school. She is currently working full-time as a teaching assistant for a middle school (grades seven, eight, and nine). Ten years prior to her daughter's death, her twenty-six year old brother died of cancer. She described this loss as very difficult, but not as difficult as losing her child.

Natalie's daughter died on her first day back at school after her Christmas vacation. According to Natalie they had had a wonderful family vacation in Vermont and her daughter was excited about returning to school and sharing her experiences.

She could hardly wait to get back to school. She loved school. So, I sent her off to school. It was a beautiful day, and I went off to my school, which is about five minutes away, and the last thing in my mind was that I would get a call that something had gone wrong with her.

Natalie's daughter had had heart problems at birth and at three years of age had undergone major surgery to repair her heart vessels. Since that time she had had regular checkups and had been healthy.

Shortly before noon on that particular day, Natalie received a call asking her to come immediately to her daughter's school. Her daughter had collapsed on the playground.

I didn't anticipate that it was going to be as serious as it was. I thought that she had probably fainted and I thought that maybe she had fainted because of doing something that was more exerting than she should do. And I remember commenting to the teacher that I thought we would go to the cardiologist in the afternoon and find out what we needed to do. I mean--hoping, hoping, that it wasn't anything too serious because the cardiologist had always indicated that if something were to go wrong, that it wouldn't be a sudden death.

When Natalie arrived at the school, her hope diminished. A fire truck and paramedics were on the scene, forcing her to recognize the situation's seriousness.

Still, I didn't want to think that we were going to lose her. Everybody--the principal was there and he was scared, I could tell. And I was scared but my tongue was kind of stuck to the roof of my mouth. My mouth was really dry and I looked at her and I gasped aloud.

Natalie called her husband and asked him to meet them at the hospital. She rode in the front of the ambulance while the paramedics continued to administer CPR to her daughter in the back.

It was a beautiful, sunny day out. It wasn't the kind of day that you'd expect anything to go wrong like this, but it was all happening, and it was my child it was happening to, and it was happening to me. And we got to--I mean, I could hardly wait to get to Emergency because, you know, there was some hope that they could do something there. And so, we got out and they wheeled her in and I looked at her briefly, and I saw her hand hanging down off the guerney, and her torso looked, it looked puffy. And I didn't understand at the time, but afterwards, I realized that edema was coming into her body because of her heart not working, and I guess they call it fibrulation when a heart isn't, it's pumping but it's not pumping. It's not doing anything. And I could see her hand. I mean--just blood--the look of her skin with the blood, it just wasn't right. And so they wanted me to come into the Chaplain--the Chaplain was there, he wanted me to come into his office, but I wanted to stay right there, as close as I could to where they were working on her.

Natalie waited outside her daughter's room for her husband to arrive.

And all I could do is rock. That's all I did because--and the only thing I asked for was some water. They offered me water because my tongue was just kind of stuck to the roof of my mouth.

Well, he arrived as soon as he could, but I mean, I was so glad to see him, because, you know, we could go through it together, but I just kept rocking, because that's, I guess that was just my way of getting comfort. I used to always rock when I was young. Even when I was in college, I used to sit in my rocking chair and do my homework on the rocking chair and I nursed my children on a rocking chair, and put them to sleep in the rocking chair. But I sort of stopped rocking. Funny how I just hadn't done it for a long time, but I guess it was just sort of an instinctive thing.

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