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CIO Unplugged 8/7/13

August 7, 2013 Ed Marx 10 Comments

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.

I See Your Faces – Death at Work

One responsibility of a leader, and perhaps our greatest privilege, is to comfort the souls of those we lead through times of sorrow. Dealing with grief can be torturous. I’d rather hide. Take refuge behind a good movie. Just pretend all is well and move on.

That’s cowardice, and we all know it.

Intellectually, I understand death to be the more merciful ending. Spiritually, I recognize it as a new beginning. But the physical experience punches through my stomach, fingers up into my chest, and crushes my heart.

Nobody trained me to handle death, and my education never referenced it in the workplace. Even as a combat medic and engineer officer, we had no checklist telling us how to walk our troops through the valley. Hell, I can’t even write this post without stopping to dry my tears.

I lost another person today. Number five. No, not number five; his name was Fred. I will remember him as I have remembered all the others. I see their precious faces. They live in my Contacts, and each year, their date of death anniversary pops into my reality.

I see you, Dale S., Zarema, Dale D., Stacy. I will see you, too, Fred.

Valuable faces.

August 1, Dale W. You were my first. Who knew as you drove your bike into work that fateful morning that your life would be taken. You were way too young, and your best years were yet to come.

May 10, Zarema. I disliked you at first, but you grew on me. You cared about me, and I learned to care. Your pursuit of perfection challenged me to chase new heights. In 2005, you no longer felt pain. Your gain; our loss.

November 15, Stacy. You died a few weeks after I arrived. Only 27 years old. You infected people at work with enthusiasm. I remember your smile.

June 5, Dale D. We attended chapel together. Who would have known your drive home that evening would be your last? I recall the last thing you said about IT. “We save lives.” True words, my friend.

July 16, 2013, Fred. The testimonials at your funeral and memorial service said it all. You were humility coupled with old-school work ethic. Excellence and friendship defined your contribution. Your code lives in your kids and in your programs.

Leaders. Odds are you’ll have to deal with death in the workplace. Here are practical steps for when that time comes. Pain teaches much when we let it.

Care for surviving family

  • Offer all support possible for an extended period
  • Remain visible for an extended period
  • Connect with Human Resources

Care for your staff

  • Talk with staff openly
  • Consider grievance counselors
  • Leverage your employee assistance program
  • Model and encourage the expression of condolences

Care for yourself

  • Don’t hold back; talk about it
  • Stay tight with your Human Resources
  • Engage pastoral care staff
  • Cry as needed

If possible, hold your own workplace memorial service. Often, staff is unable to attend the official memorial service due to timing and location. Engage your pastoral care staff and create your own. Allow people to share their feelings online and in person. This promotes healing.

Create a memorial wall for your office. The one in our lobby displays pictures of all who’ve left us. We recently added a forever-lit candle. Our memorial is accessible and visible any time we enter and exit the office.

See their faces.

Leaders bear the burden of visibility. Your presence is needed more than your presents. Make every attempt under the sun to attend funerals and all other memorial traditions. As a representative of your organization, take the lead and reach out to the family. Don’t hide behind your own insecurities, but instead, think of the family’s needs. Dependent on the circumstances, you might need to speak to those gathered and make family and friends aware of the workplace contributions by the deceased.

If you died, would you not want assurance that all the hours you put into your job meant something, especially at your funeral? Make it so for your deceased employee. Your words may very well spread like a comforting salve to the survivors.

Leaders do not forget the faces.

Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.

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10 Responses to “CIO Unplugged 8/7/13”

  1. 1
    Cheryl D. Parker, PhD, RN-BC Says:

    Ed, thank you for sharing your grief and pain. This was a wonderful piece and made me think again of Pat E. an ED nurse and mentor I worked with many years ago. Although I was a very young emergency department RN and had dealt with the death of strangers, both young and old, Pat was the first friend who died. Only 42 y/o with four children at home. We went from girl’s night out one week to attending Pat’s funeral the next when an undiagnosed ruptured cerebral aneurysm (no CAT scan for every headache back then—don’t worry, these daily headaches are just stress–have a Valium or two) took our friend in a moment.

    But her life and death taught me that life is precious and can end in an instant….don’t waste your life….it truly is not a dress rehearsal! If something is wrong, fix it. Pat—you are still in my heart 32 years later and the bluebird of happiness figurine you gave me still sits in my office and brings a smile to my face to this day!

  2. 2
    Don Lyons Says:

    Nicely written Ed.

  3. 3
    Casey Says:

    Another great post, Ed. A topic that was already on our mind in the office today. Thanks.

  4. 4
    Mary Finlay Says:

    Beautiful post. It is so important to make connection with the family. After my brother died a much too young death, we received a letter from his boss, telling us about the “professional” side of Dave we never got to see. I will never forget that small act of kindness from his boss.. Never.

  5. 5
    Lloyd Mangnall Says:

    …truly sorry for your loss. Thanks for taking the time to share and teach during a very personal time.

  6. 6
    Craig Richardville Says:

    I do not always get a chance to read everything that I receive, but am glad I took the time this morning to read this piece from you Ed – Extremely compassionate, caring and one I will never forget. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and more importantly, your feelings. Craig

  7. 7
    Carmelita Cain Says:

    Well said.

  8. 8
    April Koontz Says:

    This is an amazing post, Ed. If only all leaders had your emotional insight … thank you for sharing.

  9. 9
    Tom Says:

    Ed – nice piece. Indeed, this is the reality we will all face as working professionals. People around us in the work place die. We must do the right thing and honor the contributions and memories of our colleagues. I recall attending the funeral of a colleague who had worked in an industry for more than 30 years. He knew many people through his work for the trade association where we were colleagues. Although some older than me, many of his former colleagues and friends from the industry were still around and could have come to his funeral. I was the only one from the industry there. His family was surprised at the lack of turnout but appreciated that I came.

    By the way, I think you meant ‘grief counselors’ rather than ‘grievance counselors’.

  10. 10
    Brandon Says:

    Wow, well said! So important to be able to grieve.

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