Before you read this blog, I feel I need to preface it. I have been writing in the pages of Investment Advisor magazine and on the virtual pages of AdvisorOne for nine years now. What I have learned about being a writer is that it gives you an opportunity to process your thoughts and actions (or someone else’s) as a professional and as a real person.
Most of the time, we write about complex situations that benefit our readers. However, I also know that writing does a lot for the soul of the writer herself. In thinking about my blog subject this week, I decided to write about dealing with tragedy in a company.
This blog may in fact be more for me than for you right now. I debated about publishing it and even turned it in late. I ultimately decided to go ahead with it because it was, indeed, exactly what I needed to say. My hope is that you never have to experience what I talk about in this blog. I hope that if one day you experience something similar, you will remember this article, refer back to it and the words will be encouraging and helpful to you.
Here’s the situation: Last week we had a tragedy in our office. One of my employees was diagnosed with lung cancer and given less than a year to live. As you might expect, she immediately quit working to decide about what treatment, if any, to pursue, and to spend time with her family. In a small business like ours—like many advisory firms—the loss of any employee has a major impact, and even more so when it’s the result of something tragic like this.
The first thing you should know is that everyone (employees, partners, spouses, friends) reacts to terrible news in different ways. However, upon first hearing bad news you can almost predict the reaction.
First, there’s denial—Are you joking? That’s not true! It will be fine! Take a shot of tequila! Then there’s anger—Yell, slam a door, and/or throw, break or punch something. Finally, many people just cry. I know this because in my 35 years on this earth I have dealt with death and tragedy too many times. In my first business, two of my employees were killed in a car accident, and eight months later my mother died. I’ve had a best friend diagnosed and die of cancer at age 32, in addition to the expected deaths of my grandmother and grandfather. I’ve also gone through this a few times with my client firms. I’ve dealt with everything from a suicide to a plane crash. But as they say, it’s always different when it happens to you.
In our culture, people my age don’t usually have to deal with the loss of a peer. With the death of grandparents and eventually our parents, we’re often somewhat prepared, and then we usually have family to support us. But in a small company, where co-workers usually become friends, we haven’t developed ways to cope with such a loss.