While on summer break, I received a sad email from the Dean, announcing that a fellow faculty member had died. Jane was the first of the faculty to be diagnosed with cancer and had been battling breast cancer for several years.
For the rest of the day, I found myself unable to concentrate and feeling sad. Life seemed unfair. Jane had breast cancer surgery several years ago. She was very quiet about her illness. However, she was most supportive and caring when she discovered that I too had cancer. Her gentle smile conveyed a sincere caring.
Losing a colleague is never easy. It is important to keep your sense of perspective
while maintaining your friend's memory. Loss is an incredible blow to the body and mind. It takes a long time to even wrap your head around the absence of the person you once knew. It is OK to have feelings of deep sadness, numbness, detachment, and anger.
Here are some strategies to help deal with the loss of a colleague and retain her memory alive in your heart:
Think of the good times. Remember memories of the things you shared together.
Accept help from others. Talk with friends and colleagues.
Do things that remind you of your friend. Our friend Jane had a very dry, subtle sense of humor. The entire faculty would laugh when she made a sly, innocent comment. She also loved to wear colorful, well-coordinated scarves. I will think of her often each time I wear a scarf.
Allow yourself to feel sad. The loss of a friend affects each of us in a different way. It is painful but eventually will lessen.
Try to get enough rest and sleep. You may consider soothing relaxing music or relaxation tapes if you find it difficult to sleep.
Try not to isolate yourself. Do things you like to take your mind off the pain of loss. Distracting your thoughts for a while will not make you forget your friend. Dwelling on your pain will not honor your friend's memory. Instead, remember your friend as you enjoy your life as she would have wanted you to do.
Consider doing something in your friend's honor. Jane battled breast cancer. We may explore participating in a "walk for the cure" to honor her memory.
I am sure there will be tears when we return as faculty for the new semester. Jane will be sadly missed. The above strategies have personally helped me through this grieving process. We will think of the positive contributions Jane has made to each of our lives. We will try to make similar contributions to the lives of others. I plan to go to work and keep smiling. Be glad that you awoke this morning feeling well. Spread your smile as you go about your day... it can help someone else and make you feel better as well.