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Working Through Tragedy Together
Loving coworkers in the toughest of times.
Jen Sandbulte
Tuesday, May 16, 2017

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Working Through Tragedy Together
Image: Ocamproductions/Lightstock

I knew when my cell phone rang late on a Saturday night that something was wrong. As the story unfolded, a sickening feeling settled in. One of our employees had been picked up at work and murdered by her ex-boyfriend, who then committed suicide. In an instant their infant daughter became an orphan. I stood in shock, trying to formulate a communication plan as quickly as possible. Not only did this sweet, young girl work for us, but so did four members of her immediate family, including both her parents. This would impact our small-town production facility in major ways.

I lay in bed that night and prayed. I prayed peace for the family and I prayed for wisdom. How do I respond to something of this magnitude? What's the right thing to do? What would Jesus do if this were his friend? No college textbook had the answers for a situation like this. I would learn only by praying and living through this tragedy.

Coworkers and Friends

I strategically sat in the balcony for the funeral so that no one would see the tears as they ran down my face. The words to the old hymn, "It Is Well," bellowed from below as I wiped a stream of tears dripping from the tip of my nose. I never imagined that I would be in the middle of a situation like this, not in a Midwest town of 6,000. I struggled to be strong and supportive when I had more questions than answers, but as Human Resources Director I had a job to do to help our team process through this tragedy.

Over the years, I've learned that the hours we spend at work are so much more than just "work" hours. Many of us spend more time with the individuals we work with than we do with our own spouse or children. We get close, and our lives intertwine in ways we don't expect. The people we work with every day become our friends, and when things in our "real" life are hard, we bring them to work with us. Most often, coworkers are the ones who support us through the hard times. This tragedy would have an impact on each employee in our plant, and we were going to have to work through it together.

Lessons Learned

I won't say that we handled everything perfectly, but we learned a lot. We prayed and walked next to the family in every way we could. We quickly realized that this family was going to need their friends at work for a long time. This was hard, and it was going to be hard for a while. I wondered: what if we did our best every day to be good, Christian friends to our coworkers, in both the good times and the bad? We also were amazed at the walls that tumbled down. Day to day, we get angry with or upset by our coworkers; we carry grudges. However, when something big happened, the little things suddenly became less critical. What if we didn't wait for tragedy to hit to let go of the annoyances?

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