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Ritual procrastination as part of the grieving process

  • 05 December 2014

Spiro was in the prime of life – 22 years old, good looking, and a whiz on the computer. At work he occupied one segment of a four berth work station in the inner suburban office of a major insurer. Just two years with the firm, Spiro was already an office icon – popular, competent, going places.

He drove an old and treasured Nissan Skyline. Friends and family considered him a responsible driver. One evening the unthinkable happened. On his way home, just a few minutes from the office, Spiro lost control of the car and ran under the back of a stationary tray truck. He was killed instantly.

The train of events at his workplace is worth pondering. As his work colleagues drifted in next morning, the news was broken to the 20 or so staff in his immediate work area. It was met with a mixture of disbelief, shock, stoicism and tears.

Management was considerate. Work was put on hold. Coffee was brewed. Staff mingled. Several workmates went home. The rest stayed. 

In a surprisingly short time, people drifted back to their desks. At least this was their territory, and it gave some sort of comfort. They could stare at the computer screen, pick away at the keyboard or shed a tear in relative privacy. What became most painfully obvious in due course was Spiro’s desk – his empty place. What to do with his pinned up collection of postcards, pithy sayings and frequently used phone numbers?

What to do with yesterday’s half full coffee mug? Ah, now therein lay a dormant symbolism; and therein lay the seeds of a management mistake. Believing the cup to be upsetting to those nearby, Spiro’s immediate supervisor decided to tidy up. The mug was whisked away into the tea room, washed and put in a cupboard.

To Spiro’s colleagues at that moment, the mug represented a link with life, personality and yesterday.

To remove it was to prematurely shatter continuity with its owner. It was as though Spiro’s memory was disposable. Tensions rose. Staff murmured amongst themselves and a few minutes later the supervisor was pronounced ‘an insensitive bastard’ to his face by a woman normally admired for her discretion and tact. It seems that an act intended to be respectful of Spiro, and of others, was interpreted as a violation of his space and person.

The ritual of waiting needed to be observed; and not just that of