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Crew needs time to get over a colleague’s death

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When a crew member dies, it’s like a member of a family dies.

Whether that crew member was like a favorite uncle, a lover or a pain-in-the-neck little brother, the death hurts. Owners may be ready for their trip the next day but the crew are left to pick up the pieces, say good-bye to their friend and colleague, handle their grief, and get back to work.

Not an easy task.

The yachting industry has lost more than a few well-known crew members in the past few months. Hearing the news “ either immediately or even months later “ can take its toll on the crew left behind. And grieving can take many forms, from denial and anger to grief and sorrow.

“The big thing to remember is that everyone processes grief differently,” says Sheryl Grimme, a mental health counselor and co-owner of GHR Training Solutions in Coral Springs, Fla., Her partner, Don Grimme, writes a regular management column for The Triton.

A grieving crew member might feel depressed or sad, anxious or nervous, confused, lethargic, irritable or even angry.

“In general, [crews can] expect an increase in hypersensitivity, such as unusually strong or puzzling reactions to little things,” Grimme said.

The recognizable stages of grief are:

1. Shock. Feelings here include numbness, confusion and disorientation. This is what people feel upon first hearing the news of a co-worker’s death.

2. Anger. This can come from not understanding why the accident or circumstances had to occur (outward emotion) to feeling some responsibility or guilt at not having been able to stop or prevent the accident or circumstance (inward emotion). People in this stage can also express depression, sadness and fear.

3. Rejection. This stage includes denial, especially the denial of the emotional impact that the loss of this person has on your own life.

4. Acceptance. Most will accept the death, feel the sadness and mourn. Some will accept the fact negatively as “hopeless acceptance” or resignation.

5. Hope. Once the person’s death is accepted, most will move on with their own lives, carrying memories with them.

“Most people go through those stages, but not necessarily in that order,” Grimme said. “Depending on how close they were [to the person who died], it can take a year or more to go through the process.”

Grimme was hesitant to say how quickly people can move through the stages because supervisors might grow impatient with crew who need more time than others.

“Everyone grieves differently,” she said. “There are some who will never get over it because what it brings up for them is their own mortality.”

For those crew members, outside help in the form of a support group or grief counseling might be necessary. While she advised against an untrained person attempting to provide such counseling, Grimme did say that most captains or senior officers should be able to do the most important thing: be patient and listen.

Most people just need to talk about the person who died, remember them, grieve together and let go, she said. If that’s the situation, a captain or first officer might invite everyone to sit down together and open the conversation by simply asking how everyone is handling the news of the death.

“Ask what it’s been like for them,” Grimme said. “It’s better to bring it out in the open. Just respect what these people are going through. A death brings up a lot of stuff that they might not have had to deal with before.”

Then simply saying that it’s OK to be sad and to miss that person may be all that most people need to move on.

“Once you give them permission, it passes quicker,” Grimme said. “So give them permission to have their feelings.”

Contact Editor Lucy Chabot Reed at lucy@the-triton.com.

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