Victoria Noe

Award-winning Author, Speaker, Activist

An Awkward Response to a Coworker's Death

I blogged about the famous “Chuckles Bites The Dust” episode on The Mary Tyler Moore Showin 2011. I looked at it in terms of a person’s reaction to a friend’s death, which can sometimes appear inappropriate (like laughing at a funeral).

But I decided to return to it as I work on the next book in my series, Friend Grief in the Workplace: More Than an Empty Cubicle.

Chuckles, after all, was a clown – or rather, playing a clown was his job. He was – to put it mildly – not taken seriously by his coworkers. So it was not surprising that on hearing of his death, they immediately began to joke about him.

Mary was horrified that they made fun of a man who’d just died. But when she got to the funeral, she found herself laughing uncontrollably. This time, it was her coworkers who were horrified.

In the pilot of LA Law, upon seeing the body of one of the firm’s partners who died unexpectedly, Arnie Becker announced, “I’ve got dibs on his office.”

Yes, they’re both TV shows, not real life. But they point out the awkward, uncomfortable situations we can find ourselves in when a coworker dies. We have a lot of questions:

            What’s the proper way to grieve in the office?

            Will I get (paid) time off to go to the funeral?

            Am I going to get stuck doing their work?

They’re not the questions that normally occupy our minds when a friend dies. But they’re the questions that complicate the experience of grieving a friend in the workplace.

Every situation is different, as you’ll see in the book. But in every one, people struggled to figure out how to grieve their friend while still being expected to do their job.

I have no easy answers, only suggestions. One of which is to watch the funeral scene I mentioned above. I know Chuckles would’ve loved it.