The group at work that I supervise consists of about a dozen people spread out over a few sites. One of our staff had mentioned to me a couple of times that her sister has terminal cancer. She is a very private person, who has not said much and I’ve not been one to pry. I’ve also not heard her discuss this with anyone else. Last night she called to tell me her sister was not expected to live through the night. This morning, she let me know her sister had passed away.
The usual thing at the office when a death occurs is that there is some sort of communication to everyone and there are many supportive gestures as are appropriate to the circumstances. The people at work are generally very supportive of one another. The problem is that for this individual this level of social interaction on such an emotional topic would be torturous. She was in tears both last night and this morning on the phone with me and is not someone who will cope well with people offering their condolences, because she will just start crying and feeling badly about that. She came into the office today to process a bunch of paperwork, so that she can be away for a few days with minimal impact.
After some discussion with her and thinking things over, I asked her if she would prefer that I not notify anyone in our group. Arrangements are being made by the family and I’ve offered that I will just tell people she needed a few days off with short notice and apologize for any disruption it causes. She can then let people know if/when and in the manner she sees fit. She said that she would prefer to handle it in this manner. My supervisor may ask me more about it, but I’m sure she will honor this woman’s wishes. The other’s may be irritated and even angry should they eventually find out. (I’m fairly confident this employee will disclose what happened when she is in a better place emotionally to do so.) The truth is that it is up to this person to share what she wants to share of herself. Our work does not dictate that they have a right to know. I also hope that they understand that whenever possible, I will maintain this same level of discretion for them should they ever need it.