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Compassion when a coworker’s parent dies

I found a blooming azalea ‘Promise’ at my mother-in-law’s memorial service several weeks ago. It was from my coworkers. Del’s mother-in-law died while we were at the ACE conference; he left to go directly to Muscatine. And Dennis, our coworker from Utah who worked a sabbatical with us, also left the conference to go to St. Louis. We coworkers sent memorial donations.

In times of family illness, deaths and other life tragedies, coworkers and friends become family…at least here in Iowa. Compassion…empathy…friendship…thinking of you…civility.

Dennis sent this tribute about his mother’s last seven hours. I print it with his permission.


Unless you are in close contact you can’t really hear a person’s heartbeat.

But breathing; you can hear that from a spouse, your dog or a snoring neighbor. Breathing is rhythm and heartbeats are percussion.

When my mother was in Intensive Care I could see and hear all the beeps and blinks of her monitors but her breathing was almost drowned out.

When they decided there was nothing more they could do to improve her condition, they moved her to “comfort measures.” Not really a hospice, but a private room with no instrumentation and lights you could turn off.

By this time mom was only a shell. She was unresponsive to touch or sound. I don’t like the term “brain dead” but she was unaware.

At first her breathing was loud and labored and I cowered in the corner of the room checking my email and looking at baseball scores to try to distract myself from the sound of fighting death. Then it turned to almost snoring but still unbearably loud. I just wanted it to stop, I wanted to go home and have someone tell me when it was over.

But ever so gradually the volume went down to that of a contented nap, to that of a snoozing dog, to that of a sleeping child….until it became so faint that I had to move closer to hear for sure… until it became so faint I could tell only by looking at her mouth…. so much fainter… so faint, so faint… so…..

There weren’t any last words, no dimming of the glow in her eyes, no grip left in her hands; just breathing; letting me know she was going peacefully.

--Dennis Hinkamp, June 15, 2008


my mother's coworkers sent a nursery gift certificate when my grandfather died. They purchased two young trees and planted them in the yard and we still go out each fall and take my girls' photos with the trees to see how everyone is growing... it's a lovely memory.

Each of us who work full time, spend at least 8 hrs each day with our co-workers. We become connected, we care about each other, we share our family joys, pains, worries, births, weddings, graduations, and deaths with one another. We pray for each other in times of sickness and surgeries. Yes, we become friends...a special type of "family". When death occurs, it is easy to show compassion to those we care about.
Thank-you, Dennis, for sharing your tribute with us. I have sat at the bedside of several family members and listened to their labored breathing, change to a slow, quiet whisper. The room becomes full of the peace that you cannot explain...Tears slip silently down your face as you stroke the top of your loved one's hand....And as death comes, your own heartbeat becomes louder in your chest. Life goes on... but it is so kind when co-workers send a plant, or bring you a covered dish or just a firm hug when you return to work. Civility truly is empathy and compassion, and we all need it in the workplace when we are hurting. May we all continue to support those around us in their personal time of need - Remember the Golden Rule...and remember it is your turn. :)