After the owner's nephew died in a truck accident, he hauled the crushed cab back to the yard and dropped it in the center of the crane-way. There the semi sat, crushed and rusting right in the middle of the production area, a morbid monument that made it difficult to work and impossible to forget the loss.
Death and the subsequent grief it brings can be devastating to an owner-operated business. After 30 years of helping business owners, dealing with death is a recurring concern. For many businesses it is the final toll. Some never surmount the sorrow, but grief doesn't have to kill the business. To the bereaved, I offer these "letters" of encouragement:
Affirming acknowledgements: Never deny the emotions that accompany loss. Acknowledge them and offer encouragement to yourself and staff. Over time the pain will subside. In the meantime, the living need to live and make a living. Many people depend on you to keep working.
Offer time for friends and family members to plan and attend the funeral. These rituals won't restore the loss, but they begin the healing process. In many cases it is best to close the business so there are no conflicting engagements or concerns.
Compassionate compartmentalization: A uniquely Christian doctrine is the concept that, "She is not dead, but she sleeps." That is, the person or their spirit continues in another place where they cannot be disturbed. Many people don't share that consolation, but you may still compartmentalize the grief so it is not debilitating. You can schedule ongoing memorials; once a week for a few weeks, once a month for a few months. This tends to delay the grief and contain it in structured periods. Yes we will mourn together, but let's limit it to a specified time.
Enduring eulogies: Many of your professional colleagues will want to offer their support. Some mortuaries offer Internet sites where all guests can share a thought about the departed. Facebook and other social media collect spontaneous sentiments that can be reviewed over the years.
Death dividends: The last thing the bereaved wants to worry about is money. The best tool to avoid this concern is a life insurance policy to cover the cash demands of probate.
Motivating memorials: Consider hanging a plaque on the wall with a picture of the departed and a motivating quote like my Dad often said, "Remember who you are."
Rehabilitating routines: These articles often address the importance of processes. A habitual process can be good therapy for coping with loss. Having a routine can get a person through the day when their emotions might not.
May God Bless you in the losses you face.
Contributing columnist Russ Allred, MBA, is a business consultant and author with Sunbelt Business Brokers & Advisors; the views expressed here are his own.