The Tragic Death of a Co-Worker

I don’t know where to start. During my career, I have never had to deal with the death of a co-worker… until now. Even worse, it was my colleague in HR. Her office was two doors down from mine. We started working together in late September 2018 when I joined the Canadian Hearing Society. Her name was Kosha Vaidya and she, along with her husband, two teenage daughters and parents was killed in the tragic Ethiopian Airlines crash just outside of Addis Ababa a couple of weeks ago.

This was supposed to have been a trip of a lifetime for Kosha and her family. I spoke with her on the Friday before the tragedy and she mentioned that she was born in Kenya as her dad was working there as an Engineer. Her family was originally from the Gujarat state in India and came to Canada several years ago. Kosha wanted to show her daughters where she was born, and experience an African safari as a family.

Each morning I wake up to the top international headlines via the CNN app on my phone. The headlines are usually about Trump, North Korea or American politics. However, on this morning it was about the airline crash. Once I read the article and realized the timing of the flight my gut unfortunately told me that my colleague and her family were on that flight. I messaged her on Facebook and LinkedIn, and emailed her, to no response. I spent the next 24 hours trying to find names of the 18 Canadians on-board. Fast-forward to Monday morning when I was at Pearson Airport to board a flight to Costa Rica for vacation, I found an article from the Times of India, and my heart dropped. Kosha and her family were on that tragic flight. 6 minutes in the air aboard a brand new 737 Max 8 plane. Every single one of the 157 passengers perished upon impact when the plane nosedived from 1,000 feet in the air.

Dead silence ensued. I didn’t know what to say, how to react or what to feel. I guess numbness and helplessness were the best ways to describe how I felt.

I was away from the office for the entire week and returned the following Monday. It hit me like a ton of bricks when I walked into the front door of the HR wing. Kosha’s office still in tact and left how it was when she left for her vacation. It felt strange. I greeted my colleagues as I always do in the morning and went to my office. Instead of getting my day started I closed the door and just sat in my chair. Of course my eyes welled up and a million thoughts raced through my mind. I just kept telling myself to let everything take its course — feel whatever it is that I’m naturally feeling. I went and talked to the grief counsellor that we brought on-site. I felt much better after speaking with him — I can’t remember what we talked about but I simply rambled while staring out the window in the room. Whatever the case, talking works really well for me.

How do you deal with the death of a co-worker?

To be honest, I have no idea. What I do know is that you do everything possible to support your employees. You provide multiple avenues — onsite grief counselling, promotion of the organization EAP program (online, telephone, in-person), and I think most importantly, the support to all employees to grieve how they want to.

Personally, I was in shock and disbelief from the moment I read about the tragedy to the day I walked back into my office. To be honest, I think I’m still in shock. Although I know Kosha and her family are gone it still doesn’t feel real to me. Maybe it never will. However, I do know that I have felt angrier and more pissed off as I read more news about the reactions of Boeing, investigators, politicians and industry experts. My anger is specific to the fact that airplane safety features are being treated like “add-ons” instead of mandatory features. Just follow the $$ and let it rule decisions about passenger safety.

I can go on about my point of view regarding the value of a person’s life and how airplane manufacturers, regulators and airlines make decisions but it’s too complicated. I know that. Regardless, it still angers me that my colleague’s life was spared because of a financial transaction.

At the end of all of this, all I have left is a memory. My memory of Kosha is that she was an intelligent, driven, funny and a good person. She was growing in her career and I enjoyed working with her. We didn’t always see eye-to-eye on things, but for those that know me, know that I love a good debate where the conclusion is growth and learning. I also know that we can only heal if we talk about how we feel and let the process unfold naturally. From a workplace perspective, leverage every mechanism that focuses on support. It’s the best you can do.

With time, I can only hope and pray that Kosha’s surviving family members can find peace knowing that she and her family were loved, and fantastic citizens of their community.

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