no one wants the office an employee died in four years ago

Warning: this letter includes a death by suicide.

A reader writes:

I work for a small company (about 150 employees) that is about to merge with another company. We are in the midst of planning for allocating offices and reconfiguring our space to make it work, but our leadership team is stuck on what to do with one office in particular.

About four years ago, one of our employees died by suicide in her office. While her family asked that the cause of death not be disclosed, her body was found by a coworker and the manner of death required a full scale cleaning and refurbishment of her office. The whole office was closed for a week and I’m certain that the rumor mill did its thing and that most folks at the time knew what happened and where it happened. She was in a role that meant she interacted with everyone in the company and it was a deeply traumatizing event.

In the aftermath there were several employees who requested to do various cleansing or religious rituals in the space (burning sage, having a priest bless it, bringing in a psychic to send a message to our deceased coworker) but leadership felt like that could get both practically and legally problematic in a hurry, so said “no.” Despite the fact that the office in question would be highly desirable under normal circumstances (large space, lots of windows, a beautiful view), nobody wanted to move into it.

After about six months, there was some discussion about converting the office into some other kind of space but nobody could agree on what it could be used for since some people flatly refuse to enter it. Then the pandemic hit and it became a moot point due to remote working.

Now we are about to begin sharing office space with new people and that office is still vacant and there is kind of an unspoken office taboo about it (even some staff who weren’t working here when the incident happened won’t go into it). On the transition planning team we have one person who thinks we should just give it to the new people, with no reference to the history. One person thinks we should convert it into a storage room (which we don’t need), and one person who thinks we should offer it to the new people but give them a heads-up about why people are weird about the space. But if that means that they don’t want it either … does it just sit empty forever? We have pretty low turnover so it is entirely possible that there will be people still working here in 20 years that knew about the event, so will it forever be “haunted”? I think someone on our leadership team should just take it but I’ve been overruled.

What’s the right thing to do here?

Turn the space into something else and make it as different as you possibly can.

Do you not need storage space because you already have sufficient existing storage spaces? If so, relocate one of them into this room. Or stick a copier in there, or filing cabinets, or a fridge and some cupboards. If you can bring in a carpenter so the space looks completely different, that’s ideal. Knock down a wall, do a new layout, different paint, everything — but most of all you want a different use for the space so it’s not an office.

Your company’s employees have made it clear that they can’t see this as an office; they see it as the scene of something traumatic, and understandably so. Yes, it’s been four years — but people are allowed to feel what they feel, and what happened sounds awful enough that it’s not surprising that they do. And yes, it’s possible that if you assigned it to someone as their office and forced them to work in there, in time people would stop associating it with tragedy. And if the person you assign it to is one of the new people, maybe they won’t care that much. But maybe they will — and they’re likely to hear about it from other employees at some point — and why do that to someone if you don’t have to?

It’s worth some reshuffling to respect people’s feelings.

{ 491 comments… read them below }

  1. info*

    The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 988. You can call or text. Please reach out if you need to

    1. LaFramboise*

      Thank you for this information, it’s always good to amplify this kind of information, especially as the service is a little new.

    2. Milksnake*

      Allison – can you put this at the bottom of the letter or pin it to the top of the comments?

    3. Corrvin (they/them)*

      Great point! Also, I shared this with my gaming guild but it’s generally applicable:

      If you’re not a mental health professional, you can help your friends by listening, but you run the risks of making yourself feel bad without being able to do anything, or worse, not being able to recognize the difference between someone venting about their situation and someone in desperate crisis about to do something bad. So here’s some things you can suggest if you think someone needs more help than you can give. These are US-specific; for other locations a decent search is “where to get urgent help for mental health” plus the location.

      Immediate help:
      988 is the crisis hotline. They will talk to anyone having a crisis. They will not automatically call the authorities, unless a life is at risk. (You do not have to be “feeling suicidal” to be in crisis.)

      For more long-term help with mental health:
      If someone has health insurance, they can call the number on the back of their insurance card and ask for a nurse line or help line.
      If someone is employed and their employer has an employee assistance program, that can be helpful at finding resources too.
      If someone does not have health insurance, they can look up “[name of state] Health Department” or “sliding scale counselor for [issue]” (sliding scale means to pay what you can afford or an amount based on your income)
      AND folks can also call 211 for help finding mental health professionals & help with getting/affording medication.

      Please remember that sometimes the compassionate thing to do for people is to say “I can’t listen to you without worrying that you need more help than I can give, but would you like me to sit with you while you make phone calls?”

      1. Corrvin (they/them)*

        (also, sorry Info if that sounded a little snippy where I described 988 as a crisis line rather than suicide hotline, I re-read it as a response to your comment and it sounded that way. It’s copied from where I wrote it somewhere else; I’ve found that people sometimes feel like they shouldn’t call because they’re not hurting as bad as they imagine someone else might be hurting. But if you’re hurting, you deserve help.)

      2. atalanta0jess*

        Also – you can call 988 if you want to talk to someone about how to support someone else in your life.

      3. Indigo a la mode*

        If you’re in crisis and want to reach out, but you’re like me and hate talking on the phone, you can also text HOME to 741741 and a volunteer from Crisis Text Line will text with you <3

      1. Zoe Karvounopsina*

        In the UK, you can also text ‘SHOUT’ to 85258 for text based help.

  2. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Knock the wall down between the office and the corridor if possible, to remove the sense of going into a different space.

    1. glitter writer*

      This was my first thought, too. It needs to not be a closed-off, walled-in space anymore. Move some (non-load-bearing) walls, do some hefty rearranging — it will be worth it in a case like this, I think.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I was just going to suggest this: Shift the walls so that it’s no longer the same room. Maybe you can combine it with the adjoining offices and the re-divide them differently?

    3. Tio*

      That would be nice, but the possibility exists that they don’t own this building and can’t change up the actual spacing. If they can, that might be the best option though

      1. Tex*

        Most commercial office spaces have removable walls for changing layouts between different renters.

        1. michelenyc*

          My company just did this in our new office for the product team. It’s super common.

      2. Momma Bear*

        Depends. We don’t own our building but we have done some work, including shifting walls. It’s worth considering.

    4. Sloanicota*

      Yes! It’s not the square footage on the floor, in my opinion, it’s the walls, the carpentry, the floor tiles. Ideally you would take it down to the studs and change the layout entirely – make it two smaller offices, make it half of a huge conference room, make it an open-wall cube space. This would erase any weird feelings I had about the space, at least.

    5. Harper the Other One*

      +1 to this. If any of the walls are structural, knock down the non-structural ones and build out differently shaped spaces around the structural ones.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        Most modern office buildings have very few structural walls for just this flexibility (seriously the central section where the elevators are, the support columns, and maybe the outer building walls are pretty much it).

    6. zuzu*

      This is a really good idea.

      I’d also suggest soliciting ideas from the employees, too: We’re going to transform this office into something else. Here are some ideas we have, but we’d like to hear from you, too. It would help them be part of the process and, for lack of a better term, exorcise the ghosts of that particular space.

      It can be very difficult to use a space or an item where someone has died. My dad died in his easy chair in the living room. No one wanted to sit in it afterwards, and would bolt out of it if they unthinkingly sat in it. My mom eventually just got rid of it, because it was a reminder and was weirding everyone out. Should we have gotten over it? Sure. But it was just easier to change our environment than change our psyches.

      1. Bexy Bexerson*

        My dad also died in his big comfy recliner in the living room, after he fell asleep while watching an old Western movie on TV after breakfast…which was truly the perfect way for him to go.

        I think my family might be weird, because none of us felt uncomfortable sitting in that chair. It got a lot of use in the days after his death while we were all gathered at the house planning the funeral and reminiscing and all that stuff.

        I’ll admit we’re an odd bunch. During the service at the funeral home, I’m pretty sure folks in one of the other spaces could hear our extremely loud laughter…just as dad would’ve wanted!

        1. allathian*

          Thanks for sharing!

          The one universal constant is that all of us will die eventually. But how we relate to a death varies a lot depending on our relationship with the deceased, our attitude to death in general, and on how the person died, etc. Your father had a “good” death in the sense that he was at home and doing something he enjoyed, and he didn’t die in pain.

          Suicides are rarely capable of considering anything other than their own pain when they kill themselves, but killing themselves at work is one way of ensuring that their corpse won’t be found by a family member and their home won’t be “tainted” with it.

    7. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      If possible could they open it up so that there is no “door way” so its more of a nook area and then add couches and other things to make it a break room or relaxation room.

      I think the problem is besides that the person died there but that its been empty for so long that people cant not think about it as the office where so and so died. And of course, there’s going to be those people who claim it’s haunted or whatever (even in a joking manner).

    8. Chirpy*

      If removing the whole wall isn’t feasible, widening the doorway (2-3 times wider than a normal door, think open archway) will also make the room feel less closed off.

    9. Triplestep*

      Office Designer here.

      Hopefully your organization is working with a professional office designer for your reconfiguration, and if you are, that person no doubt has suggested way more collaborative and “non-desk” space than most leaders will adopt. This is just how it goes – we say you need at least one seat of collaborative space per every desk seat, and your leaders don’t believe us, and proceed to turn the majority of closed-door spaces into offices rather than what is needed: Conference rooms, phone rooms, focus rooms, etc.

      If this wasn’t such a nice space, I would suggest turning it into storage by re-purposing a current storage rooms. But given the windows and view, do not stick a copier in there, or filing cabinets, or a fridge and some cupboards. Instead make it into a soft seating area and/or quiet room with lounge chairs, office couches (some have built-in power sources and tablet arms) and if space allows, high tables with stools (or for standing work) with built-in power sources. Your office designer or office furniture company can show you a lot of choices – the open office has created the need for different kinds of non-desk furnishings, and the industry has gotten quite creative with options.

      Quiet spaces are needed in the open office environment, and quiet lounges are a way to meet that need on a larger scale than focus rooms which only accommodate one person at a time. The beauty behind making this room a lounge or quiet room (besides need) is that no one will be required to go in it, ever. It would be totally optional for people to use as needed, and according to their comfort level. I note that others are suggesting taking down a wall, but if it is to be a quiet room, I would not suggest that. Even if it’s just to be a lounge, taking down the wall might make some people feel that the the “haunted” room is spilling out into their non-haunted space.

      1. Some words*

        And once the new co-workers arrive and start using the space it should pretty quickly lose the “cursed space” vibe. Assuming the old staff doesn’t warn people away from it.

        1. Zephy*

          Assuming the old staff doesn’t warn people away from it.

          That’s going to be the key, I think. If OP’s company converts the office into what sounds like a pretty sweet lounge space, if I worked for the new company and walked in on my first day and saw that I’d love to post up in there for a day or half-day of lowkey busywork (catching up on filing/notes and the like). Until someone from the old company said “yeah, that used to be Jane’s office” and told me the story, then I’d probably feel weird about being in the space.

          1. Lady Blerd*

            That’s what I’m thinking as well. In fact I can imagine that some of the employees from the previous employees be offended at the sight of people just chilling in that office.

            1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

              Or if not offended, I think it would just potentially bring up a lot of general feels that are challenging to process, especially in a work environment.

          2. Fae Kamen*

            Yes! Alison’s suggestions are all places people would spend minimal time in. I’m so confused about the comments saying to try to make it a pleasant space, a non-office working space, or any space where people would spend a significant time. They. Don’t. Want. To. Go. In! There!!

            1. Some Bunny Once Told Me*

              And if I were one of the new people I wouldn’t have an issue with it at all. It’s very sad that someone died there, but I didn’t know them and if it’s a good space I’d use it.

              But I’m also pretty non-squeamish about death

              1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

                Same here. My only concern is that it might be awkward if all (or a lot) of my coworkers were reluctant to ever set foot in there. But maybe seeing someone using that room in a normal fashion would eventually help break the spell, so to speak

              2. Oregonbird*

                Thank you! It’s unsettling to realize the majority of humans living in high tech societies are still huddled around cave fires!

      2. Goldenrod*

        Triplestep, I love this suggestion. Making the space an optional and beautiful quiet lounge is perfect….these spaces are truly needed in offices, and the optional nature of it means that it won’t upset anyone.

        I also feel like this honors the employee who died in kind of an understated, low-key way (better than a storage space would).

      3. ILoveLlamas*

        I do quite a bit of property mgmt. Triplestep is absolutely 100% right. However, I would suggest to add some items that might entice folks to wander into the area once it is opened up. Maybe a TV streaming some innocuous content like cooking shows (no volume), even something a little noisy like a game so it isn’t too quiet. Too quiet might provide too much space for overthinking past events, but something more interactive, collaborative and noisy might drown out those thoughts. Just a thought — but I agree, take down the wall(s) and open up the space as much as possible. Give folks access to the natural light, add a bunch of plants and change the vibe. Good luck!

      4. GreenDoor*

        I second this suggestion. Don’t make it into a copy room or a cabinet room. Make it a room that is intentionally positive in some way – like a quiet room. If you can add things that are life-affirming, do that too. Since there are windows, maybe lots of plants. Maybe a large fish tank. People find those relaxing to look at. I think you’ve done lots of things right. We had a death in our office right before the pandemic. We also left the office vacant for a long time, then brought in new furniture & repainted. A remodel of the space wasn’t possible, but we own the land we’re on and so we planted a tree, holding a company-wide dedication ceremony. Since you have had people asking about doing rituals, I wonder if your company would consider doing some type of non-faith-based ceremony to rededicate the new space? A group ritual of transition – even just a ribbon cutting for the new space – might help dispel some of the bad air around the old office.

        1. Elizabeth I*

          Could the redo for this room be done so that it’s specifically geared toward wellness and mental health – a space that feels good and helps people de-stress – as a way to very subtly honor the deceased employee and recognizes mental health challenges and prioritizes caring about mental and emotional health? This might subtly communicate that the employee’s death isn’t being erased, she isn’t being forgotten – but her space is being used to make things better for others who might be struggling?

          1. Not that other person you didn't like*

            This is VERY GOOD as is GreenDoor’s suggestion. When a traumatic event happens, people crave ritual and closure. And while yes, the company can’t necessarily have a priest come in, some kind of quiet ceremony would be very helpful. In fact, you might have forestalled some of the ick around the space if you’d have embraced the urge for ritual earlier (all those people suggesting things were likely doing so from the heart, not from some kind of urge to push their faith onto others). We’re all human after all, and ritual helps us through loss and trauma.

            1. goddessoftransitory*

              We’ve had a few deaths in my place of business (not on site, but people we worked with) and each time the company held a little ceremony–business wide for two of the people who were well known throughout, and just at the phone center for two employees there whom we lost. It was meant and came across as a nice, tender goodbye to co-workers we cared about, and meant they weren’t forgotten.

              1. Berkeleyfarm*

                This is good.

                We lost a few long time employees this last year.

                We had a short “In Memoriam” section in the all hands meeting and a prize that we give out was named for the one who had won it a couple of times (and who was way too young).

                1. goddessoftransitory*

                  We have a similar award, and named for an employee who also passed far too soon.

            2. JessaB*

              I had the same thought. They should have let people have whatever cleansing ceremonies they needed to get past the issue. Then the issue would not be so forward, and as long as the company let everyone do what they needed, it wouldn’t read as foisting religion/spirituality on others. Nobody would have to participate who didn’t want to, and you could block off times for each group so nobody feels pressured to attend something that is a thing they don’t believe in. But the coworkers told management what they needed to feel closure in this, and they were told no. And that’s just not how to handle that.

          2. Carolyn*

            A mental well-being room is exactly the first thing that came to my mind as well. A warm, quiet, cosy space with plants, comfy furniture and a nice fragrance diffuser. A place for people to decompress or have some quiet time. It would be such a fitting tribute to the person they lost.

          3. STAT!*

            I think redoing the room as a wellness space is a great idea. So also is the idea from Not that other person to have a quiet ceremony of rememberance & dedication. Perhaps installation of a permanent memorial could also be considered.

            LW, I also wonder whether your company would consider engaging a professional to assist coworkers with trauma processing? At the time would have been best, but as there presently is so much change going on with the merger, it could also be effective now. If people are going to be working there for 20 years, that is a long time for them to carry unresolved trauma. Does management really want this?

            As for just giving the office to somebody new & not telling them about what happened, I think management risk the new person experiencing the allocation as a nasty & divisive trick. Also, what if the new person doesn’t behave “appropriately” in that new space, in the eyes of the older employees (eg laughing, exclaiming about how wonderful the view is, talking too loudly etc)? They may become a target of resentment, & not even know why.

        2. goddessoftransitory*

          If you do include living things though, make sure there’s a schedule and itinerary in place for their care. It’s a responsibility.

    10. goddessoftransitory*

      Very good suggestion. It’s been so long that this particular space is haunted–not by a literal ghost but by the sheer weight of years and feelings that has built up in there. It needs to be opened up and changed around in every possible, physical way.

  3. Alan*

    Repurposing the room could be difficult if “some people flatly refuse to enter it”. That said, if you can remove some walls, turning it into a larger space, that might help.

    1. Observer*

      If you repurpose it and really change it, you’re going to get fewer people who react that way. Also, those people will probably wind up changing (if people don’t push too much) because it does become a different space. That’s especially true if they do something like knock the wall down and turn it into an alcove that has something like a copier and paper / printer supplies. Or a water cooler. etc.

    2. ferrina*

      You can still turn it into some kind of space that’s not an office. Just be cognizant that you should design it for people to avoid if they want. So don’t put the only coffeemaker in there, but put an extra coffeemaker in there. Or office supplies- the folks avoiding it can ask others to grab them extra pens.

      Agree that removing walls and doing bigger changes (definitely paint) will also help.

      1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

        Please this. Some people will always view that space as a place of trauma and violence and they need to not be fundamentally forced to re-experience the events just to get a new roll of tape or cup of coffee.

        You want to encourage folks who are comfortable to access/use the space to do so while allowing for the fact you will have a non-zero number of employees who will never willingly set foot in the space for their own mental well being.

        1. Momma Bear*

          Agreed. While my coworker did not die at the office, it was months before anyone wanted to sit at his old desk and even the person who took over his work did not want the office. I would make whatever space that is an optional use so that those who really cannot get past the trauma of what happened can avoid it. But I also like the idea of a quiet space with phone or computer chargers, some fish or plants, something that speaks life but is different from the office it once was.

    3. NotRealAnonForThis*

      Perhaps especially so if the coworker who found her still works there.

      This whole situation requires a ton of grace be given to everyone – as someone mentioned, nothing about this is “normal” and therefore can’t be treated as a normal office concern.

    4. Erin*

      yeah even if it’s repurposed, there will be folks who still avoid it. I can’t go into the Walmart here in El Paso where a hate crime occurred without getting really nervous and immediately wanting to leave. it was refurbished and a memorial constructed out front, but even though I wasn’t personally affected by the shooting, for some reason I can just hardly stand to be in or near the building.

      1. It's about respect*

        Yup. I work on the same road as the Chesapeake Walmart that had the mass shooting last year. It just reopened in April with a completely new store layout, memorial in the front, artwork, and it looks like it’s not hurting for customers when I drive by on the way home. But I hadn’t set foot in that store in years before the shooting, and now I’d be perfectly happy to never do so again, even if every other grocery in the city closed down.

        It’s good to be sure that everyone has the option to not go into a space they find traumatizing, though I 100% agree with repurposing it so it doesn’t look anything like the way it did. A complete makeover will gradually ease many people out of associating it with trauma, but not everyone will be able to see it as anything other than the scene of a terrible tragedy.

        (Weirdly, I tried to imagine this happening at my work, and I wouldn’t have any problems with taking over the deceased person’s office. But then again, I know I’d do it respectfully, so if any “specters” real or imagined -did- make the situation unbearable, it wouldn’t be because I was that jerk in horror movies who taunts the angry ghosts.)

      2. Cochrane*

        I’m surprised that Walmart did that. Not only are they notoriously cheap but I would have expected a cleanup then a callous return to “business as usual” like the Mandalay Bay shooting in Las Vegas. The shooters suite became an unmarked storage room, the glass repaired, and the whole thing slid off the front page and down the memory hole.

        1. BatManDan*

          worth pondering WHY it was slid off the front page and down the memory hole. And then pondering the inconsistencies in the evidence found at the scene and the narrative given to the press.

          1. Cochrane*

            “Bad for trade” is the most logical explanation. Anything that makes people nervous and stay away from spending money at the casinos is a non-starter in Las Vegas. Casinos built that town and run that town. They weren’t going to let that story linger a moment longer than it had to. You can go by the scene today and there is absolutely nothing to indicate it.

    5. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      I think if the repurpose it in a way that is optional for people. Maybe a relaxation room/ quiet room, Prayer/mediation room, smaller break room. It might help if they can open it more so it doesn’t seem so office like.

  4. Chairman of the Bored*

    If there’s a person (new or old) who knows the history of the office and doesn’t mind, why not just assign it to them?

    You only need one volunteer, and it sounds like “some” new hires are bothered by it – which implies that there are perhaps some who are not.

    1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

      I think asking for a volunteer is fine but whoever it is needs to be told about the history upfront. I don’t think details matter but you wouldn’t want them to find out after the fact, and they will find out.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Having an office that your coworkers refuse to enter could be problematic for a variety of reasons, whether the office bothers you on a personal level or not.

        1. Minimal Pear*

          Yeah I gotta be honest I would FIGHT someone to get this office for exactly that reason.

      1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

        This is valid. Like, this cannot be a manager’s office if their subordinates feel uneasy setting foot in the space.

    3. Neeul*

      This could be a problem if the employee who takes this office is a role that would require having people come into their office, either for meetings, dropping off documents, etc. They would probably even notice less people coming by for casual chats.
      Depending on the position/personality, this could be unproductive or discouraging if they feel increasingly isolated. Eventually some people will start to see it solely as “New Person’s Office” instead of “Previous Person’s Office” but it could be a long, and rocky, time.

    4. Antilles*

      If most people in the office won’t even enter the space, I feel like you’d just be setting that person up for trouble (possibly unknowingly if it’s a newbie!) because people will still continue to avoid the office – meaning the person who’s now occupying it misses out on valuable mentorship, casual interactions, etc.
      Frankly, it’s even possible that people would actively resent the new occupant for taking that space – in a manner similar to the letter a few years ago of “our office is driving off anybody who tries to do the job of a departed co-worker”.

    5. Eddie*

      yep I bet there is some introverted new hire who would love an office that other people won’t want to enter

      1. That_guy*

        If I worked there, I would volunteer for that office. At this point I would love a place where I could have quiet to get work done.

        1. Clisby*

          I would, too. OK, if the person who died there was my spouse or dearest friend – no. But otherwise? People are entitled to feel how they feel, of course, but especially since a merger is involved here, is the company sure that *nobody* would want this office? That’s assuming an awful lot of superstition on the part of co-workers.

          1. atalanta0jess*

            I don’t know that it’s superstition. Something very traumatic happened in that space, and the ones who know about it find it very upsetting, and rightfully so. Are they projecting that feeling onto others who may or may not feel that way? Yes. But I don’t want to dismiss their feelings as superstition when they are probably way deeper than that. It’s not like they just heard about someone dying their in the 1800s or something. This was someone they knew and cared for who died in a horrific way, recently.

            1. Clisby*

              The new employees likely didn’t know or care about this person. There’s no reason to assume the need to keep the office off-limits to them.

            2. Richard Hershberger*

              It is someone some of them knew and cared for. For others, it is that guy from before they were there.

            3. Allonge*

              And it has been four years and they cannot – all of them! – go into the office, nevermind use it?

              I totally expect grief and discomfort from some people around using the office as their own – the person who found them, people who were impacted by suicide in other ways for example.

              But the entire company culture evolved to ‘nope, we are not going into this room’. That may not be superstition but my alternative explanation is not better: people are afraid to go into the office lest they are judged – and bullied – by the community.

            4. Bunny Lake Is Found*

              I agree with this. This wasn’t just that a co-worker died and no one wants that late co-worker’s office. This is the place someone took their own life in what sounds like a particularly traumatic fashion. If an employee is dealing with their own feelings of suicide or depression (or has a friend or loved one dealing with these issues), I don’t think it is superstitious to not want to be in a space that constantly brings that to the forefront..

              1. Splendid Colors*

                My apartment building has had way, WAY too many deaths for being just 7 years old. Many of them predated the pandemic so no, it isn’t just “old people died of COVID, what do you expect?” At least several were not found until the smell was noticeable by neighbors. We’re not sure if management is including the “death apartment” rider in leases for all the units it would apply to, but then again, we only have rumors. The “23 deaths in 7 years” factoid could include people who died in the hospital, or who disappeared from the building after being arrested.

                The “23 deaths” factoid and “the 6th floor smells like death” are such a deeply embedded part of our lore that it will inevitably come up in any discussion between tenants when we don’t think management is around.

          2. Helewise*

            Calling other people’s beliefs “superstition” isn’t great and kind of contradicts the idea that people are entitled to feel how they feel.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          Same; after working in a cube farm where my neighbors talked loudly about Duck Dynasty all day, I would love my own quiet office. Other than feeling badly for the coworkers and the deceased, being in a space where someone passed does not bother me (cough, my apartment, cough).

          But I also really like the suggestions to turn it into something universal to the office but optional. Eventually maybe people will feel better about going in if it becomes a restful and positive space.

      2. sundae funday*

        I wouldn’t care in theory, but it’s clear the employees have placed a deep significance on the office… There has probably been some new hire who didn’t actually mind except for the social stigma of being “the person who took Susan’s office.” I’d be afraid people would see me differently.

    6. Linda*

      It wouldn’t distract or upset me to occupy a space with that kind of history, but I’d still turn it down if I thought that it would change how my coworkers interacted with me. It’s not much of a stretch that people who would be comforted by a cleansing or blessing could believe that some sort of traumatic energy would transfer itself to the new occupant, and my already spooky self just wouldn’t risk it

      1. Winter*

        That’s how I feel too. I think I’d be fine working in the office myself, but I’d worry I’d take a reputational hit among my colleagues (to say nothing about the logistical problems of no one else being willing to go in my office).

        1. CR*

          And you’d always be known as the person who works in the suicide office. Truly the only solution is turning it into something else.

        2. Shirley Keeldar*

          Same here–I don’t think the office would bother me at all, but I would definitely worry about being seen as callous or heartless by my new colleagues.

      2. I have RBF*

        Yeah, IMO the company messed up by not allowing/arranging for multiple blessings. Some religions are really hinky about the site of a death, and need the place cleansed. Others are not hinky about death per se, only suicide, and again require cleansing.

        In general, by not doing some form of ritual acknowledgement of the tragedy, the company is allowing the office to be seen as tainted.

        If it were me, I would come in on a weekend and do a cleansing ritual, and then just mention it as “Oh, BTW, I did a cleansing of XXX old office. I feel better about having honored her memory.” But I’m pagan like that.

        1. Santiago*

          I agree, at least in theory. I don’t know the legal components.

          I would be much more comfortable with the space if it had been recognized in some way (in a way inclusive to multiple religions, and not imposing on others.)

          1. Santiago*

            And just to clarify for anyone to whom this notion might be foreign, it’s not that “ooo I think there are ghosts there”, it’s that something horrific happened there to someone singular and unique in the universe, just as all of us are. Events, places, and people; we set them apart in our lives and give them meaning as so (marriage, holy places, familial places, the bar you go to with your friends as regulars, special days etc.) Something happened in that space and unless it is reconciled, the wheels of capitalism are just driving over what happened to that person there. That’s why I would want a priest involved (and other things and people for other religions) or at least want permission to do my own thing privately.

          1. Santiago*

            We sort of replied simultaneously but to me it’s less a concern of ghosts, and more a recognition that something horrific happened there. In the same way that good events, people and places we set apart in our life; horrific events do the same and it needs to be “recognized” as such before the wheels of business, the corporate world, etc, just put up a new coat of paint and continue generating profit.

          2. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

            I think what Santiago is getting at is that there are some places, because of events, that there is an association with. Take for example the battlefield of Gettysburg in Virginia or the battle field of Culloden in Scotland. You know someone died a horrific death in that space.

            1. Clisby*

              People died horrific deaths on every battlefield. I’m not sure why this is relevant.

              1. Happy Peacock*

                It is relevant as an analogy that helps explain why people are reluctant to use the office. It’s not bc of ghosts. It’s not bc of superstition. It’s bc an association with trauma can make people give a physical space a “hands off” status. That is also why the Uvalde elementary school where the shooting took place is being demolished and new one built.

                It’s clear that you don’t share the association of trauma and spaces. People have a variety of trauma responses, and no single response is the correct one. What is correct is being respectful of other people’s trauma responses, even when you don’t share it.

                1. Clisby*

                  I am respectful of other people’s trauma responses, if that means they don’t want to move into that office. They shouldn’t be forced to. Anything beyond that – they’re being ridiculous. And the idea that it needs to be off limits to *completely new employees* is beyond ridiculous.

                2. Happy Peacock*


                  “Anything beyond that – they’re being ridiculous.”

                  That is not respectful.

                3. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

                  @Clisby, calling the deeply felt reactions of people who happen to feel differently from you “ridiculous” is not respectful. It’s all very unkind.

          3. A Shrimp*

            There’s a letter in the archives from someone who works in an old building many people believe to be haunted, and iirc it was decided that enough people really do believe in ghosts or something like ghosts (spirits, or whatever) that it’s something she’d need to disclose during hiring. Loads more people than I ever realized truly believe in ghosts, and if not ghosts then bad energy or something like that.

            1. Clisby*

              Removed. Please recognize that others (clearly) feel differently from you on this topic. You of course get to feel however you feel, but so do they; please stop calling them ridiculous, etc. – Alison

              1. Nina*

                I understand you to mean ‘telling candidates that many people think the building has bad energy will deter candidates who believe buildings can have bad energy (and who are therefore silly)’.
                If this is what you meant, I think you could stand to have a pretty hard look at why you’re dismissing people’s beliefs like that. Because like it or not, many, many people do in fact believe at some level that places can be haunted or otherwise have bad energy and that belief will impact their behavior. Writing them all off as ‘silly’ is unhelpful and disrespectful.

                1. Nina*

                  Sorry, Alison wiped it before I’d finished typing. Thanks for keeping this a pleasant commenting space, Alison.

            2. I have RBF*

              Yeah, whether or not a person believes in ghosts, curses, jinxes, etc, or even just has a trauma association with a space varies from person to person. If a bit of ritual can cure the problem, why not? Even from a skeptics viewpoint “It neither picks my pocket not breaks my leg.” – Thomas Jefferson

        2. Snow*

          The issue is that that’s kind of inherently privileging one religion/culture’s version of things – obviously you’d be comfortable just applying your religion, but there are other religions (and no, I don’t just mean Christianity) that’d be uncomfortable with that. We do not have a ton of secular ways for handling death, and as a company, they need this to be handled secularly. To be clear, I’m also neopagan, but I don’t think it’s necessarily better to take it on yourself to do a pagan cleansing ritual than if a Christian co-worker had decided to do an exorcism over the weekend.

          1. I walk under ladders, too*

            The issue is that that’s kind of inherently privileging one religion/culture’s version of things – obviously you’d be comfortable just applying your religion, but there are other religions (and no, I don’t just mean Christianity) that’d be uncomfortable with that.

            So let the person who uses the office have whatever ritual performed that works under his or her religion.

            None of this is difficult and all this hemming and hawing is indicative of an organization that is unwilling to take difficult decisions even if they’re unpopular.

            1. Clisby*

              Or just let the person move in and get on with work. I’m trying to understand being in this situation, and I just can’t get with all the drama. There aren’t any ghosts, there aren’t any bad spirits – there’s just a place where something dreadful happened. I can’t imagine why this company has just left what appears to be prime office space vacant, but with a merger ongoing, this is a great chance to just move someone in there. Sure, tell them what happened since they may need to know why some wacko people will avoid the place – but don’t assume they’ll be scared off. I wouldn’t be.

              1. Geraldine Parsons Smith*

                It’s a little unfair to call people “wacko” if they’re uncomfortable spending time in a space where someone died.

              2. Aldabra*

                I agree, I would let the new people know what happened and ask them if they wanted the space. I myself would totally take it, and if it means coworkers won’t go in and bother me all the time, so much the better!

              3. YetAnotherAnalyst*

                This is going to maybe sound hyperbolic, but consider how the prime real estate where the World Trade Center once stood goes unused. No ghosts, no bad spirits, just a space where something dreadful happened. That dreadful thing was deeply traumatic for many, many people, and out of respect for that the space was left as a memorial. This is the same trauma on a much smaller scale.

                1. I walk under ladders, too*

                  Huh? They rebuilt skyscrapers there. There is a reflective pool over the EXACT spot where the WTC towers stood, but new skyscrapers perhaps 100 feet away.

              4. Bunny Lake Is Found*

                Ok, but I think you are being really unfair to basically say the only thing that would make someone uneasy about working in this office would be a belief in ghosts or bad energy. I don’t believe in either of these things and I would have a hard time working in any space if my brain constantly drifts to images of a violent death.

              5. I have RBF*

                You know, I firmly believe in respecting the dead and by my religion, if someone died violently I would want the space cleansed if I was going to use it. If someone of another religion wanted to cleanse it also I would not object either.

                I’m not “some wacko”, I wouldn’t be “scared off”. I would handle it according to my religion, and hope that people with other religions would want to as well.

              6. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

                Wacko people? is it really necessary to be so rude?

                Empathy is a valuable attribute for all of us to develop. Just saying,

        3. Splendid Colors*

          Recently a city councilmember got in hot water for doing a cleansing or blessing of their building after [something? forgot why]. They were with a group doing a variety of traditions’ ceremonies on a weekend, but someone just happened to get a photo of her leaving the building. “Councilmember performed arcane rituals in dark robes” was great clickbait for one news cycle. Apparently there were concerns about “establishment of religion” similar to what the OP said about their company deciding not to allow any cleansings.

        4. Chinookwind*

          I agree and probably would have been sprinkling holy water discreetly in the room the moment I had to go back to work there. I honestly think that there is no such thing as too many cleansing rituals if that is what it takes for people to feel comfortable again.

          (And I suddenly have in mind a line of people including priests, monks, shaman, and various other practitioners, as they take their turn in the room.)

      3. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

        That is a pretty big stretch, I think! People can tend towards the irrational, religious or superstitious in stressful situations (which returning to work where one of your colleagues had a violent death would be, by anyone’s estimation) without being generally irrational or superstitious people.

        Whether people would be willing to take meetings in that space and whether that would cause logistical problems for a new tenant is another issue.

      4. goddessoftransitory*

        This is a very good point–it may not be the actual event that someone has to deal with, but having to work around people who refuse to go into their office, or treat them differently because of the space they’re using. It’s asking a lot for a new to the place employee to deal with a whole office culture’s four years of sterm und drang surrounding that room.

      5. sundae funday*

        Yeah I wouldn’t mind the office at all in theory. In practice, I’d fear my coworkers thought of me as insensitive for taking the office… or even as a weird, creepy kind of person for not being bothered by it. It’s clear they have (understandably) placed a deep significance on that room, and I wouldn’t want to be the first newbie to take it for fear of the social stigma in the office of being “the one who took the suicide office.”

    7. This is what I think...*

      Other folks are offering thoughts , so I will too…

      While there may be people who don’t mind, the ones who do mind will make themselves more than clear that don’t approve of that office being used given what happened in that location.

      New employees would or could be ostracized by their willing to have their office be in the room with the traumatic history.

      Why not just say the room will remain empty for as long as the business is located there?

      1. M*

        That could be really inconvenient. If they’re adding more employees with this merger they probably need the space.

      2. I walk under ladders, too*

        While there may be people who don’t mind, the ones who do mind will make themselves more than clear that don’t approve of that office being used given what happened in that location. New employees would or could be ostracized by their willing to have their office be in the room with the traumatic history.

        In which case you deal with the ostracizers in the same way you deal with recalcitrant employees in any other context. “I expect you to contribute to the team in the way that everyone else does. If you can’t do that, we should talk about whether it makes sense for you to remain here.”

      3. I walk under ladders, too*

        Why not just say the room will remain empty for as long as the business is located there?

        Because renting commercial real estate is not free, and I’m not letting first-rate space go unused.

        1. Nina*

          LW is trying to handle this with grace and care to all the people involved, both old employees who are personally affected by this tragedy and new employees who will have to enter the office with its existing dynamics. You could stand to do the same.

          1. I walk under ladders, too*

            “Grace” means perhaps to forcibly assigning the office to anyone and allowing the religious ceremonies discussed above.

            It does NOT mean that “this space shall never be used again forever.”

      4. Lady Blerd*

        I agree and then the LW will be asking AAM about how to deal with the troublemakers.

    8. Celeste*

      Yes, maybe no one volunteers, and then you can think through some of these other ideas. But it seems like there’s no point in not even asking.

      The whole office space will probably feel a bit different once the new people arrive. It sounds like a good time for a reset.

    9. NotBatman*

      I think the issue is less that a subset of employees see it as haunted, more that a large percent of employees have traumatic associations with that space. Almost everyone has spaces, objects, songs, etc. that they avoid due to horrible memories. If New Employee gets handed an office that many of their coworkers won’t enter because of the trauma, then that’s not fair to New Employee.

      1. CTT*

        I wonder if there’s a bit of a vicious circle here with the office staying empty? Because no one else has occupied it or repurposed it, it’s still “Deceased Employee’s Office” and the trauma stays in the forefront of everyone’s minds. Which isn’t necessarily a “just stick someone in there and see what happens!” invitation, but putting a new person in there who wants it could help start to change the association.

        I’m thinking of this because there’s an office down the hall that was home to two people who left in bad circumstances (single person office, so one after the other) and it’s been empty for almost a year now and so when I walk by it my first thought is “cursed office for people about to be fired” and not “there’s an empty office.”

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Yes, strongly agree with this. If it’s a meeting room or breakout space or something for a year, the association will be weakened or broken.

          The employer could consider a tribute to the late employee in another way and another space (eg dedicate a bench opposite) which would go some way towards relocating the associations and not erasing or invalidating the memories that remain of her.

        2. Ann O'Nemity*

          I agree. Not using it for four years (FOUR YEARS!) has cemented creepy suicide vibes.

          I get that the company wanted to respect the family’s wishes and not say “suicide,” but the gossip mill will have filled that information vacuum, likely with more lurid and disturbing detail than if you all had just been transparent from the jump. And then leadership just let it sit empty for four years (FOUR YEARS!), and thereby allowing it to become The Cursed Office to be Avoided at All Costs.

          I’m sorry all around. This is rough stuff.

          1. Agent Diane*

            In fairness to management, they weren’t to know there’d be a global pandemic that turned “let’s wait a year or so and then look at it” into “this room has been left like a shrine for four years”.

            1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

              Also, people have been out of the office for so long that some of them surely walked back into the office space and, upon passing/seeing that particular office, were suddenly reminded of the traumatic death of a co-worker. So even if after a year or so of walking by that office most employees were able to mentally move on, the pandemic break might have actually lead to the tragedy being renewed a fresh in their minds.

              1. Agent Diane*

                Yes! The pandemic has done all kinds of strange things to people’s ability to process grief, and skewed our sense of time. Some people’s response may tangle up the stress and anxiety and grief of the pandemic years with a traumatic event six months before. One of my close family died less than a year before February 2020: I know I’ve not sorted through that grief as much as I should because I was suddenly thrown into keeping the rest of my family safe.

    10. Spero*

      This is what I think OP is going for with the suggestion someone from leadership take it. But if even they won’t take one for the team and move in there how do you expect anyone down the chain to do so?

      1. Chairman of the Bored*

        I would happily move into that office without a second thought, and I doubt this is a very uncommon take. Especially given that there will be an influx of new people with no connections to the previous occupant or related events.

        It doesn’t hurt to at least see if there are any takers.

      2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        OP: hey management, we have a problem.
        Mgmt: Boy howdee, that’s a stumper.

    11. There You Are*

      I would happily take the office. And I would frame it as honoring the memory of Dead Coworker.

      I’m not religious or superstitious or have any belief in the supernatural, but I’d be OK telling all of the current employees that I am comforted by Dead Coworker’s presence, and that I hoped my presence was comforting to her, too.

    12. I walk under ladders, too*

      Seriously. And this company is about to merge with another. Someone will want this office, if not from the legacy organization, then from the acquirer.

  5. grubsinmygarden*

    “a beautiful view”

    Maybe open up the space, throw in some comfy benches and chairs facing the windows. It could be a place for breaks, video calls, and change of scenery for work, etc.

    1. ferrina*

      Add some plants as well. Plants have their own way of crafting and changing a space. They can help reclaim and redefine a space, especially since you say there are windows. Thriving plants can bring a sense of peace.

      1. zuzu*

        Lots of plants. Big, leafy, tropical plants to take advantage of the light in the space and give a sense of life in a place associated with a traumatic death.

        Maybe that, combined with knocking down the walls to make it an alcove and painting the walls a vastly different color, will make it a more welcoming space.

        But more importantly, I think getting the employees involved with coming up with ideas for what to do with the space, or voting on potential plans for repurposing it, would go a long way to settling some of the weirdness.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          This sounds like the best idea — ask the employees what they want! (Although some of them already said what they wanted, and were denied.)

          1. STAT!*

            Yes but, there’s the old cross examination advice: never ask a question to which you don’t know the answer. If the answer that emerges is Leave The Office Exactly As It Is, then the problem is not only not solved, but reinforced.

      2. human-woman*

        Maybe *only* plants. Maybe not even seating. Maybe the space doesn’t need to *be* anything.

        1. Cyndi*

          I like this idea becauseplants are pleasant and enjoyable even from a distance, so it creates a use for it that doesn’t require people to enter or spend time in the space at all.

          1. Yorick*

            This is really true. If the outer walls can be knocked down and plants are added, people can enjoy it while walking by.

        2. Chirpy*

          Maybe plants and a nice bench, just so people can sit and enjoy the plants if they want to.

      3. Well...*

        I like the plants idea. My mom spent a lot of time in hospitals, both as a nurse and as someone who suffered a very serious accident with years-long recovery. She would bring plants in for her patients to touch, as she found touching a plant when you can’t go outside can be really calming. Someone brought one for her while she was in recovery, which got her started with the practice. She switched careers out of nursing before I was born (actually because her accident left her with too much pain to continue the physical labor that nursing requires), so idk if that’s breaking any nurse rules nowadays.

        When I was recovering from surgery once as a kid, she brought me a plant to touch too. I had some cabin fever but couldn’t leave my bed yet, and I found it super calming as well. I still always think of plants as a soothing thing to have around if you’re stuck inside and uncomfortable. I think they might help with this problem as well.

    2. rayray*

      I like this idea, I think someone mentioned above removing walls to make it a different space. Maybe replacing the carpet, painting the walls, or something would help.

      It might be nice if it were made into a break/mediation space. I know there are horrible memories associated with this room but maybe they can take something bad and make it into something nice.

    3. sharrpie*

      Yes, and maybe periodically have therapy dogs come in there. Just something to break the “awfulness” of the space. I know that not everyone likes dogs, but for a lot of people they can fundamentally change the experience of a place. Just something to bring some semblance of normalcy and calm even if it’s only in brief segments. Over time it may be enough to dampen the bad associations with that room.

      1. Cmdrshprd*

        As a dog lover and someone who would love an office dog/cat, idk about this idea. Besides not everyone being comfortable/liking dogs, a decent amount of people are allergic to dogs/pets. Even if no one was allergic at the time someone new could come in that is and it would need to be taken away.

        I think most people would understand, but I would worry that even with people understanding they might subconsciously have slight negative feelings towards the coworker/person that “got the dogs taken away.”

    4. Margaret Cavendish*

      I love this idea. Open it up as much as possible, especially if you can remove walls as suggested above.

      You could also do a *secular* ceremony of some sort to recognize the life of your coworker, and mark the transition to a new kind of space. Or even think about naming the space after her – the “Jane Smith Break Room” or similar. This could go either way – some people would love it, some would hate it. So you’d have to be careful. But it could be a way of shifting her memory to something more positive as well.

      My condolences to everyone involved, this is a tough situation.

      1. mlem*

        My company renamed a conference room for an employee who died on one of the 9/11 planes, but I think it’s very important that she didn’t die *in that room*. I think naming a room after someone who died in it will only keep people thinking about the manner of death in that very spot.

        1. GirlyQ*

          totally agree, the thought of naming it after her sent a shiver down my spine. Definitely should not name the room after her since she passed traumatically in that room.

          1. A Shrimp*

            I think they should name something else after her, like a tree outside. Naming the room feels really gross because she didn’t just die there, she chose to die there. It’s not like it’s a park or something full of her good memories.

      2. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I was thinking something along the lines of a memorial to the late employee. If it were me and I was offered the office, I might accept it and keep a photo of her there or something like that. Although if I had been at work the day she was found or if I had been especially close to her, I might not feel the same way, so I can see why other employees are staying away from the room. But turning it into a lounge with plants and comfy chairs, and, again, as a memorial to her, seems like a nice compromise. The secular ceremony is a nice idea too, provided it were done thoughtfully. Be honest with your employees that you know something very sad happened there but that you want to celebrate the employee’s life and that will probably be comforting to a lot of them.

        Will some people still refuse to enter the room because of the memories they have of what happened there? Sure, but it sounds like they would have trouble no matter what the room became, so why not try to make it as comfortable a place as possible while still acknowledging that something bad happened there and that could be a very touching tribute to the employee who you all have lost.

        1. Pilcrow*

          Considering the aversion the team is having, making something reminiscent of the passed colleague but not a direct reference may be the way to go. For example, if she like hummingbirds, make it the “Hummingbird Lounge” (with appropriate themed decor) rather than the “Jane Smith Memorial Room.”

    5. Smithy*

      To someone’s point above about having an extra coffee maker – if it serves as an extra break room with some kind of coffee machine/mini fridge/microwave and then nice seating. For those who aren’t as bothered, then it can serve as that quieter space. Especially if they’re staff with desks with no windows.

      I also think that if the space is given some kind “quiet” designation – thinking like the quiet cars on trains – that may appear to give that space a kind of respect. For those who still wouldn’t go into it, it wouldn’t be seen to be turning the space into a celebratory or party space.

    6. learnedthehardway*

      Make it the “deceased employee memorial lounge” – put up a plaque, have a small ceremonial opening of the lounge, hold a small, informal celebration of the person’s life and contributions, acknowledge everyone’s distress, and say that the lounge has been created in hopes of bringing comfort while honouring the person’s memory.

  6. Amber Rose*

    Just putting someone in there is bound to cause problems when that person becomes isolated due to nobody wanting to go anywhere near their office for any reason. That’s not a kind thing to do to someone.

    If you can relocated storage of something, or make it a server room maybe, that would be ideal.

    1. Sophia*

      Honestly my introvert dream. And the space wouldn’t bother me since I’ve always felt the best way to honor the deceased is to make happy memories in spaces they’ve been in.

      1. metadata minion*

        As a fellow introvert, there’s a huge difference between people leaving me the heck alone while I’m working and people being uncomfortable going into my office, and possibly resenting me for taking “Jane’s office”. Unless the new person’s work is completely solitary, they’re probably going to need to at least occasionally have other people in their space.

    2. Isben Takes Tea*

      I was thinking this as well. Like Sophia and River say above, some people would find this ideal, but if it would impact their work by people refusing to enter the space—and I’d worry (if it’s already this intense) starting to distance themselves from someone working in that space—then it doesn’t necessarily solve the problem.

      I agree that physically “removing” the space by changing the walls/layout would be the best option, if it could be managed. If it can’t, then I would certainly want to give any potential new occupants the full context and by hypervigilant that their work is not being impacted by the reaction of the rest of the office.

  7. kt*

    I’d also suggest consciously ignoring a discreet ceremony by an employee or small group of employees (sage that doesn’t set off the fire alarm, blessing, whatever). Company-sanctioned, no, but if it helps some employees with closure and feeling better, just… have a lunch scheduled out of office at that time.

    1. ThatGirl*

      Not to be That Guy, but I wouldn’t do sage both because of the risk of setting off the sprinklers but also, more importantly, because sage is a protected plant and should really only be used by Indigenous people.

      if someone wants to discreetly pray over it, though, I can’t see any harm in that.

      1. Gigi*

        That’s only White Sage. There are plenty of other cleansing plants one can burn such as rosemary or other types of sage that isn’t white

      2. atalanta0jess*

        yes random people should not be burning white sage.


        One could suppose there might be indigenous people who work there…Let’s not assume they’re all white, eh?

        1. ThatGirl*

          I was not assuming everyone there was white, though I am assuming there aren’t a lot of Indigenous folks on staff, fairly or not. But even if there are, it’s probably still not a great idea (see: sprinklers).

          1. TootsNYC*

            will burning sage really set off the sprinklers? Does it completely fill the room with smoke?

            1. ThatGirl*

              depends on how sensitive the sprinklers or smoke detectors are; I’m just saying I wouldn’t risk it.

            2. Chirpy*

              I used to work in a place where the dust from heavy sweeping after a renovation set off the new, very sensitive smoke alarms

            3. Allonge*

              I would hope that sprinklers or any other fire-related system is triggered well before the room is full of smoke!

            4. Starrunner*

              Yes smudging (burning sage and/or other medicines) will set off smoke detectors easily. Written from my dorm living in university experience… the RA eventually asked us to just tell them when we expected to set the alarm off

        2. Maglev No Longer to Crazytown*

          Cedar or pine is a good one, as it is historically used in many cultures worldwide, especially white people in Europe. Lots of other ones that are common, and also don’t have the cultural appropriation overtones.

          Not necessarily advocating burning stuff at work — but if this brings someone comfort and feeling of protection from bad vibes, no harm to at let them at least have a sprig on their desk of these.

      3. I am Emily's failing memory*

        To elaborate on the sage issue – the white sage plant traditionally used for smudging is a threatened species that’s already locally extirpated in much of its historic region. Many tribes that have traditionally used sage have reported their traditional gathering grounds being stripped bare.

        Gathering it from public lands is illegal (and obviously from private lands would require permission of the owner like anything else on private land), but illegal harvesting is sadly common because public lands are so extensive that it’s difficult to catch someone in the act to be able to enforce the prohibition. It’s so threatened and there are not nearly enough large-scale private cultivators to meet demand, which means that most smudge sticks sold in shops are in fact made with sage illegally harvested from public and/or tribal lands. Unless one is absolutely sure they know where the sage comes from, one should not support this illegal plant trade by purchasing it.

        1. Sloanicota*

          That is so sad. I knew white sage was an issue but I didn’t realize that’s what most smudges are made from. How short-sighted of people – I grow non-white sage in my yard, for heaven’s sake, and in no homecoming gift have I ever felt strongly that it had to be a certain rare species of plant, I’m not at all that knowledgeable about it. Humans are terrible.

        2. DJ Abbott*

          When I was involved in a community garden in the 2000s, people who had never been involved in the garden or done anything to help, would bring ladders and pick all the cherries from the cherry tree. They sometimes picked other vegetables or flowers also.
          It’s amazing how people feel so entitled to just take things they made no contribution to.

      4. River*

        There’s also sage essential oil. You can dilute it in a sprayer with water and it works just like any sage (cleansing/purifying/etc.)
        I have a pet that cannot be around smoke so I have this option. Plus you don’t get that burn/smoky smell as when sage is extinguished/burns out and there’s no physical smoke either. And sage oil won’t set off any alarm.

      5. A Becky*

        And because smudging is, as far as everything I’ve read, a closed practice. I’d find it pretty gross if some neo-pagan wanted to tear their clothes, sit on the floor and bring in some covered mirrors to “appease the ghosts”.

        While it’s not impossible that the person in question is Native American, my context read was definitely “white spiritual type who doesn’t understand the implications of what they’re asking”.

          1. Spinner of Light*

            It’s curious how “cultural appropriation” is only applied selectively. I’ve yet to hear of anyone claiming that only those of Middle Eastern descent should practice Judaism, Christianity or Islam, or that only those of Asian descent should practice Buddhism. It’s assumed that people all over the world find that each of those faiths speaks deeply to them, regardless of their own ethnicity.

            Yet we assume that Native American religions can’t possibly be validly practiced by anyone who isn’t Native American – as if those religions have nothing of value to anyone outside of their ethnicity of origin. What does this say about our perception of those Native American faiths? That they’re less profound, less universal than Judaism, Christianity, Islam or Buddhism? Perhaps we should be a little less quick to snap out “Cultural appropriation!” and spend a little more time examining our own prejudices here. We may not like what we see if we do that, but we can’t overcome what we won’t acknowledge.

            1. Chirpy*

              I think the difference is, Native American religions were heavily restricted and discriminated against up until very recently, and many people do not take the time to go to an actual Native spiritual elder to learn the faith.

              I mean, frankly I’d not feel great if someone appropriated, say, Christian baptism or anointing with oil “for the esthetic”, and yet people do that kind of thing all the time to Native Americans.

            2. snoopythedog*

              Cultural appropriation applies when someone from the dominant culture takes part or portions of cultural or spiritual practices from cultures that have been/are being oppressed without the larger context and understanding of those cultures or practices. So in your example, learning about and integrating into Indigenous spiritual practices is very different from taking one element from a practice and not learning about/respecting/understanding the entire practice as a whole. Smudging with sage is a perfect example of cultural appropriate where general culture has made it “cool” to smudge to “cleanse” a space without any recognition of smuding’s roots in many different Indigenous cultures and belief systems. In the case of the use of sage, this has a large impact and actually perpetuates racism as this practice is being used while in many areas Indigenous kids are being sent home for smelling like smoke (from cleansing before school) and Indigenous people are prohibited from use sage in sickness, death and dying rituals in hospitals or other institutions at the same time as Man Repeller or the lastest instagrammers are “saging the bad energy from their homes and meeting spaces”.

            3. Nobby Nobbs*

              In religion, there’s a concept of “closed,” “semi-closed” and “open” traditions. The religions you mention all seek or at least welcome converts, and even they tend to have problems with people who don’t practice the faith cherry-picking rituals to practice out of context Willy-nilly.

            4. ThatGirl*

              Only people who are Jewish or invited into Jewish ceremonial spaces should practice Judaism. I should not host a seder. If I am invited to a seder, it’s cool for me to go and observe and be part of it.

              Also, Buddhism gets appropriated all the time; again, it’s one thing if you’re a practicing Buddhist and another if you’re some random white person with a Buddha statue.

            5. Hanani*

              Cultural appropriation is specifically taking one part of a culture that isn’t yours and leaving the rest. The problem is simply burning sage when you’re not part of a tribe, in community with fellow tribal members, trained by tribally-understood authorities or in tribally-recognized ways in how to do it and what exactly you’re doing, etc.

              It would also be cultural appropriation if a non-Jewish person were to put up a mezuzah or sit shiva all on their own, or if a non-Muslim person were to roll out a prayer rug for Isha prayer all on their own. While there’s some discussion of whether one can even call something appropriation if it’s a dominant culture’s practice (for example, Christianity in much of the world), what is certainly true is that cultural appropriation takes on additional weight when talking about a minority and historically marginalized culture. There are also some complications if we’re talking practices done by cultures who actively want to convert/share them vs those from cultures who do not. Since Indigenous groups aren’t in the business of converting people, for sure their cultural practices are not up for grabs.

            6. SW*

              Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism are religions that make it very easy to convert. Christianity actively proselytizes.
              Judaism is a closed ethno-religion with strict rules on membership based on heritage with very, very little conversion. They’re not keen on outsiders taking their religious practices without their permission and completely re-contextualizing them (see: Christians conducting Christianized “Passover seders” with the false notion that Jesus celebrated it).
              It’s the same with American Indigenous religious practices. Over and over again Indigenous people have said that their ceremonies are private and that they should control who performs them and how. Which they do by having pow-wows and hosting other cultural events where tribe members opt into what they share. Trusted friends are also invited to more intimate ceremonies because they can be trusted to be respectful. But us outsiders do not have the right to take what is not freely given. We don’t have the right to take something that the US government and white Christian missionaries did everything in their powers to eradicate. We don’t have the right to take one more thing that belongs to an ethnic minority that has been so disenfranchised. It’s on us to show that we can respect a gift freely given. It’s our jobs to break-down anti-indigenous modes of thought which are causing the problems, not demanding that people who have been so repeatedly harmed give us one more thing.

        1. I have RBF*

          Wow. That’s not the ritual of any neo-Pagan group I know of.

          There are rituals for cleansing a space that don’t require “white sage”, which is protected and endangered. Ordinary garden sage works just fine, and sage essential oil, from ordinary garden sage, is fine, and wouldn’t set off the smoke alarm. Plus other scents might be more appropriate. But the cleansing part is done with salt water. Purifying is done with scents/incense. Yes, there’s a difference.

          While cultural appropriation is wrong, there are plenty of European pre-Christian religions to revive, as well as general western mysticism. Drums, incense and/or burning herbs, cleansing, etc are found in many traditions, not just Native American ones. So while “smudging” with a bundle of illegally harvested white sage is cultural appropriation, smudging (filling a space with smoke/scent) with a stick of incense or herbs on charcoal is not.

      6. Snow*

        Common sage is not a protected or endangered plant. You can literally buy the dried kind for cooking for 50 cents an ounce at my local grocery store. White sage is endangered, but the regular kind is fine. (At least from an environmental perspective. I can’t speak to the cultural appropriation part of it – it might still be an issue even though, as far as I know, burning common sage was never an indigenous practice because the plant is native to the Mediterranean area.)

      7. RagingADHD*

        With how many people have concerns about their coworkers’ scented body wash, I am gobsmacked by how many people seem to think deliberately burning herbs or scattering scented oil in the office would be okay.

    2. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

      Yeah, if it were me, I’d understand why leadership wouldn’t want anyone to have priests come in to bless the space or anything, but I’d also… look the other way if someone did it with relative discretion. I normally wouldn’t be totally cool with that, but this isn’t a normal situation.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Same. I don’t believe in this kind of thing at all (and would also not object to moving into the office) but if it helps crack the psychological wall . . . I’ll just make a Starbucks run and pretend I didn’t know about it.

      2. Hiring Mgr*

        Why would priests be getting involved with this at all? I assume this is a secular office.

        Admittedly it’s a unique situation but if I came back from lunch one day and there was a priest or other religious leader performing a ritual in the office, that would a pretty WTF moment, especially for something that happened four years ago.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          Because secular offices still have religious people working in them and LW mentioned a priest as something a subset of the employees suggested they wanted. It’s in the letter.

          1. Hiring Mgr*

            That seems to make more sense back when it first happened, but I don’t know..four years later honestly it seems weird.

            1. I have RBF*

              Not really. Beliefs around death and suicide don’t allow for things fading with time without acknowledgement. Four years later would still be valid IMO.

        2. bunniferous*

          I’m a Charismatic. I would take that space and no one would need to know I prayed over it. That said, people feel what they feel and the right thing to do is remodel it/repurpose it in a way that totally changes it. A small library or a copy room….or a coffee/break room. In my city a couple of decades ago we had a mass shooting at a local restaurant with fatalities. What they did was totally overhaul, remodel, and change it in such a way it looked and frankly was a totally different restaurant. It’s thriving now.

          OP, I am so sorry you all had to experience that. Hopefully you all find a way to move forward that brings healing.

        3. Cmdrshprd*

          Under any other normal circumstances I would agree with you. But this is such a specific and traumatic situation that I think it is understandable for some employees to want to do that. With that said the company would have to make sure they allow all religions not just Christians to do a some sort of ceremony/ritual. Also not make it required for anyone to attend.

          I think the office would have to send an announcement to people knew and could steer clear if they wanted, work from home, or have the day off etc…

          1. Kate*

            I was thinking about this myself and disclosure, am a Catholic. I think this would have been a good way to go four years ago (open to all faiths/practices, clearly non-company sanctioned, and those who don’t wish to be there have the option to be offsite) but doing it this long after the fact may not produce the same comfort for people after four more years of treating it like a “haunted” space.

              1. Some Bunny Once Told Me*

                Meanwhile, with all the sympathy and empathy in the entire world, my atheist self feel *incredibly* uncomfortable with any kind of rituals or “purifications” from any religion taking place in the place I worked for literally any reason. Like, to the point where I’d probably start looking for a new job over it.

        4. TurnedMeIntoANewt*

          They’d be involved at the request and by arrangement of an employee for whom it was meaningful. Hopefully, it would be done in some non-intrusive manner.

        5. Rubber Ducky*

          I am not religious at all and therefore don’t subscribe to any blessing or cleansing or anything like that. But I also respect that some people feel differently but even knowing that, under most ordinary circumstances, I would not want to involve any of this with a secular work environment. However, these circumstances aren’t ordinary and people are understandably still traumatized by what happened there even years later. If this offers some closure to those people and it’s done discreetly outside of normal business hours, I don’t see any harm.

        6. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

          Priests are involved because that’s an example that was included in the letter, and I didn’t think I’d have to spell out that “relative discretion” means “not while other people are working.”

          The point is it would be fine to look the other way while people make personal observances that would normally not be workplace-appropriate as they come to terms with having to continue to use a space they once shared with someone who died in a shocking and traumatic way. That ship has probably sailed by this point, because it’s not like LW can circle back to be like “hey, feel free to smudge some sage on your own time,” and it is what it is. But looking the other way while your team does something you can’t officially condone is sometimes okay, and this would be one of those times.

          1. Hiring Mgr*

            Yeah I was curious more about why religious figures would be there in the first place, not whether it’s against the rules or not. I’ve never attended such a ceremony, so not sure what a priest, rabbi, etc does in these cases

            1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

              I’m an atheist so wouldn’t have an answer for that one. I feel like a lot of these comments have also gotten hung up on the logistics of how such a thing would work, as opposed to the principle of “after a shocking loss, let your employees handle things in whatever way they need to and only step in if it’s causing a problem,” but that’s my angle here.

              But for whatever it’s worth the company was in the right to not allow it. They can hardly be blamed for not wanting to grapple with the issues of what is and is not permissible and when in this situation. The priest example (which is an outlandish one, which is why I pulled it as an obvious example of something a company couldn’t allow) is as much an issue of unauthorized building access as anything else. But if I were LW and I saw Barb slipping in to Jane’s former office with a bottle of holy water on her way back in from lunch… whatever.

        7. Sunshine Gremlin*

          I agree with you completely. Without outting myself, if I noticed a priest casually blessing part of the office I work in, I’d be leaving for the day and having a serious discussion with my boss the next morning. Beliefs don’t exist in a vacuum; it’s a tragic, awful thing that happened, but there’s very much a reason why religious ceremonies weren’t approved.

          If I died in the workplace and someone performed a religious ceremony, especially one that wasn’t aligned with my identity, we would find out whether haunting is real.

          1. Analyst*

            Exactly this! personally, I find the idea that a space needs a cleansing because the death was by suicide offensive and stigmatizing. there’s also all kinds of issues around respect for the beliefs of the person who died (I’m Jewish and…I and my family would consider it disrespectful if other religious ceremonies were conducted regarding my death.). and I don’t want to have to deal with religion at work. There just isn’t a good way to bring any kind of religious anything into this.

      3. Rainy*

        Yup. I would and have blessed things for people even though I don’t really practice anymore and most of the people I’ve blessed items or spaces for aren’t any kind of pagans–but they were people I knew who needed some kind of ritual to ease their mind, and I could do that for them.

        I would have taken the office myself, though. I’ve often joked that houses where tragic events happened should be put on their own special real estate platform so that those of us who don’t mind that sort of thing can buy houses for cheaper than market. :)

        1. Clisby*

          Any house that’s old enough has probably had tragic things happen in it – there’s nothing special about that. Maybe my outlook is warped by living in Charleston, SC, but I can guarantee you that a house built in 1800 is (a) likely to have had terrible things happen in it; and (b) that’s not going to lower the asking price – if anything, it makes the house more interesting.

          1. MsSolo (UK)*

            It’s interesting how young a lot of the housing stock in the US is; realistically, anything pre-war almost certainly had someone die there. Old age, under 5s pre-vaccination for common childhood illness, workplace injuries prior to the existence of antibiotics, household accidents, childbirth… Home was the normal place to pass. And plenty of other violent events take place in houses constantly, then and now. If it were something that concerned you in the UK, you’d have to buy a new build, otherwise it’s just taken as read. Part of buying an existing house is stepping into its history.

            And to return to the original post, acknowledging that history is an important part of it. I do think a memorial of some kind, sharing positive stories about the coworker, as part of reopening the space (I like the idea mooted below of a quiet space, a kind of break room with books and chairs where you’re discouraged from taking calls or watching videos, feels respectful but also useful) would dispell some of the negative feeling that’s built up around it.

            1. The Prettiest Curse*

              I’m in the UK and around 25-30 years ago there was some digging going on very close to my mum’s house and they uncovered a centuries-old plague pit. (It’s outside the original city walls, so apparently they exiled sick people there to die.) Never felt any bad vibes in that place (other than the rude neighbours), so maybe it was long enough ago that nothing lingers any more.

            2. UKDancer*

              Yes. People (including my great grandmother and my grandmother) died in my grandfather’s house. He lived there for another 20 years after and it never bothered any of us that she died in the bed upstairs (which my cousin now has in his house and uses as a guest bed). I guess we’re not very sensitive people.

              I also like the idea of a quiet space / break room with a nice coffee machine and comfortable chairs. People can use it or not but it would break the bad feeling. I think that would be my suggestion.

          2. Rainy*

            I was trying to delicately not say “murder houses”, but what I meant was “murder houses”. :)

          3. Santiago*

            People do actually get houses blessed fwiw. Agree with everyone about the need for separation and the shock of the situation and everything btw.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          Most disclosure laws only cover stuff like meth labs, lead paint, or anything that could endanger the physical health of a would-be resident, not anything paranormal or spiritual.

          In some places, realtors are required to inform prospective buyers about deaths but it varies as to where. Example: California requires you to disclose any deaths on the property within the last three years.

          Here they don’t, but mine did tell me the former tenant passed away in this apartment. I guess he had to because the neighbor was close to her and she would have told me anyway. Which is why they need to do something to address this before the new employees come in, since Jane’s coworkers will almost certainly say something.

          1. She of Many Hats*

            When I was in New Orleans, the for sale/rent signs on buildings had “haunted”/”not haunted” on them along with the realtor’s phone # and square footage or rooms.

          2. UKDancer*

            I think in the UK you can ask as part of a purchase. When I sold my first flat the buyer asked if it was haunted in any way. I replied that it wasn’t as far as I was aware but them I’m pretty prosaic and have never noticed ghosts anywhere I’ve been.

            I don’t know how standard it is to ask about hauntings / deaths in the property. I guess pre-sale enquiries can cover whatever the buyer wants to ask.

      4. Turquoisecow*

        Yeah, if it helps the employees cope tell them to bring in whatever respected religious official after hours or on the weekend. If people want to go for the ceremony/ies then great, but the leadership says nothing about it. Seems like at this point if it helps people feel better then go with it.

      5. I have RBF*

        Yeah, maybe clergy of different religions, or even lay leaders. It’s not ” imposing religion” to acknowledge people’s religious based feelings about death and suicide. Even just placing some unlit incense stick in there, along with a few bowls of salt, will help people feel better, IMO. The point is to confront the elephant in the room, and make a real point of saying “this space needs purification to allow people feel comfortable in it.”

        1. Some Bunny Once Told Me*

          I’m sorry, but yeah, that might make other people feel better, but please be aware that it would make others (like me!) feel incredibly, incredibly uncomfortable. Like, I’d be seriously job hunting if my job thought that a place needed “purification” and allowed/enabled my coworkers in that.

      6. Maglev No Longer to Crazytown*

        I think that what is really driving all of this is that the office members, and even the newbies by virtue of the existing employees, need some sort of “ritual” to acknowledge and move past this. I don’t mean anything specific to a religion/culture, etc., but more of a general means of closing that chapter and giving everyone psychologist “permission” to move on.

        Many intelligent creatures are ritual-based species, not just humans. Elephants, crows, etc have rituals for when they mourn a group member. That space will continue to be functionally held hostage until something is done to bring that closure to the larger office/team, which doesn’t necessary mean specifically referencing anything that happened there. Maybe this looks like testing down a way, and making it into a little printer or coffee/snack break nook. This helps mentally shift from “that is the office very bad things happened in” to “it may have been that at one point, but as of X day, the office closed that chapter communally and now that space has a new beginning as Z.”

    3. WillowSunstar*

      There are sage products designed for those such as college students and some apartment dwellers who aren’t allowed to burn anything. It might be worth checking into those as a ritual alternative.

    4. Turanga Leela*

      This was my thought too. Management can’t be involved, but if it makes people feel better, there’s no harm in doing this.

      Another, related thought: Would it help people to put up a small memorial to the deceased person, either in that office or (more likely) elsewhere in the building? I’m thinking of a clock/fountain/plant/whatever with a little plaque that says it’s in memory of the person. Having a less morbid focal point for grief and memory might help take some of the focus off the office where the person died.

      1. I have RBF*

        Heck, if it was local to me I’d be willing to come in from outside and do a cleansing and purification of the site. It’s a regular thing to do, IMO. I’d start with acknowledging the deceased, make sure they’ve moved on, then cleanse and purify the space without setting off the fire alarm. I’d leave a bowl of sea salt behind to be removed when the people felt it was all “done”.

        This is partially because all of the reactions to this are based in beliefs and superstitions. The same hindbrain part of us that lit bonfires at the the winter solstice to bring back the light, made sometimes brutal sacrifices to guarantee the harvest, and turned the Sun and the Moon into deities.

        It’s not rational. It gets into the “woo” area of many religious traditions, including various forms of Christianity, especially Catholicism. But things like dealing with death and cosmology are a big driver for why religions exist.

    5. DataSci*

      I see where you’re coming from, but if the company is perceived as permitting one religious ceremony over another, even by turning a blind eye, it’s going to be a problem.

      1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

        I think there’s a solid case to be made for: “We recognize that folks aren’t comfortable using this space, and we’d like to help you be more comfortable with it. If you need a religious or secular ceremony to bring some closure to this, we’re willing to facilitate that (insert reasonable boundaries like a time frame, security concern, no burning, etc). Due to the personal nature of these ceremonies, we will rely on you to make the necessary arrangements, but plase reach out to X to coordinate. Attendance at all ceremonies is strictly voluntary. Ceremonies will be scheduled outside of working hours whenever possible, and working from home will be approved if ceremonies must happen during the work day.”

        It may be too little, too late for that approach though. The bad feeling for that room may be set enough that making it not be a room might be the only option.

    6. Totally Minnie*

      I was going to recommend a non-religious style cleansing ceremony.

      There’s an episode of Ted Lasso where the players all believe one of the rooms in the complex is haunted, and to change their perceptions, Ted and the rest of the coaching staff plan a ceremony that’s not strictly aligned with any religious organization, but allows the team to feel less worried about using the room.

      I’m not going to recommend burning things in the office for safety purposes, but maybe staff could go in and write affirmations or good wishes or blessings (or however they want to frame it) on the walls before they’re repainted, or on the floor before it’s recarpeted, so those good thoughts become a physical part of the space. Or maybe staff could help you brainstorm another “ceremony” that could help them feel like the room has been healed.

    7. metadata minion*

      If you want to use burning or scented anything, please make sure everyone in the office is completely ok with it. For me, it would mean that the office is associated with a traumatic event AND now it smells like #$%#$ing sage.

      1. MEH Squared*

        Coming here to say this. I am allergic to almost everything on earth, and burning sage in an enclosed area will guarantee a bad expercience for me.

        Plus, if there is a ceremony that involves the whole office or even a good portion of it, it needs to be non-religious. Not several religions. Not all religions. Because it’s still not including people who are atheists/areligious.

  8. Parenthesis Guy*

    The challenge is that people don’t want to be in it, so you can’t make it a storage space. You can’t have a storage space that 25% of your employees refuse to enter. I think the office needs to be torn down.

    If not that, offer it to people and let them know the history. Some people won’t care about the history if it means they get a great office.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Yeah and I actually think making it a printer space is worse. Nobody wants to enter the room. They’re going to print elsewhere if they possibly can, and if not and you *make* them go in to retrieve copies it’s going to create a lot of bad feelings.

    2. Come On Eileen*

      I mean, most storage spaces are only accessed occasionally and by just a few people. I’ve never been in my company’s storage space in my life, nor would I anticipate needing to. So I wouldn’t take storage off the table for those reasons.

      1. Grace Poole*

        OP says the space has a great view and lots of windows, so it does seem like it would be a shame to keep the extra printer paper and broken chairs in there.

      2. not a hippo*

        Yeah at my job, the only people who can access our storage space are HR, IT, & the person who orders supplies.

        Actual office supplies like extra pens and highlighters are stored in a cabinet in the main office.

  9. RabbitRabbit*

    I sympathize. We had a beloved member of our board die several years ago and it was close to a year before anyone would sit in the seat he had always used (on a corner of the table so less awkward to skip it, at least), and we ended up slightly reshuffling the chairs and their positioning to make it feel a little different.

    I can’t imagine the difference with an actual suicide in the office – I absolutely agree, turn a blind eye to any kind of not-setting-off-building-alarms types of rituals/remembrances/purifications that the staff want to do, redecorate, and remake the room into something entirely different – and less-frequently used, preferably.

    1. I should be working*

      I also sympathize, I had a coworker who had a medical crisis in his office, and died in hospital later that night.
      I left the company shortly after, but I believe they kept the office empty since the company was already planning to move to a different office building, so didn’t need to deal with perceptions of the space.

  10. Cacofonix*

    I’d move into that space after a deep cleaning, fresh paint and furniture and a respectful time. I’d perhaps place something memorable on the wall or shelf in remembrance of the person who died there and explain that it’s time to honour the person, not the death.

    It sounds as though the group is feeding their own superstitions. My suggestion is that one of the managers who want to assign the space take it themselves and offer up her office to her worried staff.

    1. Turquoisecow*

      It sounds like they did a cleaning and renovation and it’s been 4 years so I’d probably okay with it unless I was really close to the deceased. It might feel weird at first but as more time passed I’d be more okay with it, especially if I decorated it in a way that was ME and definitely not the previous occupant. (If I had to keep sitting in her chair looking at her motivational posters on the wall, maybe not, but if I had my own personal touches a like artwork or plants or personal photos, it would help a lot to make the space MINE.) I like the remembrance on the shelf as well.

      1. Sloanicota*

        Yes, just speaking personally, in these circumstances I’d be willing to occupy the office at this point, if I didn’t know the person. But everyone else in the office would then have to behave themselves about it, and it sounds like they’re not going to be able to do that yet.

    2. WellRed*

      I agree, this group is feeding off of its superstitions. Repurpose the space and be sensitive to trauma but move forward. And if people still avoid it or ostracize a new occupant deal with it as a performance issue.

    3. Teacher*

      I think that we need to be careful about calling people’s trauma “superstitions.” I think that if you are only imagining how you would feel you don’t really know much about it. My workplace is in the middle of dealing with a horrible tragedy and I can’t imagine how those workers feel about the office that was the scene of a gruesome death.

  11. winter frog*

    Another option is to switch office locations. Rent office space in another building nearby and move everyone there. Give up the lease to the current space. (Of course this might be complicated or not feasible for a range of reasons.)

    1. Shan*

      Agreed. I personally wouldn’t have a problem taking that office if I were coming over in the merger, but given all the feelings/concerns/etc the LW listed, it seems like this company should consider if they can afford to lease a new space and sublet the current office. It would take away that visual reminder and give everyone a fresh start. Of course, I live in a city with a lot of options in the downtown core, but that may not be the case for their company.

    2. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      That’s a big step just because of one office not being used. Depending on what the company is this may be a desirable location. Or there might not be another space big enough.

  12. House On The Rock*

    Since you say it is large, light filled, and has a beautiful view, is there a way to remove the walls that make it an office and turn it into a sitting or gathering space? Nothing as formal as a conference room where people would feel compelled to go, but if it comes to be seen as a communal area that could help shift associations.

    But definitely do not give it to someone new as their office. Even if an individual was fine working there, it means others who are not fine with it may have to go there for meetings, etc. It also could be seen as an ongoing sign of disrespect.

    1. Milksnake*

      +1 on this. And to all the comments earlier saying to add plants and take advantage of the windows.

    2. Despachito*

      I think it definitely should be discussed with the person who would go in it (and not dumped on an unaware newcomer). It is possible that someone new would jump at the possibility of having a much nicer office than they would otherwise.

      However, it seems like a luxury to have people avoiding the office for FOUR years. A few months after, sure, understandable. But this seems like you will have a beautiful space sitting empty forever. People should move on.

      Is there a possibility of making it your own office, or someone higher up’s? This would sort of give a signal of a return to normalcy, and people cannot refuse going to their boss’s office.

  13. I Wish I Had a Fancy User Name*

    I would personally never be willing to knowingly occupy an office where someone died by suicide. And if you sprang that on me as a new employee without giving me the history and the option to decline, it would cement forever in my mind that this is a seriously insensitive business that I do not want to work for. Someone DIED. At WORK. Accurate or not, it’s fair to presume that work issues in your business had something to do with that. Don’t force this office on staff.

    1. ferrina*

      And it’s not like the company would be able to keep it a secret- the new person would learn about it from someone else really quickly.

    2. Sloanicota*

      I admit there are circumstances I’d be very uncomfortable (although four years later I’d start to feel okay). Like, if the desk / chair set up can’t be moved due to how the room is, that would be hard for me. I don’t want to sit every day in that exact spot, looking at the same view, etc. Superstitious, yes, but I would struggle a bit. If I could change everything and the layout – and I didn’t know the person – and everyone else in the office was cool – I could probably do it.

    3. Glomarization, Esq.*

      it’s fair to presume that work issues in your business had something to do with that

      It’s really not.

      1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

        Agree, not at all fair. People may make that assumption, but that’s because suicide is generally poorly understood, not because the assumption is even remotely fair to the company and the people working there.

    4. Hiring Mgr*

      “Accurate or not, it’s fair to presume that work issues in your business had something to do with that.”

      What? No, that’s not fair at all

    5. I have RBF*

      See, that’s where religion comes into it – dealing with death. I would take that office, do my own cleansing, purification, blessing, etc, and go on with life. If someone said “oh, that office is haunted”, I’d say “not any more, I told all ghosts to leave”. But that’s me. YMMV.

    6. Clisby*

      It’s fair to presume work issues had something to do with the suicide?

      No it’s not. That’s arrant nonsense.

    7. RagingADHD*

      I don’t want to unduly upset you, but if you spend time in any building that is more than a few years old, someone has probably died there. Maybe not by suicide. But people die in all kinds of places, including at work.

      Naturally, it’s more upsetting if you knew the person. But if we turned every spot where a stranger died into a permanent shrine, there would soon be nowhere left to work, eat, sleep, or just live.

      1. Forrest Rhodes*

        Thanks for saying this, RagingADHD. It’s the first thing that occurred to me too, and you said it much better than I could’ve.

      2. Bunny Lake Is Found*

        Ok, but “someone has died here in the past” isn’t the issue. We all go to hospitals and have operations performed in places where FOR SURE people died because this is LITERALLY where people who are at risk of dying are brought so they can try and be saved. But also, some people do not like going to hospitals for any reason because they had someone they care about die there.

        Add trauma and the fact an employee was the one who found the body it what seems like a profoundly grisly state (which says to me that the late employee’s body was discovered when people came into the office, so other employees may have just suddenly heard screaming at the discovery), it isn’t unrealistic for that particular location of a death to hold more emotional sway than a place where someone you didn’t know died of something at some point in the past.

        1. RagingADHD*

          Did you read the comment I was responding to? They were talking about precisely the situation of being in a place where someone they didn’t know had died in the past, and that’s the context I was addressing.

    8. Chirpy*

      A recent survey of people who survived suicide attempts showed most of them only thought about it for a surprisingly short amount of time before trying, sometimes as little as 10 minutes. Work may have just been where this person happened to be at the time.

      1. allathian*

        This. Granted, suicides are rarely able to consider anything or anyone other than their own pain when they kill themselves. But it’s not inconceivable to think that someone might kill themself at the office to avoid “tainting” their home with a suicide, especially a violent one. A violent death, and probably especially a violent suicide, can have real consequences for the value of a property.

        If people who didn’t even know the employee who killed themself in the office refuse to go into the space, never mind work in it, it’s easy to assume that the family wouldn’t want to stay in a house where a family member had killed themself, and would be willing to sell it at any price just to get rid of it.

  14. Tracy, Essentially Cheesy*

    I would take the open office, even if it was a sign of moving forward.

    May the former coworker rest in peace.

  15. atalanta0jess*

    I agree with everyone saying to open it up if possible, and make it a comfy, relaxing area. Maybe add a plaque in her memory.

  16. Jennifer W*

    When he was trying to get back into the agency’s good graces Don Draper took Lane Pryce’s old office. No one else would.

  17. ThisIsNotADuplicateComment*

    “practically and legally problematic” ? How? How would brining in a handful of religious/spiritual leaders to cleanse the space cause problems? What am I missing?

    1. Rachel*

      A lot of people would see that as an overstep, they just wouldn’t want a religious service performed at work or funded by work.

      I wouldn’t feel this way, but it’s not hard to see how some people would really oppose this.

    2. Hlao-roo*

      Practically problematic:
      – coordinating time to allow religious/spiritual leaders into the office and perform their rituals
      – if the rituals involve any smudging, incense, etc. there could be issues with scent sensitivities/allergies
      – if the company handles confidential data, there could be issues with allowing outside people into the office at all

      Legally problematic: I am not a lawyer, so I can’t speak to what is and isn’t legally problematic but I can hazard a guess that the company thinks it could be legally problematic to have (for example) a Catholic priest perform a ritual (because a Catholic employee requested it) and then later a Muslim employee is upset that a Muslim ritual was not offered/performed.

    3. Rex Libris*

      At a guess, they’re thinking about the potential liability and/or resentment that would arise should coworkers feel pressured (or even just peer pressured) to participate in a religious ceremony at work. Especially from those with different beliefs than the officiants.

      1. I have RBF*

        I’m a pagan. I would not be upset if a bunch of Christian coworkers got together for a prayer brunch, as long as it was not mandatory or peer pressured. I don’t get bent out of shape if a group of Muslim employees appropriates a conference room for daily prayers.

        The problems with religion in offices are when management demands that people adhere to one religion or another, or when coworkers or managers proselytize. It’s not a problem to be religious at work, it’s a problem to push a religion onto others at work, either by proselytizing or demanding that others adhere to cultural/social/conduct requirements of particular religions at work (like don’t be LGBTQ+, women must be subservient, etc.)

        Using religions to help cope with death is valid for many.

    4. HannahS*

      I can imagine a number of issues:
      -fire code compliance
      -allowing people without security clearance to enter the office
      -allowing some spiritual practitioners but not others leading to accusations of discrimination and/or cultural appropriation; the presence of religious rituals at work leading to people feeling excluded/unwelcome leading to accusations of discrimination

    5. Indolent Libertine*

      People feeling coerced to participate in rituals of a religion they don’t adhere to, potential demands that religious ceremonies be allowed in the future for other reasons, conflicts over what is and isn’t a “real” religion that qualifies for inclusion…

      1. Blue*

        Especially the first one in this situation. People appear to have strong feelings about the space and I’d worry that not participating would be seen as refusing to honor Jane, rather than not taking part in a religious observance.

    6. Healthcare Manager*

      Some other issues could be which religions do you allow to do their practises, ones that have a verbal blessing, what about when someone wants to sacrifice a goat? Or what if there’s a practise to be done on the 10th anniversary.

      You can’t pick and chose which religions are allowed to do a ceremony therefore you have to say none.

      1. Zarniwoop*

        Or say all, to be arranged and paid for by interested employees rather than by the company itself.

    7. Nekussa*

      They might also be worried about the family of the deceased employee – would they object to religious/spiritual ceremonies that aren’t their own traditions being performed in the space?

    8. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

      If management gives their blessing (pardon the expression) it opens up a whole host of issues. I’ve said elsewhere in these comments that if it were me I’d look the other way if someone on my team made their own observances – and I would – but I don’t think management did anything wrong here. They made the best call they could under the circumstances.

      1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

        I agree. If someone takes over the office and they want to do their own blessing, as long as it didn’t cause problems for others (like burning sage, chanting or praying loudly, etc). But if it was discreet and made them feel better I think it would be fine. For example, A former coworker used crystals to cleanse the energy when she switched offices. She closed the door and did whatever. Her office is directly across from mine and I wouldn’t have been the wiser except she made an off-hand comment about it.

        1. I have RBF*

          This. If I was assigned that office, I’d do an after hours ritual and then drop an offhand remark.

        2. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

          Exactly, that’s the kind of thing that just doesn’t need to be a big deal. As a manager, if you’re being noisy, distracting, or proselytizing or otherwise inappropriate to colleagues, then I’ll ask you to knock it off, and otherwise, I see nothing, I hear nothing, I don’t care. But for the company to be like “yeah, feel free to cleanse or bless the space if you want” would just invite follow-ups that the company really doesn’t need to be dealing with. If people asked directly or made enough noise about it that it reached leadership ears you can’t really blame them for saying no.

    9. Olive*

      I’d be worried that I’d be expected to participate in a religious/spiritual ritual and shunned if I declined.

      If people are going to have rituals in the office (that don’t favor any one belief system), those who don’t want to participate should be allowed to quietly leave for that time (with pay) and management should put around the reason that grief is private for many people, whether any given person is still grieving or not.

      1. I have RBF*

        I think any rituals should be done of the weekend or after hours, personally. Then it’s about the space, not the company.

        Honestly, if someone put a picture of the deceased, a couple unlit incense sticks and a big bowl of sea salt on a makeshift altar in there for a few months I bet that a lot of people settle back into their skins on a subconscious level. (Incense and salt are involved in a lot of cleansing rituals for a lot of different religions.)

    10. RagingADHD*

      In addition to the other reasons, there’s the question of whether it is truly respectful of the deceased person if it contradicts or perhaps was even abhorrent to their personal beliefs?

      There are a lot of ways to cause deep rifts when people are grieving, and “what would X have really wanted?” is one of the most potent. This could cause some very nasty arguments that might never be reconciled.

      A functional business can’t afford to have distressed people getting into feuds with each other.

      1. HannahS*

        Yeah, that’s a really important point. I understand that knowing a coworker died by suicide in a particular space has been deeply distressing and disturbing. I also find the idea that she somehow “dirtied” the space or that her spirit needs to be expelled from it to be distasteful and disrespectful to the decedent. In my life, I live and let people live; we all have ways to cope that others may find strange. But spiritual events aren’t always a neutral act.

        1. I have RBF*

          So, in my religion, the person’s spirit wouldn’t need to be expelled unless they were being disruptive. However, in my belief sometimes people get “stuck”, and need help to move on. The cleansing aspect is to remove the spiritual aura of death. YMMV, of course.

          But rituals are for the living, more so that for the dead.

      2. YetAnotherAnalyst*

        I think you can draw a clear distinction between what the deceased would’ve wanted (which hopefully was done shortly after her death and arranged by her family, who presumably were in a better place to know than her coworkers), and what her coworkers need to deal with their grief.

        1. RagingADHD*

          And when those needs are diametrically opposed to each other?

          You refer people to the EAP, have a counselor available, and don’t practice religious rituals in the office.

  18. GreenShoes*

    I think you should offer it up to whomever wants it, including the new people (with disclosure). Yes, others won’t go in there now, but the first thing about breaking taboo is that you have to break it. Once people see Fergus going in and out of it every day it will become less of a sacred cow and more of an office that has a history.

    There will be someone that doesn’t mind it and would be happy to have it.

    1. Prefer my pets*

      I agree.

      I bet there are a lot of non-superstitious people like me rolling their eyes at the people making drama about the “cursed space” four freaking years later. And that type of people not wanting to come into my office to chit-chat sounds like a feature not a bug. And I would get WINDOWS for my plants?! Sign me up!

      Almost every house I’ve ever lived in is over 100 yrs old…the odds that someone has not died in most of them at some point are low.

      1. I have RBF*

        Yeah. I live in a Victorian that’s over 100 years old. I know at least one person has died in this house – he was a friend of ours. The house isn’t haunted.

        Funny thing, it actually has to be disclosed in California if someone died in a dwelling recently:

        The closest area of the law we can draw upon for this topic is the seller’s obligation to disclose a death on the property if it occurred within three years prior to the sale. Specifically, under California Civil Code section 1710.2 (a), a seller of real property is only required to disclose of an occupant’s death if the death occurred in the three years prior to the sale of the property.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        I agree with you somewhat on the amount of time, but you didn’t see the pioneer die from cholera 150 years ago, did you?

        The company should have offered counseling if they did not (it’s not too late). OP said the office had to be specially cleaned, which implies a rather gruesome manner of death. Walking in on a scene like that would be traumatic for a lot of folks and PTSD or similar doesn’t really have a time limit.

        1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

          I think that is what people are missing. If this person had just had an aneurysm burst or something, then it is possible people would be less anxious about the space. But that level of cleaning means blood and decontamination. Add to that the fact they were found by an employee (and we don’t know how many other employees were in the office when that discovery happened), I am shocked at people thinking the only issue is “ghosts”…nope, it is being unable to push the image of graphic, violent death out of your mind when you are trying to complete the requirements of your job.

          1. Clisby*

            But there are new employees coming in, who could not possibly have seen any of that. Why not offer them the chance to have what sounds like a great office space?

            1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

              For the same reason the comments on this post are so emotional or so cold or so messy.

              You have a large chunk of the staff from LW’s company still processing some pretty difficult grief and trauma all centered on this office. Whoever you put in there is going to need to be prepared for “weirdness” from people. Not bullying or anything inappropriate, but the reality that some people won’t warm to them and will act oddly around them over this. That is the best case scenario and it still feels rife with landmines that will fall at the feet of HR and management.

              The worst will be if the new person who takes the office acts like some of the folks in these comments and is all “I can’t believe you would all let a little violent suicide of someone you worked with every day get in the way of this primo view!”…because then all that grief that people feel is gonna get redirected towards feeling like this new person is mocking or minimizing the death of someone many employees knew well. That is going to cause the office dynamic (during a merger, thus a pretty challenging time) to be a shit show.

              You can say people shouldn’t act like this, but we are talking about grief and it makes irrational actors out many people and at the end of the day the Company and the LW need a functional workplace where colleagues can get along in relative harmony. Putting someone new in that office feels like such a potential for chaos, trauma and so much time and energy needing to be spent on what amounts to policing responses to grief. One might as well stand in the surf and try and keep the waves from hitting the shore.

              I mean, what are you actually going to do? Fire employees who won’t go into the office because every time they do they picture their co-worker’s dead body and start to cry/panic? Discipline anyone who is cold to the dude who took the office, even if they aren’t bullying or anything? You can’t really make a PIP that says “Employee will have no more than 2 profound feelings of loss around suicide that cause them to avoid New Employee per week”. Is keeping this office an “office” really worth the hours and hours that will be spent dealing with the impact?

              Just write the room off, make it something innocuous that no one really needs to use, and spare yourself having to navigate endless rounds of “Why is Susie so weird around Chris?” “Well, Chris’s office is the office where Jake, who used to be head of marketing, killed himself” “Wait, what?! Someone killed themselves in that office?!” No one is ever going to ask why that weird nook exists.

      3. KatieZ*

        I’m not superstitious but that room would make me very uncomfortable. I lost my mother to suicide and I had a housemate commit suicide in the room below mine while I was at home. Let’s not paint people’s reasonable grief and discomfort with a room where something extremely traumatizing took place as irrational superstitious beliefs.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          Yeah, this is honestly really gross and callous to me. There is an *emormous* difference between “this house is old so someone died here once 40 years ago” versus “a coworker I personally knew ended their own life here in what sounds like a pretty violent way.”

          I’m sure with more turnover over the years it would be less and less of A Thing, but there is likely no amount of time that would make some people who knew the deceased suddenly feel like “oh, okay, I’m over it now.”

          1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

            And to act like the new people would just be like “oh yeah, I’m totally fine working here”…sure, some might be, but all I can think is that nothing you could say or do could make me eat, sleep, work, or even just “chill” in the classroom at Sandy Hook, so I’m sure some of the new people are going to nope out on spending 8-10 hours a day in a room where someone that many of their co-workers knew well ended their life in a violent fashion.

      4. A Shrimp*

        To be fair, it’s not so much superstition and drama as much as it is trauma and grief. Grief and trauma responses aren’t always logical, nor do they adhere to any notion of timeliness.

      5. elle *sparkle emoji**

        I think characterizing this as people just being worried that it’s cursed is an uncharitable reading. The letter says everyone in the office worked with this woman. Many people would reasonably want to avoid space that reminds them of a seemingly gruesome death. I don’t think that’s superstitious, I think it’s wanting to avoid dealing with grief at work.

        1. Clisby*

          But there’s no reason to assume new employees (from the merging company) would feel that way.

          1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

            Yes there would. I said upthread, but I cannot imagine trying to work (or do anything other than feel incredibly upset) in the classroom at Sandy Hook. If something very upsetting happened in a space and that is constantly in your head, sure, you maybe could be OK, but it is totally reasonable if you are like “I’m not going to be the best and most productive in this space.”

            1. Clisby*

              But what you, or any individual might feel about the space doesn’t matter. There is no reason to assume that new people coming in, who have no associations with this place, would reject it as an office.

              If they do, they do – but why assume it?

              1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

                What I am saying is that it is safe to assume that there will be a non-zero number of new employees who will not want this office. Not that we can assume ALL the new employees would fee that way.

              2. allathian*

                I wouldn’t worry about working in a space where someone I didn’t know had died by suicide. But I wouldn’t want to risk being thought callous or disrespectful of other people’s grief simply for being willing to work in that office. Especially not as a new employee following a merger.

                Mergers are often fraught with tension and ensuring that people from two different office cultures learn to work well together is hard enough as it is without any extra trauma-related baggage.

                I temped in the back office of a bank for 7 months in 2000. The bank was created from a merger of two other banks following the financial crisis of 1991. Most of the employees who worked in my department were long-term bank employees, and every single one of those still referred to themselves as employees of the bank they’d originally worked for. It was only those of us who were hired after the merger who considered ourselves as employees of the merged bank. I presume that this was related to philosophical differences, one of the original banks was a joint-stock bank and the other was a credit union that was originally set up to provide banking services to the working class, the new bank was a joint-stock bank.

                1. lucanus cervus*

                  Yeah – I’m thinking of that letter where an employee had died and the team kept running off anyone who was hired into her role. If you wanted to drive an enormous wedge between the two groups in a merger, the way to do it would be putting one of the new guys in the Death Office to be cheerfully unbothered by something that traumatised the original team.

                  I would not, personally, mind using the office just on my own account, coming in as someone who hadn’t known the dead person or been there when her body was found. But no way would I use it knowing that half my new coworkers couldn’t bring themselves to set foot in there. Talk about relationship kryptonite.

          2. House On The Rock*

            There are many reasons they might feel this way, including their own experiences with someone taking their own life.

      6. Parakeet*

        Is it really that surprising that there’s a psychological difference for many people between “someone died in this building at some point in the building’s existence” and “someone I knew died violently while I was there”? (it’s possible that the coworker who found the body is still working there!)

  19. Temperance*

    I think at least part of the problem here is that the employees weren’t ever *told* what happened in there, just that Jane Died and that room needs to be torn down to the studs and we can never ever talk about it. Was grief counseling or trauma therapy offered to anyone, especially the poor woman who found the body?

    I don’t think anyone will want to use that space as their own office, but treating it like it’s contaminated isn’t helping anyone, either.

    1. Isben Takes Tea*

      These are good points! OP, is the office willing to give everyone full context, both new and existing employees?

      While I agree with Alison that reshuffling is worth it to respect peoples’ feelings, has anyone in management actually addressed peoples’ feelings? It’s incredibly difficult to productively move forward after a traumatic event if nobody clearly addressed what happened. (Maybe your office eventually did, but it’s unclear in your letter.)

    2. Peanut Hamper*


      There was a comment in a thread last week (?) about someone who had a coworker shoot several coworkers, and the company paid to have the entire floor redecorated, despite the fact that they had just had it redecorated within the last year, and offered various mental health services.

      How the company responds can really help to make a difference.

    3. elle *sparkle emoji**

      This is tricky, as OP said the family didn’t want the full details shared. I don’t think it’s right to override them on that decision. Maybe they could clarify that it wasn’t violence(by another person)? I definitely agree that counseling should be offered though.

      1. Temperance*

        I think that treating suicides like a dirty secret increases stigma. In this specific case, the weird secrecy has likely led to some ugly rumors.

        1. MHA*

          It’s not “weird secrecy” to honor the wishes of the deceased’s family, regardless of your or my personal feelings on disclosing suicide– and aside from that, I don’t see where the letter suggests that the staff isn’t aware that it was a death by suicide? On the contrary, the paragraph about how her body was found by a coworker and “the rumor mill did its thing” suggests the opposite. The idea that the staff thinks she may have been murdered instead is bordering on fanfic, imo.

  20. Veryanon*

    Why not turn the space into a lunchroom or something that everyone can use, and put up a discreet plaque that says something like “Employee Name Memorial Lunchroom”? That way, you’re reclaiming the space and remembering the employee who died.

    1. Rachel*

      Because current employees wouldn’t enter the space and that excluded them from accessing lunchroom amenities and workplace candor.

    2. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

      I do kind of think that the “paper it over, pretend it never happened” approach is fueling the mystique of the forbidden haunted room. Like, if there were some kind of memorial or acknowledgment in place (it sounds like this person was well liked) it might make people feel more like going into that space is paying tribute to her memory rather than being reminded of the awful circumstances of her death.

      1. Brain the Brian*

        Yes, this. If you turn it into a team area, name it the Jane Warblemouth Memorial Team Area.

  21. Throw Money At It*

    Okay, hear me out, but offer a $500 a month bonus for the person who takes the office

    1. Clisby*

      Heck, I’d take it just because it sounds like a great office, but I’m not turning down $500/month, either.

    2. Parcae*

      I find that really distasteful. Full disclosure, I’m not particularly troubled by locations that have been the site of something terrible, so if I were coming into that office as a new employee, I’d have no issues working in what sounds like a really nice office. My only worries would be reputational and logistical in nature– would other employees judge me for accepting the office? Would people refuse to meet with me there? That’s ultimately why I think Alison’s right, and this office needs to be transformed into something else.

      I am also generally in favor of more money! Big money fan here. But bringing it into this particular equation feels disrespectful to the late employee’s memory. Extra money can incentivize people to work Saturday shifts or to take on more work, but it’s not going to make thoroughly understandable emotions about a traumatic experience go away. I think offering a monetary bonus would just further insult and upset the existing employees who feel strongly about the office.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, I agree.

        I’m not particularly superstitious or sensitive to atmosphere in general, and as a new employee who didn’t know the person who killed themself, I don’t think I’d be worried about working in that office. But I would be worried about other people thinking I’m callous and don’t respect their grief because I’m willing to take that office.

    3. elle *sparkle emoji**

      Given the environment that OP describes it sounds like being the person who takes the money would harm their reputation. There has to be a better solution than a bribe.

  22. IT But I Can't Fix Your Printer*

    I would suggest putting out a sign-up for people to (TOTALLY OPTIONALLY) have a few minutes alone in the space after you renovate it. Sometimes part of the anxiety about a space can just be the anxiety about anxiety – not knowing how you’ll react, and not wanting to be the person who cries or breaks down in front of others when you’re just trying to go into the new copy room or whatever. If you give each person 15 minutes to go in, get the shock over with, say a prayer or light a candle or say goodbye out loud to the person who died, whatever they need, that would be a gentle way to make the transition.

    I also think once you tell people “this is happening, we ARE opening up the space again” you’ll be able to focus them on what would make them more comfortable rather than just deciding between “would I be comfortable or not.” Sending you and all of your team love – this is not easy.

    1. Margaret Cavendish*

      >>“this is happening, we ARE opening up the space again” you’ll be able to focus them on what would make them more comfortable

      This is important. I can see that they wouldn’t want to fill the space immediately, but it has been four years – it’s time. The best way to move on is to acknowledge people’s ongoing grief over the loss, and find a respectful way to transition the space to something new. Leadership should not be giving people the option IF, but give them the option HOW.

    2. Seahorse*

      I like this idea. Unfortunately, my workplace had a similar situation several years ago, and it was not handled well.
      It was less about any specific spiritual component for me, and more that my coworker’s space brought up a lot of sadness and anger. It would have been helpful to have a guaranteed private moment in that space to process things and say a final goodbye before things were changed.

  23. Observer*

    This is a good example of why it’s important to not keep secrets.

    I totally understand why the family wanted to keep the cause of death secret. But it didn’t work. All it accomplished was to set the rumor mill going. I’d be willing to bet that people “know” a lot of details that actually never happened, and that the secrecy just magnified the way people feel about this.

    Organizations need to find a way to honor people’s legitimate need for privacy with the reality that sometimes you cannot keep information from people and sometimes you shouldn’t try. In a case like this, no one needs the details of the back story. But the suicide happened at work, someone on staff actually found the body, and the office had to be closed for a week. That’s a big thing that needs to be acknowledged.

    Also, what did the company do for staff in the aftermath? People made it clear that they needed SOMETHING. Did the company offer some counseling? Do some sort of non-denominational memorial? That kind of thing can make it a lot easier to move forward without turning the person’s space into either a shrine or “cursed space.”

    1. Healthcare Manager*

      Mental health clinician here.

      They didn’t keep the cause of death a secret, the cause was suicide. What’s not being disclosed is the method.

      It is important that suicide method is not disclosed.

      1. Observer*

        Are you the OP? Because this is not what the actual letter says. It says that ” her family asked that the cause of death not be disclosed” No mention of the method.

        Also, why is it important that the method be kept secret? Again, someone FOUND HER. And her office required a full refurbishment, and the whole place needed to be shut down for a week. Refusal to share any information is absolutely going to fuel the rumor mill and going to feed a vibe of “event the must not be named in a space that must not be entered.”

        1. MsSolo (UK)*

          It’s good practice in reporting suicides (including in circumstances like this) not to include the method in order to reduce harm to other people dealing with suicidal ideation and other mental health conditions that increase the risk of suicide. There’s been a big push to discourage major news outlets from sharing details when celebrities kill themselves (since reporting on Kurt Cobain’s death was implicated in copycat suicides, I believe, though obviously change has been slow in coming).

          1. Observer*

            Sure, in general it makes sense to avoid this information. But we’re not talking about general situations or celebrities. And we’re not talking about what is being said to the press. The issue here is what is being said to the coworkers who were directly affected by the situation and apparently the method as well.

        2. Bog Witch*

          Why are you pushing back so strongly against this? In the spirit of the rule that we trust that LWs are the experts of their own situation, let’s also trust that people who state that something is within their professional purview know what they’re talking about.

            1. Observer*

              You don’t think that the lack of communication here is relevant to the OP’s problem?

                1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

                  I just want to push on this a bit. I think it is very dependent on how the lack of disclosure about this was conveyed. If it was a very simple “The family would prefer the specific details of this tragedy are kept private and Company is respecting their wishes during what is a profoundly difficult time” then not a problem, but if they said “We can tell you it is suicide but we cannot tell you the manner” and then the employees are hearing about the massive decontamination, I think this might be leading to people imaging some truly graphic and disturbing events that may be contributing to the continued trauma and unease amongst the staff.

                  So I am not saying the right thing to do is to tell the employees the details of the death, I am saying the Company leadership needs to be cognizant that how they speak about the non-sharing isn’t contributing to the anxiety, grief, and trauma.

        3. CV*

          This may be a terminology problem. The family may be using the term “cause of death” to be what the MH pro is calling “method” vs. suicide, accident, violence, and so on.

          For example, I may cook some chicken. The kind of cooking is (I think) what the MH pro is calling the method. The method of cooking is that the chicken gets baked, fried, etc. That level of detail may be what the family doesn’t want revealed.

    2. allathian*

      The office was closed for a week. Presumably for some pretty intense cleaning.

      I certainly hope that the poor employee who found the body got whatever help they needed to deal with the aftermath and wasn’t just told “don’t talk with your coworkers about what you’ve seen under any circumstances.”

      Those people already know that it was a violent suicide. Which particular very messy way they selected to die should be irrelevant to the discussion. I don’t see how it would make things any easier for employees to know the details.

  24. Rachel*

    The new company will hear about this approximately 2 seconds after walking into the building on the first day.

    The idea to not tell them is wishful thinking but completely ignores the very human desire to discuss things like this.

    1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

      And, not saying anything increases the chance that an employee at the new company will accidentally say or do something that unintentionally unleashes some strong emotions from a significant number of the employees of current company.

      And I cannot imagine how much it would suck for a new employee if they casually call a furniture storage room “The Chair Graveyard” only to find out that storage room used to be an office of a beloved co-worker of their current co-workers who actually ended their life in that room.

  25. e.y.w.*

    If you truly don’t need storage, or if you don’t want to risk it becoming a bigger issue when staff won’t go in for things they need, maybe create a professional development space? A dept. in my building did this with a large unused space. They put armchairs, a bench, a Keurig, and two small desks in there, and then filled bookcases with professional development books and resources. There are also headphones and laptop chargers next to a list of resource websites and the logins for LinkedIn Learning and the like. It has really encouraged staff to take time for development, and has already influenced process improvement and innovations. But critically, staff do not *have* to use it, so the staff who still feel uncomfortable about the office could avoid it.

  26. Erin*

    I think this is a great answer. I live in El Paso and the Walmart that was the scene of a hate crime is open after being remodeled. It’s hard for me to go in there even though I wasn’t personally affected by what happened, makes me very nervous.

  27. Heffalump*

    I’m the son of a chemistry Ph.D., which has definitely made me an empiricist. For a while I was a STEM major in college, although I switched. Part of me says that if I were the new employee, there’d be no rational basis for being creeped out by taking that office. But this is hypothetical, and I’m not sure how I’d feel if I were actually faced with the situation.

    1. Nina*

      I am a chemistry PhD (student) and it hasn’t made me an empiricist at all! I wouldn’t personally have a problem taking the office as a new employee, but a huge problem taking it if I’d worked there when Jane died.

      1. I have RBF*

        I was a chemist, am now an IT person. In dealing with the physical world I’m an empiricist. When dealing with spiritual stuff, I’m a pragmatist. The two are very different, IMO.

  28. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

    LW says storage isn’t needed, but it’s not clear if that’s because they already have storage space, or don’t need storage at all. If it’s the former, maybe they could still take the storage-space approach and turn the existing storage room into a lunchroom or mini break room, depending on size. A former workplace of mine had a small closet-sized space that was just a cozy chair, a stereo and a Keurig. We called it the R&R room and it could be used for pumping, or disco napping, or reading on your lunch break, or whatever.

    But even if you do that, you’re always going to have someone in the office who is going to need to ask someone else to go grab the ink cartridges because they refuse to enter the haunted storage room. This is just a part of the office lore now.

  29. H.Regalis*

    Ignore the person on the team telling you not to say something first to new employees you offer the room to (if you go that route). I would absolutely want to know that ahead of time, and it would feel like lying by omission if my boss moved me to a new room and then I later found out from someone else that there had been a violent death in that room.

    1. Observer*

      It “feels” like lying by omission, because it IS lying by omission. That person is basically suggesting that you hide a significant piece of information. If that’s not what they mean, why don’t THEY move into that office?

  30. Kate*

    You know, I just realized a coworker died in his office at my workplace, shortly before I got there, and I believe a mutual friend of ours occupies his office now. I think it is significant that this person was widely beloved, and although he did die very young it was of an unforeseen natural event. I can see it being a happy connection for someone who knew him to occupy his office, but I can’t believe I never made that connection until now.

  31. Paige*

    This might sound crazy, but maybe you could turn it into a space for some kind of charity usage? Like if the person who died was an animal lover, make it a foster space for kittens/a small dog, or if they were into sustainability, a room where all the recycling is organized/separated/stored.

    That way, it’s still got meaning for the people who are sensitive about the space, but it also becomes something else, and eventually, it might be able to become a regular office space again.

    1. Rachel*

      This is a great idea for immediately following the passing.

      It’s been 4 years and the company is merging, I think this ship has sailed.

      1. Grace*

        I mean, the ship should’ve sailed during the pandemic, but it clearly *hasn’t*, so I don’t know why this idea isn’t as good as the suggestions to make it a green space or storage space.

        1. Rachel*

          Jane Smith Memorial Break Room makes sense to me, it acknowledges the person and is something all employees could use.

          Jane Smith Memorial knitting room/sports fan area/ animal fostering….all of those solutions are very, very personal. And they require regular upkeep from employees.

          I can feel the wheels coming off the bus a bit in this situation. This is not a family or friend group deciding how to honor somebody.

          1. Lauren*

            I like the idea of making it a calm or fun space. Jane was at her worst moment, and a quiet mediation room might honor her as well as a fun spot. Quiet room in mornings / team games in afternoons. Some comfy oversized chairs. Maybe darts or table tennis or ping pong. We used to have a standing dart game at 445pm every Friday, but it could be a sign up sheet. Also could consider it a spot to place cakes / drinks / extra food – outside the office on a table – until people start associating it with some happy vibes.
            – Cake sitting outside the Quiet Room
            – Darts Game 4pm in the Quiet Room

    2. Cyndi*

      I’m curious about the idea of “foster space for kittens/a small dog” in an office; I’ve only ever encountered the idea of a business fostering an animal in the context of major league sports teams “adopting” service dogs in training, as a PR arrangement. Is it common for some offices to keep foster animals onsite?

      1. RagingADHD*

        No, it is not. Because as logistically and legally problematic as religious ceremonies in the space might be, starting an animal foster would be ten times worse.

        Take every letter about the problems with allowing pets at work, multiply it by creating burdens on the staff members with the least amount of capital (who would wind up being expected to tend and clean up after the animals ehether they like it or not), a hefty dollop of “you can work or do caretaking, but not both at the same time,” and throw in a side order of violating your lease and insurance.

        1. Rachel*

          I understand the OP probably meant it as an example, so I hesitate to pile on.

          But ANY suggestion that requires ongoing maintenance and/or explanation is going to be problematic as this company moves forward.

          I’m getting a Crucible vibe right now. By that I mean, it is understandable that in the immediate aftermath of a co-workers death on the premise, people would react strongly. It’s been 4 years. It’s time to move forward.

  32. Light My Candle*

    CW: Death and Crime

    Renovate and make it new, especially since it seems like the resources are available to do so.

    I have worked in a place where someone was m*rdered on site. At the time their apartment/office was connected to the building. This was perhaps 2 decades before I worked there. The perpetrator had been punished via d*ath penalty.

    Since then, the original site was renovated and turned into a very different looking event space. While there are some people who work there who was there at the time of the incident, the space is so altered and used for such a different context, it doesn’t remind people of the grizzly crime.

    There is a culture of ghosts in our industry, so the memory of the victim has been added to the ghost stories that get told about the place. I have also been assured by people that knew them that this particular victim wouldn’t mind being part of the industry lore, although I am sure they would have preferred to wait to join.

    Sorry about the loss. Sorry about the emotional toll this all takes, as well.

    Sending you and everyone peace.

    1. Engineer*

      Snall head’s up: Alison really only censors out curse words, and adding an asterisk to words like you have means that browser extensions that would filter out certain words won’t be able to. This isn’t TikTok or Instagram where absolutely everything has to be advertiser friendly at all time and you’re trying to slip past Orwellian censorship.

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        I’m not Light My Candle, but replacing letters with asterisks is also a way of using words that may be triggering (like some healthcare professionals using “ob*sity”) without having to fully use the word. Since LMC also included a content warning, my guess is this was their purpose.

  33. nnn*

    People have already mentioned removing walls so it’s no longer a room. Depending on layout and such, another possibility might be to add walls so it’s multiple rooms – especially if you can arrange things so that a wall intersects the location where the body was found, meaning it isn’t in any of the “rooms”.

  34. sofar*

    I’d readily take the office … however I’d worry about the optics of that. Not only that coworkers wouldn’t want to be in the space, but also about whether I’d look “too eager” or “insensitive” in claiming the office.

    I think a massive remodel/removing walls is in order — something that makes it unclear where “the space” used to be.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      This – I was reminded of the letter where a deceased employee’s teammates reacted strongly to anyone that was hired as her replacement and given her old workspace, to the point of making them all quit within a couple of months of starting.

      Looks like it’s going to have to be a hallway/green space, like you and many others are proposing.

      1. Iain C*

        And those coworkers were being also ridiculous. It’s not a counter example, just another example.

        Unusually, I think the advice here is way too soft. But given that the Powers That Be want to bubble wrap the issue and not take the office either, OP should just shrug and work on other parts of their job.

  35. eons*

    What about having a meeting with the current staff to see what they would suggest as a good use of the space? As in “it will not be an office, but this space has to be used for something, what would you be comfortable with?” (lunch room, meeting room, other storage, etc etc etc) – or ask the incoming staff if anyone there would be willing to take the office even if they know the background of what happened in there

  36. Haiku*

    I think the idea of turning into a greenery space, with some seating and perhaps a plaque in memory of the woman, is appropriate. It can be a quiet area for people to contemplate and remember her. those who don’t want to enter can still avoid it.
    I’m sorry for your loss, LW. Bravo to your company for trying to be sensitive to employee needs.

  37. Hiring Mgr*

    What did they do with Lane’s office on Mad Men? Same thing happened there..

    1. Daisy-dog*

      Pretty sure it was used as a punishment. Whoever was least valued at the company at that moment got it. I think Peggy was in there for a bit (because of being a woman) and then Don (because of his antics).

      1. Sarah*

        Nope! Peggy asked for it because she was sick of being mistaken for a secretary (working out in the open). Robert gave her permission and props for asking when no one else would.

        1. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

          Peggy was absolutely fearless on Mad Men.
          Octopus porn painting walk – she owned it!

        2. Daisy-dog*

          I am in need of a re-watch, but the season 3-4 stretch is a little hard to watch at times!

  38. Lindy*

    I find it astounding that a company where every single employee was touched by such a devastating trauma would not somehow find the resources to move to new facilities. I cannot imagine walking back into the building after a week and being asked to essentially pretend that everything is normal. The merger is an excellent opportunity to move and leave the daily reminder behind. If this isn’t possible, I would remove all of the walls and open the space to the rest of the office and fill it with plants and hire a plant service. They could officially note that it is a living memorial and make a charitable donation in the employee’s name. Or not mention it at all because clearly so many still find the memories troubling. The office would benefit from the windows and the light, and no one would be asked to use the space as an office ever again. I wouldn’t put benches or chairs there either. I would simply make it a peaceful space filled with greenery and bright white light.

    1. Chick (on laptop)*

      …I mean, it may not be affordable for the company. That’s not astounding at all.

      1. Rachel*

        I think a lot of the remodeling choices are also really expensive.

        I can see it being worth it for morale. But people are really throwing around a lot of money.

        1. Allonge*

          Well, moving would certainly put the issue into perspective – I suspect a lot of people whose commute could lenghten due to an office move would have some things to say about the idea.

          1. Rachel*

            I realize I’m coming down kind of heartless today. But there is also a limit to construction/conversion of this space.

            In a lot of places and situations, this would be low cost and totally doable. In other situations, we are talking a major renovation that might not even be possible if they are leasing.

            1. Allonge*

              I am also on the heartless side.

              I would share as much information about what happened as is legitimate, ask for volunteers to move into the office and offer – to the people who actually knew this person – counseling and/or one opportunity for a ceremony of their choice, after working hours.

              And then make it clear that the office is now the office of ‘volunteer’, and nobody is in any shape or form allowed to blame them for taking it up.

              If we had the space, optional / voluntary information on mental health, suicide prevention and so on might be an idea but that can get tricky.

    2. Allonge*

      It’s four years later – for everyone who personally could not manage to walk past this office, there has been a lot of time to try and find a new job.

      I suspect that the issue now is both trauma and company culture – a lot of people may be ok going into the office themselves but are not comfortable saying this as they fear others may judge them.

  39. Llama Identity Thief*

    I worry a LOT about the idea of giving this to a new employee. Seems like a great way for someone to end up ostracized with the combined weight of “oh I’m sorry I just struggle going into that office because the past” and “you actually took that? you heartless S.O.B some of us are still grieving!!!!” Try to renovate it as best as you can to some other use case, especially one where only select individuals would be required to enter it – I loved the idea of a server room upthread.

    1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

      Especially because some of these feelings are going to be very complex and tied up with each individual’s own experiences with the late employee, with suicide and with grief. Even if people do not consciously think a new co-worker is “bad” for taking the office, they may subconsciously associate that person with their own difficult feelings and they may simply not have the ability to have a “normal” relationship with new co-worker.

      The whole situation just needs a lot of compassion and acceptance that loss, grief, and trauma are processed and experienced in many ways and the one thing that said process rarely is is rational and reasoned.

  40. Chick (on laptop)*

    Enabling the anxiety surrounding the space for FOUR YEARS didn’t help the situation, I’m afraid. It’s been four years – do something, stick to it, and don’t let superstitious employees off the hook when they refuse to enter a room.

    1. Ranon*

      In fairness to the company a few of those years were pretty unusual, so it’s understandable it’s been longer than it might have been otherwise

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        Yes, this. The past few years have NOT been normal.

        By the same token, the last year or two when the building was not being occupied would have been a great time to send contractors in to remodel so that people would not have recognized the space when they did finally return.

        This is just such a sad situation all around, and completely out of the normal.

    2. Anon4Thisss*

      Yep, I think this is a deeper issue than what to do with the office. Employees are not coping well four years later and are even causing new employees who were not there for the incident to avoid the room. This issue needs to be addressed.

    3. atalanta0jess*

      Its shocking to me how many people are framing this as superstition. There was a horrible traumatic event that happened, four years is not that long (and they’ve not been in the office for some of that time) and people on staff knew and cared for the woman who died. That’s not like, a weird superstitious fear thing.

      1. Anon4Thisss*

        I concur with your take on the superstitious thing, and I think this line of thinking from some commenters may come from the paragraph about the employees wanted to sage the site or have a psychic come in. We can talk about their trauma without framing it as silly superstitions, but I do honestly think their anxieties need to be addressed by the company. It is terrible what happened, I am not denying that, but the older employees are spreading this to newer employees as well.

        I really wonder if the company did anything to help employees after what happened. A memorial, or offered counseling, that would have helped with coping afterwards.

        1. Parakeet*

          Even given the paragraph about the rituals that employees wanted to do…rituals, including around stress and trauma, can be important and meaningful to lots of people, including people who don’t even believe in a deity! And if some of them do believe in a deity, deities, or other supernatural phenomena, so what? Lots of people do, and it doesn’t make them silly. I do think that the company needs to address people’s anxieties, because it has totally botched the handling of this – like you, I really wonder if the company did anything to help employees after what happened. But I think it can be done without being dismissive or punishing employees who still don’t want to go in the room (not saying that’s what you’re suggesting, but those themes have come up in the comments in general).

      2. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        I think there’s a difference between people who knew Jane, and people who were hired after she died.

        Fergus who worked on projects with Jane, and Tangerina who had lunch with her every week, don’t need to be thinking about ghosts to be reminded of her.

        Someone who was hired months or even years after Jane died refusing to go into the room feels like superstition.

        1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

          But I think it can also be that Marcy, who is new to the company, lost a friend to suicide as a teenager, so while she has no connection to Jane, working in the place where Jane killed herself may make it harder for Marcy to do her job.

          Or maybe Bob, also new, just has the kind of brain where they visualize everything and, whether he likes it or not, knowing what happened in that office causes images of death and violence to pop into his head.

          Or Shane, new as well, has their own struggles with mental health and has had suicidal ideation in the past. While they are doing well on their mental health journey, they are acutely aware that working in a space like that could be detrimental.

      3. Peanut Hamper*

        Different people take different amounts of time to get through (not over) somebody’s death. A year might be all it takes for some. But for others? This was a particularly terrible death (suicide, office needing to be closed for a week for cleaning, etc.) and the past few years have not at all been normal. Yeah, it’s gonna take people time to grieve and heal and they are going to need time.

        It’s not about superstition. It’s about people needing to heal during a time when many of the things they could rely on for that are simply not available to them.

    4. Heffalump*

      I’m reminded of the situation where a well-loved employee was mowed down by a drunk driver and her team was driving off her successors.

    5. Cyndi*

      Let them off the hook for what, though? Nobody’s done anything wrong here; this isn’t like the letter about the team bullying any and all replacements for their deceased colleague. It’s completely understandable for people to be uncomfortable using the office, even newer employees who only know what happened second hand, and I don’t think “tell them to get over it already” is a kind or useful suggestion.

      More generally it seems like a lot of people here–not just you–are reading the LW’s use of “haunted,” quotes hers, to mean that employees think the room is literally haunted or cursed in some supernatural way, but I don’t think that’s what the LW is necessarily saying at all, only that the office is “haunted” by people’s ugly associations with it.

      1. Nobby Nobbs*

        Yeah, if images of something brutal came into my head every time I entered a space, “haunted” would absolutely be the right word for that situation even if the cause was inside my brain and not a literal external ghost.

      2. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

        +1, I think the superstitious stuff got away a little bit. The idea is that religious, spiritual or superstitious practices can help people cope with traumatic situations, but the fundamental issue is the traumatic situation itself. Someone who many people knew well as a colleague died violently in the office where they’re expected to conduct business like she was never even there. That’s a lot for anyone to deal with! I’m an atheist and I don’t know that I could do it. As a manager I don’t know how I’d help my team through it. But I don’t think treating this like it’s a purely superstitious issue is the move.

  41. El l*

    If leadership won’t move into it, that says everything.

    Your options are (a) Do as Alison suggests and repurpose it as completely as possible; or (b) Move office.

    No more half measures.

  42. Anon4Thisss*

    Yeah, I agree with others where you may want to take down walls and make it into an alcove of sorts, either for seating or maybe a copier or a coffee area.

    But, if that isn’t an option and you have to keep it as a room, I think you also have to address your employees about their refusal to enter the room. I understand their feelings towards it, but if you turn it into storage, will no one go in to grab what they need? If you keep it an office, will they isolate anyone who does decide they’ll move into it? The employees who have worked there longer have already converted the new employees to not going into that room. I’m really not trying to sound harsh here, but that does sound like a bit of a problem to me.

  43. KK*

    This may not work but I’d like to see it as repurposed as a sort of “quiet room” where staff can step out to make personal phone calls, make Dr appts, cry, pumping room, meditate, pray, decompress. Have a relaxing mural painted on one wall, bring in a cozy couch with a foot stool and a recliner, maybe mount a TV.

    Throwing this idea out there but not sure if the idea would fly as there may still be an “ick” factor associated with the space.

  44. M*

    I mean, the space is not haunted, even if some believe it is. This is very sad but there are going to be people working there who don’t know the woman who had the office previously. I bet one of them would be fine to use the space.

    1. I walk under ladders, too*

      Seriously, a spacious private office with a view? I’d jump at that in a heartbeat.

    2. allathian*

      Not haunted in any literal sense, but for employees who knew the employee who died by suicide, just walking in the room might conjure up some unpleasant images in their heads, which wouldn’t be fair on them.

      The problem is that the dead employee’s office has become taboo in this office culture. I think in pictures all the time, but luckily I don’t have any trauma related to violent death or suicide in my past, so working in an office where a person I didn’t know had killed themself a few years ago wouldn’t worry me. But the other employees’ reaction would worry me, I wouldn’t want them to think I was callous or didn’t respect their grief because I was willing to work in that office.

  45. Ok....*

    It seem like no matter what is decided, some people won’t “like” it for whatever reason.

    Maybe the LW should focus on managing the feelings of discomfort (their own and the employees) that will come when the decision is made?

  46. AnonymousChap*

    LW, I’m so sorry for your loss.

    I am a healthcare chaplain*, and leading non-religion specific rituals are very much a part of my work, and are appreciated by many staff members who desire it for closure and as a way to honor those in their care, especially in cases where the death is traumatic. It sounds like there is a similar dynamic at play here. Not everyone wants to be present for these rituals, and that is okay — making it clear that not attending is an option is key, and ensuring that there are other resources available for those who need space to process 1:1 is equally important.

    I realize that chaplains are not common in corporate settings, but consider reaching out to EAP to see if someone is available to lead a ritual, or if they can refer you to someone who can do this in a sensitive and inclusive way.

    *chaplains are specifically trained in multifaith and interreligious care,

  47. Margaret Cavendish*

    It sounds like the company dropped the ball by not formally acknowledging her death at the time. From the letter, it sounds like leadership decided that a religious ceremony would be problematic – but then they didn’t do anything at all? Am I reading that right?

    So now they’re in a situation where the employees have four years of specific, unacknowledged grief for their colleague – on top of the three years of generalized (and sometimes specific) pandemic grief that we’re all feeling. It’s a lot. But still, the solution is not to let the grief control their lives – they’re clearly stuck, and they can’t stay here forever. So the solution is to acknowledge the grief, and find a way to make space for it moving forward.

  48. K8T*

    Besides the obvious issue of inviting religion into the workplace, there’s the other issue that there’s no indication that the deceased was religious/spiritual. If they were an Atheist and the coworkers had a priest come in, I’d think that would be pretty disrespectful to their memory. Maybe soon after the death with the cooperation of the family something of that sort could have been done but I think that option needs to be put to rest.

    Make the room something completely different that’s not a necessary space and have a nice memorial plaque or something of that sort on the wall. It’s a horrible situation I wouldn’t wish on anyone but at some point there has to be forward movement.

    1. I walk under ladders, too*

      There is zero that says workplaces *must* be 100% secular. All that is required is not to discriminate on someone based on religion, and generally not to force religion on someone. Inviting a cleric to bless the space does neither, particularly if is a “bottom up” initiative coming from rank-and-file employees. Let them do it and use the office productively.

      1. K8T*

        Just because it’s not a specific law doesn’t mean you should invite a cleric into the workspace.

        And then what to my point of if the deceased would have wanted it or if their family would be okay with it? I think it would be strange to do this 4 years later and I think it would be doubly in poor taste to do it without permission from the family.

        1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

          So… the issue here isn’t a question of what the deceased would’ve wanted – that was hopefully taken care of by her family years ago. The issue now is what her coworkers need for addressing their trauma – which will depend on the specific coworkers in question.
          Consider the candles and flowers offered at the site of any recent tragedy. It’s an expression of grief and trauma for the surviving community, and only tangential to the beliefs of the victims or their families.

        2. I walk under ladders, too*

          On the contrary, it merely means that you don’t REQUIRE people to attend the ceremony, and make clear in word and deed that it’s optional.

          Anti discrimination law does not mean that you never get exposed to religion in any way, shape, or form, or that (gasp) you have some right never to see a cleric enter the office.

    2. I have RBF*

      Religious rituals around death aren’t really for the deceased – they’re for the living. A non-specific ritual memorial and cleansing would go a long way to settling people’s feelings about the thing. As it is, it’s like the elephant in the room that no one will address.

      Making it into the “Jane Smith Memorial Quiet Room” is a good way to acknowledge the deceased.

    3. Zarniwoop*

      I’m an atheist and the notion that people who knew me might take comfort in religious rituals after my death doesn’t bother me at all. It’s not like I’m going to be around to see it.

      1. JSPA*



        In particular, anyone willing to take the office, conditional on doing a ritual (of remembrance or cleansing or what-have-you), should be thanked profusely, and given whatever logistical support they need. Maybe that means extra time off for coworker with sage allergy and an extra cleaning service visit. Maybe it means someone on hand with fire extinguisher for fire code. Maybe it means an exemption to the “no alcohol on site” rule, if it’s a thimble- sized offering.

        Meeting someone’s private needs in a workplace by working with them on logistics is something businesses do all the time.

        It is not the same as the business sponsoring a religious event.

        1. RagingADHD*

          It is exactly the same as the business sponsoring a religious event, and the more logistical support they provide, the more thoroughly they are sponsoring it.

  49. OhNoYouDidn't*

    I’m wondering if OP could take that office over as their own to sort of help others get over the stigma. If so, hopefully it would eventually become another office.

  50. JoAnna*

    Could you turn the space into a relaxation or meditation room, and put in a fountain or sculpture in it, in memory of the deceased coworker?

  51. Lauren*

    they are probably still referring to it as ‘Jane’s office’ too. Honestly, it probably needs to be storage only unless someone is willing to take it, that person has to be prepared to have less visitors and go to conference rooms for most meetings as many are avoiding the space. Can they remove the wall and add some couches? Suddenly its not a room anymore.

  52. I walk under ladders, too*

    You shouldn’t *force* anyone to work in there, but it’s ridiculous to let a highly desirable office space sit unused as some kind of storage or copier room. Sooner or later, someone will want it. Instead of trying to “assign” it, put out a message asking whether anyone *wants* it.

    Personally, I’d have no problem using it.

  53. Florp*

    I think I have a bit of a different take on this, based on personal experience. I spent my teenage years in a house my father bought from a deeply troubled family that sold it after their teenaged son had a psychotic break and murdered his brother. It was a tragic event made even worse by town gossip.

    Being the hippie Buddhists that we are, we did not get some weird thrill from or feel afraid of occupying a “haunted house.” We just felt compassion and sympathy for the incredible pain and fear that everyone involved must have felt, and decided the best thing to do was try to put some love back in the house. Forty years on, I still say a little prayer for them when I visit my father. There is still some graffiti in the basement from one or both of the kids, and we’ve never painted over it–it feels like erasing them.

    My son lost a friend to suicide this year, and we have been talking a lot about being a witness to someone’s pain when you can’t save them, and being allowed to enjoy life even though bad things happen. Unfortunately, our biggest challenge has been extending compassion to fellow students and parents who have reacted by stigmatizing the young man and his family. I can only assume these people are reacting out of fear, but I was unprepared for how much othering this has triggered. It’s hard for my kid to deal with.

    So I get wanting to sort of erase the bad vibes or whatever, but the location she was in when she died isn’t really the point. Everyone feels unease with her suffering coming so close to them. They may think avoiding the office gives them safety from feeling that pain, but making the space different won’t erase anyone’s knowledge of what happened. Like my dad’s house, the only way to stop associating the space with death is to start living in it again.

    I like the advice of the office designer elsewhere in the comments to make it a quiet lounge or collaborative space. People would have the choice to use it or not. But I would hope that OPs coworkers could come around to seeing that space as representing the totality of the person who died there, and not just the last sad minutes of her life.

    1. elle *sparkle emoji**

      I just want to thank you and your father for keeping that graffiti up. My parent lost their father very young and a lot of the things surrounding that time are tough for the whole family. They’ve moved out of the house they lived in back then but the current owners are family friends and kept the spray paintings in the basement from when my parent and siblings were kids. Just knowing the new owners left it up is really meaningful to them.

  54. That's Not How You Spell That*

    LW, I really. really, really hope that counseling was provided to employees after your coworker killed herself at work in her office. I can’t imagine how upsetting that would be. I read the original post after reading comments and saw that one person wanted a psychic to communicate with the deceased as part of the office *cleansing* I’m also thinking if it were my coworker, I would feel guilty, like “could I have seen signs or done anything?” even if there were none.

  55. Catwoman*

    I can see the argument that this could exacerbate the issue, but I think if/when the space is re-modeled/re-purposed (which I 100% agree is the right call), I think it would be nice to have a voluntary “dedication” for the new space in the deceased’s memory. I understand the leadership’s reluctance for a “cleansing”, but something like this may help the co-workers who are still struggling. It could be a time to share some nice memories and even have a counselor on hand if the company has the resources.

  56. Tedious Cat*

    If senior staff refuses to use the office, it’s pretty galling for them to tell someone else they have to.

    1. elle *sparkle emoji**

      Yeah, especially when people are still refusing to enter the space. That’s a lot of baggage to force a new or junior employee to deal with. Either a senior staff member has to be willing to use it or the space needs to be something besides an office.

  57. Velveeta v. Cheddar*

    This is a bit tangentially related, but I think pertinent to the question / issue at hand for the OP.

    Right before I graduated undergrad in the mid 2000’s I participated in a Departmental Competition to which the winner would receive a so-called Memorial Travel Scholarship for a graduating senior in the name of a former faculty member.

    I never met the former faculty member, and folks didn’t really talk about them, but when I softly inquired the story I was told is that the faculty member died by suicide after a long, chronic illness, and that the faculty member was a large proponent of on-site, mixed-methods research, and that was to be their legacy.

    During the competition for the Scholarship for which students had to present their research ideas and travel plans associated with it, I did get the distinct feeling that some faculty wanted to be involved and others wouldn’t even walk past or attend the open-juried presentations.

    Shocking to me, I won, and I was so excited, and the way in which both I and future ‘winners’ of the memorial scholarship were framed was that the recipients had the opportunity to travel to ‘see the world and perform research’ in the name of the faculty member who had once done so as part of their repertoire, and was no longer here to do so.

    I did hear a few whispers that this was “the” Memorial Scholarship in the name of someone who took their life, but most of what I heard was the uplifting narrative of the gift bestowed upon future scholars and generations.

    So, why do I share this? I think similarly / along with others above to not make it an office, but to indeed change the narrative of the space, and slowly and over time while some people will never forget what happened there, the essence of the location can morph into its future.

  58. Bog Witch*

    I’d like to know more about how the company dealt with the immediate aftermath. The office was closed for a week, but what were employees doing in the meantime? Did the office provide grief counselors to help employees process what happened (especially the employee that found the body, my goodness)? Was there any sort of office memorial or wake where coworkers could share stories and grieve together?

    When someone dies by suicide, people who were close to the person can feel guilty that they didn’t “see the signs” or otherwise check in to see how they were doing. The fact that there are people who refuse to even enter the room four years later is concerning. Maybe it’s worth posing the question to the current employees to see what they’d like to do with the room (within reason). Make it clear that leaving it the way it is or closing it up entirely are not options. The room is going to change, but letting employees have a say in how it changes might be a good way for them to take back some of the power this room has over them. It might also make everything more fraught. You know your workplace best; read the room, so to speak.

    1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

      Same. There is no statute of limitations on grief or trauma, but given how many employees don’t want to go near the room and the fact none of the senior people are willing to use the room, part of me really thinks this company needs to take this time before the merger to assess how everyone is feeling about the death of their co-worker, which was then followed by a lengthy period of isolation, fear and collective anxiety due to COVID.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        There is no statute of limitations on grief or trauma

        Very well said. Louder for the people in the back.

      2. I walk under ladders, too*

        I suspect that a lot of people may somehow be blending their grief over this employee with the broader national grief over Covid. That explains why it’s taken four years to resolve this issue.

  59. had it, officially*

    Y’all really need to stop referring to people not wanting to use a space where someone died in a traumatic way for everyone involved as “superstitious.”

    1. JSPA*

      Eight comments (out of over 350 so far) refer to the issue as “superstition.” A subset of those eight narrow that to people who joined later, never knew the coworker, were not there to be traumatized firsthand. And / the commenter is applying the term to themselves (which people have a right to do?).

      Several times as many comments already explain how it’s not as simple as “superstition.”

      So I’m not sure who-all the y’all is, that you are addressing, as it’s a tiny sliver of the commentariat.

      I do think it’s fair to point out that, trauma aside, people have very different attitudes towards being reminded of death having been in close proximity (and, separately, different towards being reminded of profound despair).

      I’m endlessly and broadly aware of the eons of living beings (human and otherwise) who’ve been born, struggled, occasionally triumphed and ultimately died in (on, over, under) any space I’ve ever occupied.

      For me, it would feel strange to focus intensely on any one of those –unless they were known to me and dear to me– for an extended time. Not because it’s superstition, but because life and death are not separable concepts (as each implies the existence of the other).

      In that I exist, I’m comfortable asserting that some new people might be fine with that office (and fine with having the extra privacy of people not wanting to meet there).

    2. A Shrimp*

      Seriously, it’s pretty disrespectful! Having intrusive thoughts of your coworker’s (possibly very gruesome, you can’t control what your brain conjures up) dead body whenever you try to enter a room is not “superstition”! So is the “it’s been 4 years” refrain. It’s been 4 years, yeah, but they haven’t been occupying that space because of the pandemic. So the memories are probbly still pretty fresh since they haven’t actually had *that* much time.

      1. Rachel*

        I think this line of thinking makes it very difficult to integrate this space into the new company.

        This isn’t just a question of how to handle physical space after a suicide. It’s a question of how to handle that during a merger.

        The new employees are not going to have the same attachment to this space as the current company and this sets the merger up to be Us vs. Them. That is why so many people are advocating for a transformed space, if possible.

        This is a workplace, not a family or friend group. After 4 years, it is a reasonable expectation that this space is transitioned into another use or for a different person.

  60. Bizhiki*

    One point to consider (apologies if someone’s already mentioned this, I tried skimming the comments) is that if you make the space into a copier room there’s the possibility that anytime the copier doesn’t work, someone might make a joke about it being haunted/the spirit of the deceased. If you have current employees there who knew the deceased well, or anyone who doesn’t appreciate macabre humour, it could go over quite badly.

    1. Cyndi*

      It’s already been mentioned, in the sense that somebody already made a joke about wanting to send prank messages to printers in that room, and then it got moderated away.

  61. JA*

    People who want to smudge with sage are some of the most annoying, culture appropriating people I have ever come across. 9 times out of 10, it’s not part of their culture and they are just being performative. That said, I once had to work at a different office for a few weeks. The vibes at my desk were dark. Found out a previous manager did a murder/suicide right in that spot. Coworkers there sucked for giving me that desk knowingly.

    1. JSPA*

      syncretism is near-universal.

      Probably because rituals that persist have evolved to where their process/form/feel/smell/sound are broadly evocative, calming, inspiring (etc) even outside their culture-specific context.

      Yeah, it’s cooptation if you’re making a show in public. But if something speaks to you, then…it just does, I suppose?

    2. I have RBF*

      Lots of religions “smudge” (fill the room with scented smoke) with various incenses. Catholics with frankincense, Hindus with whatever, etc. They have different terms for it, usually, but not always.

      Using white sage, which is both endangered and sacred to various Native American practices, is appropriation. But burning grocery store or garden sage, or rosemary, or whatever else, is not.

  62. Agent Diane*

    Whatever options the company is exploring, please, please privately talk to the person who found your colleague. They may have processed their specific trauma in the intervening time but they may still find it distressing if the walls are suddenly pulled down and the old office is staring her in the face. Your management needs to be sure that person is involved as much or as little as she needs to be. If she needs to take leave whilst work on the room happens, she takes leave. If she says she loves the idea of an indoor garden but will personally never go into it: that’s also fine. If she wants to be actively involved to help put her own thoughts to rest, find ways to do that.

    Every one of your colleague that worked there then has some level of grief and trauma to process. She has infinitely more.

  63. Self Employed Employee*

    This just sounds so sad for the memory of this woman that everyone carries so much fear with them 4 years after her suffering. That no one can go in there and just hold love and compassion for this person who was in pain, versus feeling it’s ‘haunted’, makes me think there is something else going on. I understand people’s need for some sort of closure and understanding that might not have happened 4 years ago, but it is not too late. It sounds like something that should be offered now.

    1. MHA*

      Hey, I understand that you weren’t writing this with ill intent, but the juxtaposition of fear vs “love and compassion” here is very unfair to the people who suffered the trauma of this person’s passing. It is entirely possible for these people to feel deep love and compassion for her while also being too overwhelmed by their own pain to confront the place where she died, and that is a 100% natural reaction that doesn’t at all inherently suggest “something else going on.” If you would be able to embrace that space as a memory of the deceased yourself in a similar situation, that’s wonderful! But no one else is having a reaction that’s wrong or some kind of failure to appreciate “the memory of this woman” for not being able to do that.

      1. O Sole Mio*

        Those same people wouldn’t necessarily move out of their homes for that reason. Why refuse to use that office? Some people might move, but many would not be able to, or would not even think about it. And we’re talking a family member who might have committed suicide. I think it is disrespectful to the deceased. It is hard to believe everyone in the office feels this way. Even with houses, informing buyers of a death is only required within a 3 year period.

  64. Ex-prof*

    I don’t understand why the blessings were nixed? I have worked in not one but two places that were blessed after violent events. Multiple blessings were carried out in each, including one by a Catholic priest involving holy water, and one by a coworker who was a Native American shaman.

    That was because we had no alternative but to keep using the space. If you have an alternative, I agree; invoke alternative.

    I’m sorry to hear about your coworker.

  65. Starrunner*

    As someone who unfortunately had something similar happen in my workplace recently, I have a comment that is maybe more hindsight than helpful for the LW but – let your employees suggest how they wish to do a religious/spiritual healing or cleansing of the space. Not here to debate the value of any particular practice, but the act of leadership organizing something that brought comfort to employees shortly after the traumatic passing of a colleague has really seemed to help put my employees in a mindset of moving forward with their grief a month on. (Also EAPs! Ensure that all employees have access, whether that means bringing in a therapist over lunchtime, or just making the info widely available and encouraging them to use it.) Allowing it to fester as has happened to LW leads to situations like this. So I second Alison, repurpose the room entirely. But before doing so, allow employees to (within reason) do whatever healing or cleansing for the space. And then move forward.

  66. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

    Oh, this is a terrible story! I’m so sorry for everyone involved.

    You will never get over this happening in that office, so please don’t give it “to the new people,” because they’ll definitely find out and the poor person who gets stuck in there if you do that! It’s a problem you don’t want.

    Best thing is to rip that whole office out, and open up that whole space somehow. Perhaps it could be a visitor space or copier area, bookshelves, employee lockers or something. And I know it’s weird, but I’d be kinda uncomfortable if it were a storage room or break room if I knew the history.

  67. Yo_it's_Courtney*

    I used to work in a cubical office. One specific cubicle, that was otherwise a prime spot (corner with a window on the preferred side), was absolutely cursed. And I 100% say that with the knowledge that I don’t actually believe in curses or things like that. But there was something seriously wrong with that spot: 1 person had a stroke while working in the cube and left the workforce, 1 person died in the cube, 2 people were dramatically fired (1 for $$$$$$ embezzling, 1 for physical assault on a coworker). After the 4th incident, no one would touch it, and we couldn’t give it to a new person either bc they would always hear all the stories. We finally just turned it into a storage cube.

    1. O Sole Mio*

      This bears further scrutiny. I would take it as a challenge to be in that space and prove the curse was bogus. No one probably thinks to look at other instances in the office where people had medical events, or got fired, etc. After all, it isn’t the cube’s fault someone chose to break the law, or get into an altercation. Coinkydink.

  68. O Sole Mio*

    I would bet that none of those people would refuse to live in a desirable house in a tight housing market regardless of what happened there. Practicality seems to emerge triumphant when it personally conveniences someone. I think it is disrespect to the deceased to behave this way. Why would they suppose any spirit or energy or what have you would want to hang around that office?

  69. SB*

    Surely there are some newer staff members who didn’t know here & would not be upset by being moved into a primo office? I would happily move in there even if I knew her but that’s because I have the emotional range of a carrot.

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