A friend or acquaintance in your workplace has experienced the demise of someone loved. You want to help, but you are not sure how to. This article will help you turn your cares and concerns into positive action.
You have an important role
Your support of a fellow employee can make a real difference in how he / she survives right now. Being there for a grieving co-worker means you are giving one of life’s most precious gifts-yourself. Do not underestimate how your efforts to help can make a real difference. Your supportive presence, particularly when he / she is just returning to work and in the weeks and months ahead, can make an important difference in how your co-worker heals.
Attending the funeral
Even if you didn’t know the person who passed away, if the funeral will be held locally and especially if the person who passed away was a member of your co-worker’s immediate family, it is appropriate for you to attend the funeral. After all, funerals are for the living, and right now your co-worker needs as much support as possible. He / She will appreciate your presence and acknowledgment of the loss.
Understanding your co-worker’s journey
Your co-worker is faced with an overwhelming journey. While the need to mourn is normal and necessary, it is often frightening, painful, and lonely. Your co-worker will not function “normally” in the workplace. Be sensitive and realize that she will have difficulty with attention, concentration, memory and lack of motivation. Try to be patient and help out whenever possible. Increasing your knowledge about the experience of grief will help you better understand what your co-worker is encountering.
Reach out to your co-worker while he / she is grieving. He / She may not be able to reach out to you. Let your co-worker know that you are aware of the loss and that you are concerned. It can be very appropriate to say, “I’m sorry that your mother passed away, and I want you to know that I’m thinking of you.” This lets your co-worker know that you are available to listen and understand. A touch of your hand, a look in your eye, or even a hug often communicates more than any words could ever say. If you personally don’t know the co-worker very well, join with others in sending flowers or a sympathy card.
Listen with your heart
If your coworker wants to talk about his grief, LISTEN. While the workplace cannot become a counseling center, listening is a small but important gift you can give. Your physical presence and commitment to listen without judging are critical helping tools.
Don’t worry so much about what you will say. Just concentrate on listening to the words that are being shared with you. Your co-worker may relate the same story about the death over and over again. Listen patiently. Realize that “telling the story” is how healing occurs.
Words, particularly clichés, can be extremely painful. Clichés are trite comments often intended to provide simple solutions to difficult realities. Mourners are often told, “God only challenges people with what they can handle” or “Time heals all wounds” or think of all you still have to be thankful for.” Comments like these are not constructive. Instead, they hurt because they diminish the very real and very painful loss of a unique person.
Realize a grief burst will occur
Sometimes heightened periods of sadness will overwhelm the grieving person at work. These times can come out suddenly. Sometimes all it takes to bring on a grief burst is a familiar sound, a smell, or phrase. While you may feel helpless, allow your co-worker to feel the sorrow and hurt. Realize tears are a natural and appropriate expression of the pain associated with demise.
Don’t be judgmental
Some people return to work after the demise of someone loved and act as if “everything is OK.” Don’t judge your co-worker who returns to work quickly. Sometimes, the routine of the workplace provides comfort and support. However, do stay available to help with the future grief.
Activate support systems
If appropriate, mention your co-worker’s loss and need for compassionate support to other co-workers who can offer help. The entire staff might benefit from an in-service that sensitizes then to the grief journey and how they can help support their co-worker.
If you are a supervisor
Be careful about assigning new tasks or responsibilities right now. Flexible personnel policies will help the grieving worker survive during this naturally painful time. If you have an employee assistance program, be certain the employee is made aware of its availability. Our society in general doesn’t always respond well to people in grief; the workplace can be even worse. You can help by acting as your grieving employee’s advocate if he needs extra time off or other special assistance. It’s the right thing to do. Besides, if the employee isn’t allowed to tend to his / her grief, he / she may not be able to effectively tend to his / her work.
If the person who passed away was a co-worker
When someone you have worked with passes away, you will be faced with grief yourself. You may find yourself thinking about that person. You may feel guilty, as if you could have prevented the demise somehow. You may feel angry, especially if the death was sudden or untimely. You may feel vulnerable, frightened or depressed. All of these grief feelings are normal and necessary. Find someone you can talk to, perhaps another co-worker who is experiencing the same feelings. Talk openly with family members and friends about your co-workers demise.
Understanding the significance of the loss
As a result of the demise, your co-worker’s life is under re-construction. Keep in mind that grief is unique. No two people respond to death in exactly the same way. Be patient. Don’t force a specific timetable for healing. Be gentle, sensitive, and compassionate in all of your helping efforts. “Grief is a long, painful journey. As the friend of a grieving co-worker, you can choose to help make the journey more tolerable. Tell your co-worker how sorry you are and be a good listener. Be available in the difficult weeks and months ahead. Your support will help more than you can imagine.”