Grief due to the death of a family member or close friend can impact all aspects of our being. Physically, we may want to eat or sleep “all the time” or we could experience loss of appetite and insomnia. Emotionally, we often describe our journey as a roller coaster ride mixed with numbness. Socially or relationally, we may want people around us “all the time” or we could turn our back on even our closest family and friends. Spiritually, we may feel closer to God or we might believe we have been abandoned. Mentally or intellectually, some simple, familiar tasks may now seem insurmountable. We may have trouble concentrating or even hearing (comprehending) what those around us are saying. We may describe ourselves as “a wreck” or “a mess.” (Remember – that’s a temporary state of being, not a definition of the rest of our life!)
When we’re trying to function at home with all of that going on inside us, it’s often only by the love and grace of our family members that we get through the day. But what happens when we take the wreck or mess that we feel we’ve become and head back to work? Does the boss and our co-workers expect us to check our grief at the door?!
Not possible! As someone once observed, Wherever I go, there I am!
On the job, I may throw myself into work as a distraction – even to the point of becoming a workaholic. Or, I may hide myself away in my office, trying to avoid talking about my loss. I may cry more easily, and I may find it hard to stay on task, concentrate or remember. I may even turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to cover my pain.
So, what can I do at work? I can begin by honestly communicating with my supervisor, then expand the conversation with my closest co-workers, explaining where I am right now on my journey. I don’t want my grief to become the elephant in the room that no one talks about. I can give the folks around me a heads up about some of the challenges I may experience on the job. I can ask for, and hope for, the support which will allow: breaks when I need them; permission to ask for assistance (for a while) from fellow team members; and giving me the benefit of the doubt when I say or do something that’s totally uncharacteristic of me. I can ask for outside support, if needed, from the company’s employee assistance program or a recommended counselor (whose services may be covered by my insurance).
I might also be able to improve my own ability to cope at work (and therefore at home) by suggesting my employer take advantage of community resource people to make an educational presentation at work about grief. Fellow employees who are knowledgeable about grief and mourning are also more likely to be more supportive of me. I can suggest the company consider offering a one-hour seminar in the fall, on the topic of Coping With Grief During the Holidays, as a tool to help all employees deal with issues they may now be facing or will face in the future.
By Danny Mize, Advisory Council member for The Hope & Healing Place
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