Monday, May 13, 2013

Grief In the Office

Even though your world probably stopped when you lost a loved one, the world around you has continued  with its usual routine.
I know it's kind of a shocker to find this out but it's true.
You are racked with pain but unfortunately you still have bills to pay and possibly children to feed and keep on track as best as possible.
In my case, my husband's funeral was on a Monday and the work project I was involved with required that I go into the office on the Thursday of that same week to participate in a conference call.  I did go into the office which felt totally surreal, and somehow kept it together.  The young girl who sat in the conference room with me during the call did her best to let me know she was sorry I had to sit in on the call but was still uncomfortable because I think she thought I was going to randomly start crying.
I didn't start crying but I wanted to.  There were no tears because I was afraid to cry.  I was fearful that if I showed my work colleagues what a mess I was, then I would lose my job and then I would really be up a proverbial creek.
Coming off the elevator to my work floor, I began to see that there were usually two reactions from my work colleagues: either people acknowledged to me in their own way that they were sorry to hear that my husband had died or they acted like nothing had happened.  There was no middle ground.
Having been through this experience, I have to say that the best reaction is the honest reaction: someone either hugs you, holds your hand, says "I'm sorry for your loss," or asks if there is anything they can do.  I never understood the people who came up and talked to me as though nothing had happened.  You may also find yourself dealing with a vibe that seems like you are contagious with some kind of disease that NO ONE wants to be exposed to.
Even if you are uncomfortable or nervous in talking to someone who has just lost a loved one, I think you can always manage to say something that indicates you are a human being and that you and others have feelings about what happens to them.
God knows that today's competitive workplace is hard enough to navigate.  Work is a place of business but work is also a place made up of human beings.  Offices with forward looking management probably have thought about this already and have policies in place to help co-workers deal with their colleagues personal crises.  Or maybe not.  If not, it's definitely time to pull one together.
The Washington Post's Karla L. Miller addresses the issue of work bereavement policies and how being unprepared can lead to hurt feelings and graceless comments from colleagues.  Here's the link to her column in the Washington Post magazine: 

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