Grieving at Work- Strategies for Coping

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July 7, 2015

grief2I worked in the HR trenches for most of my career and at every job, the trusty EAP brochure was not far from reach.  The only trouble is, employees just don’t tend to use the EAP (Employee Assistance Program) benefits and resources as often as we would hope.  Honestly, more employees would rather have a chat with someone in HR or a colleague and tell us their most personal troubles than to search online or through a brochure for something to help whatever ails them.  I know EAP has so many great benefits from financial advice, life changes advice (marriage, birth of a baby, divorce) and even bereavement advice, I feel like there has to be more that HR can offer.

I recently lost my grandmother to Alzheimers.  I was very close to her and visited her often, especially during the last ten years of her life.  The company I was with at the time only offered one day of bereavement for the death of a grandparent.  No consideration was given to the closeness of the relationship.  No call was received to give condolences.  So, in my extreme grief, I decided to reach out to my friends on Facebook for some suggestions of how to cope with the tremendous loss since I had never lost someone so close to me.

My friends and chosen colleagues in the HR world first embraced me in the most loving support I could hope for.  Then, they shared their personal tips on how to deal with grief.  Since death is a part of life, I want to share the tips here today in hopes they will help you, someone you love, a friend, or even a co-worker in need.  Here we go:

  • Hugs- Take hugs from everyone you can.  The act of being embraced actually makes you feel better and helps calm your body’s reaction to the grief.
  • A good joke-  It may seem like the wrong time to joke, but laughing launches chemicals in the brain to help you feel better.
  • Getting outside- A nice long walk, a game in the park, or a run may be just what you need to get your adrenaline going.
  • Prayer- While I know not everyone believes the same truth, if you pray, it can really help you.  Some of my most comforting moments were sitting in church.  My grandma died just before Easter, so a challenging time to hear that message, but ultimately very helpful.
  • Good friends- As much as you may want to be alone, the company of a good friend can lift your heart.  It also helps them feel like they are helping you.
  • Remembering good times with the loved one-  This is one I found difficult at first.  I didn’t want to think about her at all because it hurt too much.  Over the months, this one has gotten easier and now, I find that remembering fun times with Grammy really do help.
  • “Embrace the Moment”- My good friend Prudence Kumming told me to do this.
  • Street Wisdom– My sweet friend David D’Souza gave me the advice to read this blog.  So glad he did because I would have never found it without his suggestion.  It’s the story of how you can use the environment where you live to help you work through issues, concerns and thoughts.  So creative.
  • Let people help- One of the hardest things to do, if you’re like me, is let anyone help you.  Of all times, when you’re grieving is when it’s comforting to have someone take care of you.  Embrace it.
  • Care for yourself and be gentle with yourself-  This one comes from a brilliant woman, Heather Bussing.  So often we don’t take care of ourselves in these situations, we are too busy worrying about everyone else.  I was guilty of this.  Once I sat down and focused on this, I started feeling more like myself.
  • Books- My wise friend Margo Rose made several solid book recommendation for dealing with grief.  Healing After Loss was one and books by Kahili Gibran are supposed to do the trick.
  • Grief counseling-  If grief is too much to bear, see a grief counselor.  This is where the EAP can come in handy in terms of recommending local experts to help you.
  • Music- One of the things I found helpful was to listen to songs I know my Grammy loved.  Celebrating them through music is a very uplifting experience.
  • Sticking to a routine- I remember during my first real job, an employee lost a loved one.  I thought they would take the week off as bereavement and they came to work.  To my surprise, he told me that it was easier to continue the daily routine so he didn’t feel so bad.
  • “Living the Full Catastrophe”- My dear friend Geoff Webb made this suggestion.  Allowing yourself to feel and experience ALL parts of the process is the only way to really get through it.
  • Celebrate the person you lost- I’m seeing this more and more.  Sharing pictures and stories of the person who passed is a way to celebrate their life, not grieve the loss.
  • Sleep/ eat/ exercise-  It should go without saying, but making sure you do all the life basics is key to grieving.
  • Time Alone- My amazing friend Eric Winegardner suggested taking 2 days, or so, away.  Go somewhere by yourself and just be.
  • Understanding how Shiva is observed-  My wise and feeling friend Naomi Bloom shared the Jewish practice of Shiva.  Even though I am not of that faith, I admit that learning about it and taking some cues from the steps were very helpful in my dealing with my grief.

As you can see, there are many ways to deal with grief.  So, next time someone comes in your office and is struggling, feel free to give them the EAP brochure, but make additional suggestions.  They’ll welcome the input and information they may have never considered.

Be good to yourselves and feel free to share your tips on dealing with grief in the comments.  We’d all love to learn from it.

5 Comments

  • I love you dearly, and I am so gratified healing after loss, and Gibran supported you. As you know, my Mother of blessed memory died of Alzheimer’s in 2007. It is a brutal, relentless disease that robs a human of their mind, body, and spirit bit, by, bit. All the family members can do is repeatedly say a very long goodbye. Grief is both cyclical and complicated.

    I am not surprised HR Pros are the eyes and ears of the bereaved. Some people have too much pride to seek help. It is the caregivers, and family that suffer the most in the end. All we can do is shore up our strength, reach out to our community, and let people love us. We have to let them in, and company EAP programs can help.

  • Trish, it was so nice to meet you today.  I’m so sorry for you’re loss. We just lost a colleague, too. He will truly be missed, but forever a part of our UltiFamily. Thanks for the coping strategies.

  • I am sorry to read that you received 1 day bereavement. I am hopeful companies are upping that number and broadening definitions of close family. This is a great post and I appreciate it. Grief is a difficult topic. Our small company lost a much loved internal employee and it was difficult on the organization. That is another aspect for HR professional to consider. Thanks.

  • It is extremely tough to lose someone you love. I really appreciate that you took some time to share with us, the readers, these tips that can help anyone overcome such a painful situation. There is not much to say, but to feel. Thank you!

  • I remember when my grandmother past away and I only had 1 day too. I had to take extra holiday days to be able to travel for funeral and other things. I do hope that they upper the bereavement days as going back to work while you still suffer is just awful.

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.

HR HAPPY HOUR LIVE! TALENT ACQUISITION & ONBOARDING

THE FUTURE OF WORK

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