Grief In The Workplace
First, if you are reading this because you have lost a child, I want you to know that my heart aches for YOU, and I send my deepest condolences; I am writing with tears for your loss. There are no words to comfort you.
Lately, my emotions have been high, and I didn’t realize why my heart was so tender until I saw September rolling in like a tide and October not far behind it. My son’s birthday is in September, and his death is in October; although decades apart, the timing and pain are still raw, and I found myself unprepared in a new environment with little support. It’s no one’s fault for my lack of support; in fact, I realized that grief is no respecter of time or space; when it hits, and if there is no one to hold on to, it is more difficult to withstand. I’ve learned it’s my responsibility to build my army of support as I had when I joined GriefShare and allied myself with others who lost a child. However, through these support groups, I now recognize my triggers and know where to find safe people to shelter me when the waves come crashing against me. For instance, last year at my workplace, the principal at my school knew when I was struggling; she would call me into her office, give me a box of tissues, and let me cry for a minute or two. Other times, while walking down the hall, a teacher saw I had tears; she opened her arms and let me cry on her shoulder. Another would guide me into an empty classroom, sit with me, and let me cry; no words needed. These are just a few examples of how I was helped while grieving; I just needed a safe space.
However, now I am at a new job, but today, when I almost broke down in front of my co-workers, I realized I didn’t have an action plan with a few safe people to help me to a safe haven. Being vulnerable in front of strangers about my loss is not easy, but unfortunately, this is my reality, and I knew I had to let a few good men/women in to help when in need.
When I started my new job, I quickly learned that another co-worker had also lost a son, so I gravitated toward her, and she and I agreed to call one another for support. I also informed my supervisors about my loss and gave them tips on how to help me if they saw me struggling. I wouldn’t say I like to draw attention to myself; I need to find a safe space to cry for a minute. The waves will pass, and I will be okay.
Before my son died, I didn’t know how to support a grieving mother, and sometimes I said some pretty stupid things. When my nephew died a few years before, my sister’s grief tore me to pieces because I didn’t know how to comfort her, so I bought a book concerning grief, and the best advice I got was, and I paraphrase: “Keep your mouth shut!’ Other times, when friends or other relatives lost a child, the fear of losing a child overwhelmed me so much that I avoided contact with them after the funeral. I notice this now with someone who doesn’t understand, and I would rather them never suffer like this so I have no grief towards them. I also hate that we need to form alliances such as these, but when my son died, I didn’t want anyone but my baby sister and all these women I avoided to surround me. They came individually and held me without judgment when I screamed at God. When I cussed and hit someone trying to hold me back, they said no words; they comforted me the most, and we continued to do so. Through them, I’ve learned how to comfort the same way they have comforted me.
Unfortunately, my baby sister was the most significant source of comfort next to God Himself; she made me laugh and cry simultaneously when I struggled with an array of emotions such as anger, guilt, shame, etc. She called amid these struggles, and I told her about what people were saying. She told me, “Sis, I know how hard it is not to punch them in the mouth, but………….” We laughed and cried together. As mourners, we need people who can support us without judgment, someone who can handle the ugly parts of our grief and remain steadfast even if it breaks their hearts; you know those who stand closer than a brother when times like these ambush you; these are the soldiers we need.