How to Help – and How Not to Help – a Grieving Co-worker
Betsy Bottino Arenella
Jeffrey’s first day back at work since his daughter’s sudden death
two weeks ago. His co-worker Holly sees him coming down the hallway
toward her and panics: what is she going to say? What if Jeffrey
completely breaks down?
dodges into the nearest empty cubicle and hides until Jeffrey has
walked by. She’ll say something to him later, she tells herself.
minutes later, another co-worker, Mick, enters Jeffrey’s cubicle
with a pile of religious pamphlets. Mick, who is very devout, tries
to comfort Jeffrey by telling him that God chooses the very best
children to become angels, and that Jeffrey’s daughter is in a much
Holly and Mick mean well, but neither one’s actions may be helpful
to Jeffrey in his grief. Comforting a grieving person, especially
one suffering the most devastating loss of all – that of a child –
can be very difficult. While each person’s grief is quite
individual, a few guidelines can help coworkers support their
Don’t Run Away: Unbeknownst to Holly, Jeffrey sees her ducking
into a cubicle to avoid him. Grief can be incredibly isolating; the
person is suffering enough without feeling that others don’t want to
be around him.
Do Acknowledge The Person’s Loss: A hand clasp, a hug or an “I’m
so sorry,” can mean the world to a grieving person. If Jeffrey
breaks down, it is okay. It is normal and healthy for the
griever to cry.
Don’t Assume That Religious Or Other “Comforting” Sayings Will Help:
Although Jeffrey and Mick do happen to share the same faith,
Jeffrey’s belief in a benevolent higher power is being sorely tested
right now. Like any parent, Jeffrey would give anything to have his
daughter back with him and his family here on earth rather than
Just Listen: A grieving person often may feel the need to repeat
the story of the death and go over the details; he is working it
through in his mind. The best way to support him is to listen
sympathetically. Nodding and murmuring are all the feedback the
person may need. Second-guessing the doctors, wondering whether the
parents could have done something differently or telling stories of
your own children’s near-misses are not helpful. Death often
brings survivors’ guilt that does not need to be fed.
Ask The Griever What He Needs: Don’t be afraid to say, “How can
I support you?” Sometimes the griever doesn’t know what he needs;
that’s okay. But the person may tell you, “I need to talk about
it,” or “I need to not talk about it for a while,” giving you
a sense of what to do. Even better, the grieving person’s manager
may wish to have this conversation with his employee before his
return and share the person’s wishes with the group.
Do Bring Up The Deceased’s Name: The most painful part of grief
can be others’ reluctance to mention the person who died. Grievers
can tell you that hearing the deceased’s name has a positive effect,
not a negative effect. It is comforting to know that others
remember a loved one with fondness.
Have Reasonable Expectations For Work Performance: Grief is not
only physically and emotionally exhausting, it affects short-term
and even long-term memory. The grieving employee may have a hard
time concentrating and remembering details. On the other hand,
don’t do all his work for him: work can provide a welcome
distraction to grief.
It Ain’t Over After Six Months: Just because Jeffrey may seem
better after six months, it doesn’t mean he’s not still deeply
grieving his daughter. Grief is a lifelong process. Do
continue to ask how he and his family are doing; he will appreciate
your concern and your acknowledgement of the depth of his loss.
Do Recognize The Anniversary Of The Death: For many years after
the death of a loved one, the anniversary of the death is a
particularly difficult day. A simple card or flower, or just
saying, “I’m thinking about you today,” can be incredibly comforting
to the griever. Also be aware of any other dates, such as the
deceased’s birthday or a widower’s wedding anniversary, which may
trigger grief attacks.
Honor The Deceased: Planting a tree, installing a bench or
donating to charity in the deceased’s name are wonderful symbolic
ways to show caring. These actions are tangible reminders that the
deceased is loved and missed.
Comforting a grieving person can be scary, awkward and confusing.
But rest assured that these simple, kind gestures will be remembered
forever by your colleague and friend.
Read other articles and learn more
[This article is available at no-cost, on a non-exclusive basis.
Contact PR/PR at 407-299-6128 for details and