What do you do when a tragic loss befalls you, releasing shock waves into every avenue of your life? When dealing with grief at work, you may try to tuck away the pain and press on, but inside, you’re falling apart and wonder when your veneer will crack. If your job is lucky enough to offer time off for bereavement, it’s likely only a short while, and you’re left trying to hold it all together when you return to work.
Meanwhile, friends, relatives and coworkers do their best to be supportive and show you love. A boss may sound insensitive when he or she first offers condolences and then reminds you to keep your nose to the grindstone to not risk a position you’ve had your eye on. It looks like tough-love. A friend may stop by with a casserole and cookies only to sit awkwardly and say: “At least they’re in a better place now.”
It sounds awful to your ears, but you know everyone is trying their best. So, you try your best, too. Here’s the kicker: You don’t have to, or at least not in the way you think. The only way is through. To be at your best, you have to walk the path of loss and honor your emotions in only the way that you can.
Be Gentle With Yourself
You may feel a tiny bit offended when someone handles you like you’re going to break, but remember that in tough times, you are your own worst critic. In times like these, you must be your own best friend.
You will move more slowly, but view it as a slowed pace for optimal functioning. Your body is balancing it all out, and it knows what can and cannot be handled right now. Your body’s literally putting forward its best foot.
Know that it’s okay to ask others to share in the “burden,” and that you are not a burden — that your loss is not a burden. Ask.
Also, ask yourself if you are okay and what you need. Check in with yourself. Do your best to be gentle with your heart as the first priority.
Stretch a Little Farther Every Time
First comes the hibernation and the hiding, the lingering in the safe dark space of blankets and good memories. Hold on to the good memories and slowly unwrap yourself from the blankets. Any movement is a good action, because life does go on.
Reestablish a basic daily and weekly routine with the least amount of complication as possible, which will provide structure and feelings of safety and security. Automate bills if you haven’t already. Have groceries delivered. See if a friend or relative will help you with basic errands. Ask your employer if you can work from home a day or two. This isn’t so that you’ll stay at home, but so you can have one foot in a sanctuary and one foot out into the world.
Stretch that foot a little farther every time. Ask for extended deadlines or to spread out work duties. Slowly invite those duties back in. Check in with HR. Go outside when you are at work for a change of environment. Bring a yoga mat to work, and literally stretch it out with a few asanas.
Sometimes, you put your best foot forward by doing it a toe at a time. Your best effort isn’t necessarily about pace, especially when you’re dealing with grief at work.
Take another look at everyone and everything around you. Grief and loss expand something inside of you. While you may feel a void in life, you also notice its details more readily and deeply. Treasure that. Use it as an opportunity to see your life and aspects of it in deeper detail.
Look again at where you are and why you are. What makes you feel lost in life? What isn’t working any longer? How can you honor your life and the life of the one who has passed? Look again deeply.
Honestly, dealing with grief at work — and anywhere — is going to be uncomfortable. That’s an unchangeable fact, but it doesn’t mean you should hide away.
There is no single proper way to grieve that is demanded of you. Keep everything as simple as possible. If you’re moving slowly, acknowledge your body’s wisdom and follow its lead.
Communicate to the best of your ability about your needs with friends, family and coworkers. Know it’s okay to share the ways that would be most helpful to you to offer condolences or ease your “burden.” Others will welcome this knowledge with empathy and relief, ready to aid you however possible. So, be honest about what you can and cannot handle when it comes to workload, deadlines or requested time off.
Most importantly, be gentle with yourself as you’re dealing with grief at work and at home. While you may feel alone, there are support systems around you, but you also need to take care of yourself. When the emotions come, let them. Remember your loved one and this chance to look more deeply at your life. This, too, shall pass, and you will live life all the more fully for it.