by Tamara Harvey Braswell
Certain holidays and life events can offer challenges to those of us who have experienced the loss of loved one or co-worker. While occasions like Christmas or a wedding time is supposed to be happy and festive, the bereaved feel anything but that. We are a special group of people who manage to get up in the morning, put one foot in front of the other and push through despite our grief.
I am no stranger to grief. I have lost many loved ones, but the most life-altering loss was the death of my 19-year-old son Logan. He died in a car crash more than two years ago. While I am still relatively new to the grief trail, I have experienced some truths about this devastating experience.
What is grief?
Grief is not depression, anxiety or a mental illness. There is no “getting over” grief. It is a deep connection to your loved one who has passed away.
It is grief that causes you to mourn, hurt, cry and remember. Grief is love. You carry the grief and can learn to be with it in a healthy way by acknowledging the pain. Personally speaking, this allows me to proceed with daily activities of home, family and work.
How do I help a co-worker in grief?
It’s the simple actions that count. The three things that have helped me and other bereaved parents and co-workers I know are:
- Listen – Put your smart phone aside for a few moments, check in, listen and be fully present. All you can say is how deeply sorry you are for your co-worker’s loss. Avoid discussing your personal losses. Truly be there for your co-worker by “hearing” him or her.
- Don’t be afraid to ask about your co-worker’s loved one or friend who died – Our loved ones are not here, but our love for them is. I keep a picture of my son in my work area and always welcome when someone asks about him and what he was like.
- Be patient – Patience is critical particularly when the death has just occurred. The pain of grief takes up a lot of mental space, making daily tasks more difficult than usual. While work can be a good distraction from the pain, the bereaved need moments to take a deep breath and mourn.
A lot of time the bereaved hears, “Please let me know if there is anything I can do.” That is a very thoughtful gesture. When you offer help, follow up with action. That could be anything such as checking in to say hi, sending a card or email, buying a cup of coffee or paying for lunch. It is the little things that count.
Is there help for the bereaved and others coping with tragic loss?
There are healthy ways to cope with grief and learn to live with it in a way that enables the bereaved to experience joy, hope and happiness. I saw a grief counselor once a week for several months after Logan died and I also attend a yearly retreat for bereaved parents.
Soon after he died, I entered a world of other bereaved parents who helped me to see there is hope after a parent’s worst nightmare. That doesn’t mean the grief goes away. As long as I love my son, I will always grieve. I also know I can experience joy and use his energy to make a positive difference while I am alive.
If you are working for an employer who offers wellness resources for emotional support, you may want to take advantage of that. While we handle grief differently, please know there is help to get through some of the worst times in our lives.