The loss of a loved one is one of the most painful tragedies that humans suffer. The impact of this loss is usually crushing, and in the aftermath of loss, we often feel like we have no control over anything.
However, most of us just try to pick up and keep going. Life goes on. We can’t take the time to grieve, or grieving is a sign of weakness. We need to be strong for our loved ones and the one that passed on wouldn’t want us to be sad.
Some people experience shock and/or denial, especially as an unexpected death. Shock and denial can be felt with expected deaths as well. We just don’t know exactly when our loved one will actually take their last breath and when it finally happens, it can be a shock.
What about relief? Maybe you felt some relief when your loved one died. Whether they had a long illness, or were in a lot of pain, or you were in a lot of pain (for example your loved one had an addiction problem). Some people feel guilty that they actually feel relief when their loved one dies.
Unfortunately, when we don’t take time to grieve, it can set us up for several problems. When we don’t work through the sadness and other mixed feelings including potentially feeling angry, scared and hurt, we put ourselves at greater risk of it coming back to haunt us later, or just never getting better.
If we are not working on the grief in a healthy way, we may become irritable at our loved ones or coworkers. We may becomes short or snappy with them. Often we just want to be left alone and the irritability is a reaction to wanting to be alone and not being able to. Sometimes we find the way to withdraw and isolate from others.
It often changes our eating and sleeping patterns. It changes our normal rhythm of life. As our rhythm and habits change, our behavior changes, making it harder to deal with people and harder for them to deal with us.
Grief is a natural response to loss. It’s perfectly normal to detach yourself from your normal existence to grieve. However, life has to go on, no matter how sad you feel.
It sometimes feels like it will last forever. You wonder if you will ever be happy again. You wonder if you will ever be able to be who you once were.
Right now you may be feeling numb and unsure. Or you might be feeling angry and hurt. You might be thinking life will never be the same; how can I just go back to work? You might be thinking you can’t function right now, but the United States doesn’t give us a lot of bereavement time.
You are not alone. Thousands of people every day. All of them have families and friends who are grieving.
I FEEL WEAK AND LIKE A FAILURE BECAUSE I CAN’T PUT THIS ASIDE AND RETURN TO WORK
It can feel very overwhelming and daunting to have to return to work when you are still grieving. It doesn’t matter what career field you are in, but when you are in a field that serves others, it is very important to be on your game.
Again, you are not alone. Many people struggle at this point. They know they have to put it aside and do their job. They know others depend on them and they have to be strong for the community they serve. Many people actually make their grieving process more difficult as they push it aside or beat themselves up over not being “strong”.
I AM READY TO FEEL BETTER; I AM READY TO MOVE ON WITH LIFE, BUT I FEEL GUILTY THAT I WANT THIS SO SOON
Life will return to normal. Or as close to normal as possible. You will not be feeling this way forever. Even if you stay sad, the likelihood that you will remain as sad, numb, and unproductive as you feel right now is very low.
Grief takes it own time to heal. There are several factors that make grieving last longer or shorter. Each person is different and each death is different. We cannot push through grief faster that it wants us to. It is like trying to heal a broken bone. It takes the time it takes. You cannot rush it.
There is nothing wrong with you for wanting to feel better quickly. Nobody likes feeling sad, angry, hurt, numb. These are emotions that tell the body and brain that “something is wrong.” When something is wrong, the body and brain want to fix it. Antibodies are pushed into the body to fix a pathogen. Adrenalin is pushed into the body to get you out of a dangerous situation and fix your safety problem.
KEEP READING FOR 5 TIPS TO HELP YOU RETURN TO WORK WHILE STILL GRIEVING.
Returning to work while grieving is quite tough. You need to figure out how to be productive and deal with your colleagues who may start to act differently around you because they don’t know how to act around you.
You may not be able to control how everyone else acts, but you can make your return to work while grieving a little easier. From dealing with awkward conversations to accomplishing tasks, there are a few tips to help you navigate your work life while grieving.
While you may not be able to incorporate all of these tips, it is important to make sure that you are taking care of yourself during this time. You will only be able to function as well as your brain and body allow you to.
5 SUGGESTIONS FOR COPING WITH GRIEF AT WORK:
- Have an honest conversation with your employer.
Be frank with your employer, and let them know that you are dealing with a loss. Each type of career and each boss will react differently and allow different accommodations, so it is important to know the culture of your career and team and talk to your boss.
If you are expected to react quickly to a crisis, be honest with yourself: Are you actually able to do so right now? If not, you do not want to put your or others’ lives in danger, which is why it is imperative to talk with your boss about what you need or accommodations for the time being. Tell them exactly what you need, so they can help you or ensure you and others are emotionally and physically safe until you are back up to speed.
- Focus on doing.
It might be tempting to shut down and do nothing, but trying to be productive and crossing tasks off your checklists can distract you and prevent you from being consumed by painful feelings.
It also helps in the healing process not to dwell on the loss. What can you do right now about the situation? If right here, right now, you cannot do anything, it does not help to shut down. It also does not help to shut down if right here, right now, you can do something.
The desire to shut down is part of the fight/flight/freeze process the body has for dealing with very difficult/dangerous situations. When we don’t know what to do, it’s safer to do nothing. But that is not the case in this situation.
- Ask for help.
You are not alone. You are not the first person who has lost a loved one at your place of employment. People generally want to help those who are grieving but don’t know exactly how to go about it.
Furthermore, depending on the type of career you have, these feelings may be counterproductive. People may not know how to help you because you cannot be in a state of shock or in a fog and save other people’s lives. They literally may not know what to do for you at this time and may tell you to “get over it.”
Don’t be ashamed to ask your colleagues for help. Instead of insisting that everything is great, tell them what you need. Even in careers in which emotions are the enemy to objectivity, if you know what you need, others will help. You are a team.
- Create a sanctuary.
Find a quiet place to retreat to when things get a little too much, and you just want to have a good cry. It could be your car, or a room where people don’t go into often.
The important thing is having an escape. Sometimes things get to be too much. If you hold it in and pretend it doesn’t exist, it will be 10 times more difficult to deal with later. You may go home and take it out on family either through withdrawal or irritability. Or it may be pushed aside for now only to come back and bite you later.
If you don’t have the ability to do this at work, find that sanctuary prior to going home. Find somewhere you can retreat to that will let you let go of the stress from the day as well as the stress that you put aside from the loss during the day.
- Carry tissues.
You might find yourself crying a lot when you least expect it. Keep tissues handy, so you can clean your tears or runny nose when you’re done.
You may generally be very good at not crying at the drop of a hat, but loss does something to us that makes even the non-criers end up crying when we least expect it.
Crying is a release. It involves the entire body. Our body is holding onto that loss just like our brain is. We cannot just focus on the brain and forget the body. Crying allows us to focus on both the brain and the body. You will move through the healing process faster if you do not hold back tears.
Not everybody will need these five tips. These are tips that are helpful when you are struggling and don’t know if you can function at work. Some people are able to bounce right back and are able to function at work, even if they shut down at home.
These tips can be used at home too. Whatever the case may be, it is important for you to remember that grief is an important step to healing in the wake of a loved one’s death.
When you get back to work, be honest about how you feel with yourself and others. Don’t try to rush the mourning process. The sooner you confront your grief and live through it, the sooner you’d be able to live the rest of your life in a happier and productive manner.
Right now you are feeling a little lost and numb. You are not sure you will be able to function the way you need to function and it is worrying you. That is understandable and you are not alone.
It often helps to see a grief counselor or therapist if you feel like what you are doing is not enough and you need assistance coping with your emotions. Remember, it’s not a sign of weakness but an intelligent decision to help you move forward.
If you think you may need counseling and put it off, you are delaying feeling better. The sooner you are willing to take the step and get the help you need, the sooner you will get back to being yourself.
My name is Meg Young and I specialize in helping professionals through trauma and secondary trauma so they are able to be their productive selves at work. When grief hits, we are not our productive selves. I will help you move through the grief process so you can return to what you love quickly.
Call me at 941-462-4807 today to set up an initial appointment. I look forward to hearing from you and helping you through this journey.