No one should be surprised, there is a large segment of us marching toward our collective expiration dates. We baby boomers have enjoyed a great run. We will continue too. As time lurches forward in fits and starts we need to pull our collective tits together and realize each and everyone of us will face unimaginable grief. As will our friends and families.
Chicago Tribune published a story by Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz 'As baby boomers age, 'we are in for a death boom.' Elejalde-Ruiz identifies not just the reality of being a baby boomer. She addresses the need to move grief support into the work place. It is no surprise that grief experts urge support for mourning workers. That may be a long ass headline but it is spot on.
Elejalde-Ruiz points to insufficient bereavement leave policies and our human response to a colleague in mourning. More to her points is a quote from the CEO of Corgenius which helps grieving clients and employees.
“And when we don’t talk about it, we don’t know how to do it well: how to accompany people through grief.”
Most people are afraid of death and the subsequent grief. I'm reminded of something CS Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed
‘To some I’m worse than and embarrassment. I am a deaths head. Whenever I meet a happily married pair I can feel them both thinking. ‘One or other of us must some day be as he is now.’
Bereavement leave is offered by an estimated 90 percent of employers which is generally only three days. Hardly effective. There are no federal laws requiring employers to give time off to grieve. And expecting employees to be back at work ready and focused on work is misguided. They may need flex hours or adjusted expectations. I know for myself after Donna died I forced myself to get the death paperwork done but I am not sure I did it well or even remember those days following her death. When I returned to my consulting job there was this fog I was living in. Lost in. Mired in.
Educating employees how to support and help those grieving can be a real benefit. Most people are akward around someone who is grieving. Since my business was mothballed and I was working in a shared space while consulting. Those who knew me were pretty much focused on being there for me. Most of the casual connections did not steer away as much as emotionally studdered when speaking with me. Since Donna had a long illness and everyone know it was a terminal they were prepared. I wasn’t prepared for her death and to be honest I am not sure I remember what those that know me from my working world and friends and neighbors said. I know I was not left to my own for some time. Many many meals were offered and accepted. Not being alone and having someone listen to my stream of memories was important. Everyone asked about Donna and let me go on and on. That is a key point in this amazing article.
After Donna died in hospice I headed home totally broken and lost. I stopped in a park to call friends and family. Doug and Tia who worked in the shared space visited Donna and I in hospice. Sweet as all get out. Kind and generous. I called Tia to tell her and not realizing she and Doug were a couple of blocks away. They came right away. They were the first people I saw outside of the hospice staff. A hug kind words drinks and just listened. To this day we remain close friends all from a work space. It can be done.
All the support and understanding I received translated into unrelenting loyality to friends and family. They were there for me and it made a difference. Though I will add that the pain, hurt, and sense of loss never leaves. The memories wash over my soul in waves but I manage them and learn from them and understand that grief is not an end it is a condute. I am not sure I could have survived and understood all that I do without the support.
Elejalde-Ruiz makes a very valid point, the workplace is an increasingly important source of community and support. Training and helping all employees to understand grief and loss can only improve the entire work enviorment not just for the grieving. Let's be real, we will all face a loss.
There is a lot in this article about employees and employers and grieving. It is worth the read. Our work world is a critical community for support. My take away is summed up in this exchange:
Florian recalls working with a financial professional who would change the subject when she started to tear up. So she was impressed when another financial planner, on their first meeting, looked at her file and said: “I see that you are widowed. Tell me about John.”
Someone who allows you to be you with your grief and invites you to share is what we do as a grieving community. We allow each of use to share our memories, hurt, joy, and love. If you do nothing else ask someone who is grieving about John or Gail or Donna or Jane whoever died. Not hard to do, is it? And you know what you may learn something you didn’t know about the one who died. You may even discover something about yourself.
Here are some bonus links from this article.
Corgenius The organization that trains businesses on how to help grieving clients and employees.
Tyson’s chaplaincy program which is pretty stunning. It is a network of 100 chaplains employed by Tyson to help Tyson workers
The Grief Recovery Institute founded in the mid 80's to provide training around the world.
Grieve Well is a community in Ann Arbor, MI and offers grief services and support.