How do you Cope with Grief?
How do you Cope with Grief?
I have been asked this question twice in four days whilst delivering Resilience Coaching and pro bono pastoral care. As the current pandemic and resultant tragedy continue to unfold in the UK, many of us now know people in our network, who either have COVID-19, and/or who have lost a loved one.
Of course, it is an inescapable fact of life that at some stage we will all lose a loved one, whether a partner, parent, family member, child, closest friend. However, that knowledge does nothing to dull the gut-wrenching and soul-crushing pain that accompanies the death of a loved one, which is exacerabated by the crisis.
Another FAQ I am being asked is how much compassionate leave should your line manager and HR allocate to you? Recently a few of my own friends and associates seemed to experience a rise in untimely deaths of their loved ones, therefore they had been asking me ‘How do you cope when you have lost your loved one?’ And ‘how long should I, or can I take off work?’ I’m not a Bereavement Counsellor, so I will often refer individuals to an expert, and their company’s Employee Assistance Provider (EAP), if they wish, and it’s appropriate; I also recommend they speak to HR regarding their company’s bereavement policy.
However, I have worked for one of the worlds’ largest EAP providers, and have dealt with the aftermath of some major critical incidents over many years. What I’ve learnt along the way, both personally and professionally, is that everyone deals differently with grief. It also depends on their own age, personality, culture, beliefs, circumstances in life, the type of relationship they had with the deceased, and their levels of resilience. Often people really need someone, who is compassionate to listen to them and show an interest in stories of their loved one.
Years ago, when a ‘stiff upper lip’ was advocated as an approach and coping mechanism for dealing with negative key life events, often the bereaved were encouraged to ‘carry on as normal and throw yourself in to your work.’ The issue with that technique is that if you fill your days with work, or your weekends with partying, you are not giving yourself the opportunity to process your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. When you explain the Bereavement Curve to the grieving, it does help them to understand that it is normal to feel overwhelmed, angry, to blame others, to blame yourself, and to feel guilt, regret, numbness, confusion, and despair.
On average an employer will allow between 3 – 5 days unpaid for compassionate leave after the death of a close relative or partner. However, sometimes this key life event may have such an impact on the bereaved, that in turn they reevaluate their own life and decide to make some major life changes, which may involve leaving their job. The key for HR and line managers is to offer independent support, hold regular 1:1s to check in with the employee, and be flexible, in particular during the current, challenging times.
In general, the advice to cope with grief includes:
1. Acknowledge the feelings of denial, anger, sense of betrayal, sadness, despair and hopelessness.
2. Understand that grief can bring unconscious feelings in to your conscious mind in order for you to deal with them.
3. Use Journaling – writing down your deepest, inner-most feelings, the secrets you shared with the departed, and/or write letters to them.
4. Don’t shut yourself away on your own for too long, and don’t isolate yourself from friends and family, as this can lead to a downward spiral of negative thoughts and can aggravate raw emotions.
5. Try to keep to a routine, looking after your own health by eating properly and trying to get enough sleep.
6. Take one day at a time and try to get outside in to the fresh air and take gentle exercise.
7. Ensure you have a support network, and if you feel you are not coping, seek professional help.
8. Make time to continue to mark your loved ones Birthdays and anniversaries.
9. Ensure you keep any treasured possessions and photos that create special memories.
10. Like most things in life, it’s important to find a balance between spending enough quiet time to deal with the bereavement, and time enjoying life’s pleasures, probably with an enhanced appreciation of what and who really matter in your own life, and to make the most of any time you yourself have left.
If a line manager or HR professional has not experienced a significant bereavement themselves, they may be less able to understand the situation and may expect their team member to return to ‘normal’ quicker than they are able. Time is supposed to be a great healer, but often the bereaved will agree that you only learn to cope better and live with the pain and loss over time.
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