The Gift of Grace to a Grieving Co-Worker

It was hot on the July day my son Phoenix died, many years ago. I only know that because in the summers since, around the anniversary, if the weather was sweltering, my husband would say it reminded him. For a long time after Phoenix died unexpectedly and suddenly of Meningitis B at age 7 months and 4 days, I wasn’t aware of much, except that my beautiful, sparkly boy was gone – not the weather, not whether I was hungry or what I used to like to eat or do.

The one thing that penetrated the pain of his loss was love – from my family, friends and my co-workers. I could feel that. I was able to take two months off work from my job as an editor at a newspaper. My co-workers not only covered for me but donated their vacation time to make sure my time away was paid for. They came to my son’s funeral. The ones I was closest to brought my husband and me food and sat with me in my deepest pain. They consulted with a grief counselor about what I might need when I went back to work and, when I did, they surrounded me with such care. I struggled to concentrate at work and, for the first time in my life, it was hard for me to write. But I was given such grace.

It can be uncomfortable talking about grief in the workplace. Sometimes the loss is very fresh; many have to return to work after only a few days of bereavement time. We may not know the grief someone is holding. And even if we do, we may not know what to say so we ignore it. But showing up is everything. It’s so powerful that all these years later, alongside the pain of my son’s death, I remember the profound love I was surrounded by.

Here are 4 things my colleagues did for me that you can do to help a grieving co-worker:

  • Look them in the eye when they return to work and tell them you are glad to see them. Don’t avoid them. Include them in the types of conversations or jokes you did before.
  • Acknowledge the loss when the person returns to work. Cards sometimes are better than talking to them directly so that they can open and read them at a time of their choosing. It’s also a physical reminder that they can look at later and know they are not alone.
  • If you are close to the person, remember the anniversary of the day their loved one died, or the birthday or other significant dates and offer to cover for them if they want to take the day off. (Even now, my wonderful colleagues do this for me.)
  • If you are the manager, understand that grief is not linear and that the person may have a harder time a week or a month after they return than when they first did, especially as they settle into a new normal they never wanted to have without their loved one.
  • Realize that grief is physical and that the person may be forgetful or take longer to accomplish the tasks they used to do. Give them grace.

For more tips, read Linda’s piece on 23 more things to do to support grieving parents in Today Parenting.

Photo: Christina Wocintechchat

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