The funeral or graveside service is over and someone you work with is back on the job. Is there anything you can you do to help the person in the transition he or she is facing? Plenty. Remember, your willingness to be with anyone who is grieving, your presence alone, can be a factor in healing from a major loss. Being around pain is a challenge and an essential factor in helping the bereaved.
Here are seven things to consider in supporting someone you work with and help him/her adjust to the loss.
1. Most important of all, let the person know you are willing to be of assistance. If you were, for whatever reason, unable to attend the funeral or service express your condolences in a way you feel is most appropriate. Some people are uncomfortable in simply saying “I’m sorry” and say “I wish there was something I could do to ease your pain.” Others apologize for not being at the funeral and offer to be of help in any way possible.
2. Talk about the deceased person. Reviewing the relationship with the deceased by asking a question about the person is a good starter and gives the mourner an opportunity to talk . You could ask where the person died and if the co-worker was there at the end, inquire about the nature of the illness, or if the person had been ill for a long time.
3. Always allow the co-worker to dictate the pace and content of the conversation. If you sense the person does not wish to talk about the deceased follow through and ask if this is the case (Would you rather talk at another time?) and if there is anything else you could do at the moment.
4. Many employers, after three or four days, expect the co-worker to be working at his or her previous level of output, which in most cases is highly unreasonable. Be willing to give your co-worker an assist if it is obvious that he is behind in his work.
5. Each day inquire how your co-worker is doing. Commonly, the response will be okay or fine. When you hear this follow up with, “How are you really doing?” Often you will hear some important responses that the person would like to say but holds back so as not to appear to be hurting or looking for sympathy. Mourners often shape their grieving to please those around them and not themselves. You will be giving the co-worker an opportunity to express how she is really feeling and not have to suppress a natural response.
6. At least once a week call the person at home, especially if the person is now living alone. Evenings are frequently the most difficult for widows and widowers who are living alone. At the appropriate time, invite the person over for dinner or out to a movie.
7. Finally, be on guard to help a co-worker who might be holding on to some of the old myths about grief: you shouldn’t cry too much; you must be strong; you’ll be your old self again soon; and there is a predictable course of grief. Give the person permission to cry, not be strong, and follow her own individual course of grieving.
As time goes on, allow the person to repeat the story of what happened to their loved one. The repetition of the mourner is often what is discouraging for a caregiver. However, it is important for the mourner to replay the story again and again as it is an aid to the healing process. Grief is not an orderly and predictable process. With all of its ups and downs repetition is useful and meaningful for the mourner.
Again, to repeat, being there is half the battle. You don’t have to say a lot. However, be willing to be open with the person and make frequent contact as you sense the need.