Co-workers facing grief together

When we lose someone from our lives, the shock and grief we feel can be overwhelming. When that person is a co-worker, these feelings are usually shared by several people that we tend to spend a lot of time with, so it can be difficult to know how to move forward.

But there are ways to cope and honour those that are missing, without long‐term disruption in the workplace. To cope during grief, it helps to understand how it affects us and those around us.

People grieve differently

Feeling and expressing grief is personal. We may be different from the people around us. The relationship we had is what we’ve lost. How we grieve depends on things like personality and coping style, life experiences and faith. It helps to remember we’re different when communicating with others feeling loss.

Grief can be more than sadness

Many people experience a range of uncomfortable feelings as part of their grieving process. We might feel anger, loneliness, numbness, betrayal, or confusion. Grief can be physical too. It may affect sleep, and appetites. It can cause tension, shakiness, aching or exhaustion. At work, increased stress, staff turnover and shifting workloads are common while people adjust to changes.

Everyone has a different path

There is no single formula for grief. Each person will make their own way through their loss. When we lose someone close, we can feel it for a long time. We may feel all of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Or we may feel only one of them. Each person has a different path through these. Sometimes it takes longer than we expect. Be kind to yourself and others.

No one has all the answers

When people around us are suffering, it’s natural to want to help. We might want to provide a solution or some words to reduce their pain. Be careful. One of the most common phrases grieving people hear is, “You will get over this in time.” Intended to help, but some people never do “get over” a great loss. Recognise the feeling for what it is, and don’t try to lead people into feeling differently. When the heaviness eases will be a good time to focus on the happy memories you share.

A little kindness goes a long way

We often feel a bit helpless when dealing with grief. There are things you can do to make things a little easier for other people feeling the loss. Organize a fundraiser. Provide transport. Take the kids for a couple of hours. Make meals for the family. Doing something useful can help us feel better at a time when many people feel helpless.

Reach out

Talking to someone about their feelings can be the last thing a grieving person wants to do. If we take the first step and reach out, they can accept or refuse. If they refuse, they may accept later. Try again at another time. Starting to talk is often the hardest part. Having a professional listener can be hugely helpful. We don’t have to worry about their feelings. They have more experience with this sort of thing. Maybe someone in the family already does this. Maybe your Employee Assistance Programme can find a helping ear.

The important thing is to give time and to accept that loss has happened. We can be patient and kind to those around us, and honour those who are missing.

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