National Grief Awareness Week takes place between 2nd-8th December each year.
Dealing with any type of loss, but particularly a bereavement, can be an incredibly difficult and an emotionally fragile time.
Despite the large number of people who are grieving, most of us still find it difficult to support those who are struggling. It’s one of those delicate, taboo, and difficult topics, and many of us believe we lack the courage and abilities to provide ‘the correct’ support. It is important that we all have the right tools to invite and encourage someone who has experienced a loss to have open discussions, and share how they are feeling to support their grieving process.
Many people still believe that if we ignore or avoid painful feelings, they will go away, and that this is preferable to opening up and having a “messy” conversation. When we ignore grieving, however, the process is likely to be more painful and long-lasting, impacting our quality of life and performance.
Having the courage to talk openly about personal experiences surrounding grief and bereavement can help normalise these conversations in the workplace, and raise awareness among staff about resources that may be available to them both internally and externally.
It is important to remember that in a professional environment, the goal is to support the individual, not fix or solve what they going through.
What is the difference between bereavement and grief?
Grief is the response to any type of loss, whereas bereavement is grief that involves the death of a loved one.
There are many myths that are often the foundation for what people believe when it comes to bereavement or grief. It is important for these statements to be unpacked and explored, to help normalise the process:
- If you don’t cry – this doesn’t mean that you aren’t sorry about the loss
- Moving on with your life doesn’t mean that you have moved on from the bereavement and/or aren’t still grieving
- Anyone can struggle with grief
- There is no right or wrong time frame for grief
- If you ignore the pain, it won’t go away faster
The famous Kübler-Ross model presents the 5 series of emotions that people may experience when going through the grief cycle.
- Denial - avoidance, confusion, elation, shock, fear
- Anger – frustration, irritation, anxiety
- Bargaining – struggling to find meaning, reaching out to others, telling the story
- Depression – overwhelmed, helplessness, hostility, flight
- Acceptance – exploring options, making new plans, moving on.
Always consider that this cycle is not necessarily linear. A person might be in a particular stage but not demonstrating the identifiable behaviour or emotions; and some people may take a long time in some stages, missing others or returning to stages – there is no right or wrong.
In a professional environment, it may be easier for people to mask these behaviours – keeping things to themselves as they do feel it is inappropriate or are putting on a brave face.
There may be specific things you notice as a professional supporter:
- Denial – it isn’t happening
- Anger – lashing out, having a short fuse
- Bargaining – questioning ‘what if’, avoiding the cause
- Depression – sense of resignation, lack of drive, avoiding spending time with others
- Acceptance – keeping memories close, acceptance of a new stage of life.
It’s important to remember that the grieving process is highly personal, and that various people will require different types of support. Some people will need privacy to grieve and handle everything on their own. Others, on the other hand, will want acknowledgement of their loss, while others will be unsure or want a combination of both.
Employers and colleagues should pay attention rather than trying to solve a problem; this demonstrates genuine concern and gives the individual a safe space to decide what they require.
One of the most difficult aspects of supporting someone who is grieving is figuring out what to say.
However, saying something is much better than saying nothing at all. You could use some of the following comforting words to say when someone passes away, depending on your relationship with the individual who is grieving:
- “How can I support you through this?”
- “I wish I had the right words, just know I care.”
- “I don’t know how you feel, but I am here to help in any way I can.”
- “My favourite memory of your loved one is…”
- “Do you want to talk about your favourite memories with your loved one?”
We all have an important role to play in encouraging conversations about bereavement and grief in the workplace.
By simply taking the time to help normalise conversations and raise awareness by talking openly, and being supportive and non-judgemental - you can help someone through their journey.
If you would like extra information about bereavement or grief, please visit these resources:
- Home - Mind
- National Bereavement Service: Care, Advice & Support for the Bereaved. (thenbs.org)
- Home - Cruse Bereavement Support
- National Grief Awareness Week (thegoodgrieftrust.org)
Written by Mrs Caitlin Young, CBT Therapist for Psych Health, a Health Partners company