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How to deal with grief while you're back on the job

How to deal with grief while you're back on the job

Learning to heal

Text: Marissa Chin


Image: Gracia Lam
Image: Behance / Manddy Wyckens

Some of us may be lucky enough to reduce our working hours or even quit altogether while others may not be so lucky. Here are some ways to manage the pain of loss while you're back in the office

With the CMCO easing its restrictions on businesses, most companies and sectors of the economy will be opened again. Many will find themselves back to work in the office during this time period after more than two months working from home.

Some companies may also be expecting their workers to return to the workplace ‘business as usual’ however, with the current cases of Covid-19 in the country, there are many amongst us who have been personally affected by this pandemic or know friends or family who have met unfortunate circumstances. Suddenly being thrust back to the office culture to deal with emails, colleagues and maintaining productivity can be overwhelming when dealing with personal grief.

Dealing with bereavement can be a complicated and deeply personal process as everyone will have different ways to cope with their grievances. But here are some healthy and practical tips you can take for when you return to your workplace again.

Contact your boss before returning to the office

If you know when you’re about to return to work, consider letting your boss know of your current situation and what are some of the specific needs you might have. With the loss of a loved one, you could be handling more of the finances, childcare, matters of the will and the like at home. With this, your boss may assign your workload in a much more manageable way.

Control what you want to share and do

Remember that you are in control of what you wish to share to—even if you get asked questions by your colleagues, you are not obliged to answer them. Do not feel forced to share your feelings or your situation if you are simply not ready to.

If you do not wish to go into certain details, you can let your colleagues know by saying, “Thank you for your concern, but I am unable to talk about that now.” Alternatively, you could steer the question into something you are ready to talk about, for example, about what your father meant to you rather than the last few weeks of his life.

Plan your office escape route

We understand that coping with grief of a loved one is extremely hard to do. Even if you are following all these steps and feel like work will distract you from the pain, the thing with grief is that it can suddenly come when you least expect it. Anything could trigger the sadness and even tears in the middle of your office cubicle, despite your efforts to keep them at bay.

When these extreme emotions occur, it’s just not possible for most of us to hold off until lunch time or the next scheduled short break. What if you’re in the middle of a meeting? Or a conference call?

If you ever find yourself suddenly in tears, it’s best to figure out where the nearest restroom is or designate someplace quiet and private such as a stairwell to escape to and compose yourself.

At the end of the day, as much as we would like to repress these feelings, allowing yourself to cry and be sad are natural and also a healthy way to cope with your emotions, even at work. Rather than avoiding them, it’s best to plan for them.

Learn to forgive your colleagues

Unfortunately, we all know how fast news spread in the office. Even if you have decided to only let your immediate superior know, word may still get around and you might find yourself dealing with pitiful glances and awkward eye contact from your colleagues.

People have a natural aversion to the topic of death—it often makes them feel uncomfortable, squeamish and awkward as they find the right words to say or avoid it altogether. Therefore, it is highly possible that colleagues might ask the wrong questions that could be potentially triggering or their actions may rub you the wrong way.

However, even if it can be uncomfortable to deal with, it’s important to remember that most of the time, your colleagues are coming from a place of good intentions and wish to help, but do not know how or the right way to. Most people are unsure of how to deal with the bereaved and unconsciously distance themselves for the better. If you can anticipate such acts, it will help a lot in your grieving process so you don’t take them personally.

It’s okay to ask for help

When at work, it’s always been understood that one should not mix work life and personal life together. But when they are in the process of mourning, it can be exceptionally hard to do as those heightened emotions can follow you to your workplace.

Some days can seem a lot tougher than most. In those situations, always remember that it is alright to reach out to someone and ask for help. Your colleagues and superiors want the best for you and they will work out the best way to help you cope whether it be reducing your workload or simply lending an attentive ear.

Making use of your company’s HR department is also worth a try as they may be able to arrange programs for mental health, stress management and even counselling.

Be kind to yourself

Grieving can take up enormous bouts of strength and energy, leaving you feeling void on the inside. Especially when you are returning to work, your body and mind can go into overdrive, with one half trying to keep up the productivity while the other half just doesn’t want to do anything but wallow.

It’s important to make time for yourself so take deep breaths, practise self-meditation and mindfulness to keep yourself sane during these hard times. These short pauses in your life can help you make it through the rest of the day or even week.

As hard as it may seem, always remember that time heals and this too shall pass.

Alternatively, if you are seeking ways to console friends or family that are mourning, click here.

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