When Fiona Cosh was first offered Grief and Bereavement support, she didn’t think it was for her.
Her husband of 27 years, Dave, died in early December 2017.
Fiona, a legal Secretary at Winckworth Sherwood, soon decided that she did need professional help to deal with her profound grief.
And she’s glad she did. She says:
‘I can honestly say that if I hadn't had the support, I wouldn't be here at work full time today. I would still be a long way off, struggling to understand all the different feelings and emotions, my reactions to things, just trying to function normally.’
The loss of a loved one is probably the most stressful of all life’s challenges. Bereavement counsellor and author Earl A Grollman says:
‘Grief is the last act of love we have to give to those who have died. It says, “I care about you; you matter to me very much and your loss leaves a huge hole in my life” … it gives you purpose to your own sorrow and meaning to the pain.’
No ‘getting over it’
‘How long will it take for them to “get over” their loss?’ That’s a question I’m asked surprisingly often by employers about their employees that I’m helping.
My answer is that you cannot ‘get over’ loss or grief; you recover from it. Recovering from a major loss is not like getting over the flu. We can’t be restored by a good night’s sleep.
Pioneering bereavement analyst Dr Glen Davidson found it can take 2 years to begin to return to some normality after a major loss.
Creating a new normal
So, grief recovery takes years. A major loss feels like the rug has been pulled out from under us. Everything we’ve known and believed in topples over.
Let Fiona explain:
‘Everyone in the office has been absolutely amazing – caring and supportive – but there are times when I just want to run away, when the realisation of everything hits home.
‘I can't understand how everything, and everyone carries on as normal when everything in my life that I knew and trusted to always be there has gone. It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that I am a different person, and I have to start my life all over again.’
Grief recovery is about creating a new normal. It will be challenging but in the long term your life will feel like living again.
No ‘right reaction’
There are many different reactions to news of death. Some people faint, while others stay calm. Some collapse in tears, while others become the world’s greatest organisers (this is my personal default).
No reaction is better or worse. If you fall apart, it doesn’t mean you are weak. Likewise, ‘keeping it together’ doesn’t mean you don’t care.
The important thing? Reacting in the way that is natural to you, rather than putting on a brave face to protect others from your distress.
As Bob Deits says in his wise book ‘Life after Loss’:
‘Well-meaning friends will reward you if you can keep from crying in public. You will be told how strong you are and how well you are doing…
‘No matter what other tragedies exist in the world, right now in this moment the worst kind of grief is yours. The longer you tell yourself you shouldn’t feel as you do, or pretend you don’t hurt, the loss stays with you. You do not owe an apology to anyone for grieving a loss.’
Fiona gives her experience:
‘I have … learnt that it is ok to just be quiet and have “me time”. I don't have to do what everyone else wants me to do. That there is no time limit by which you should be up and functioning normally. Everyone is different.’
To heal properly, you must express the sadness you feel for as long as it takes to release it. Grief is an individual, personal experience. You are the only person who can experience it, and so you are in charge of it.
Through my Grief and Bereavement programmes I work with employees to help them understand grief (this may be the first time they’ve had to truly deal with it head-on).
During our sessions I work through the following stages to help them begin their recovery and move towards a phased return to work.
My support helps employees:
* understand the various stages of grief
* know what to look for
* how to move through it.
As Bob Deits says, ‘accepting “I am in charge of my own grief “, when everything feels out of control can start the healing process’.
Fiona talks about learning how to cope:
‘The main thing I have learnt is to take things slowly, don't try and race ahead.
‘When I start to feel panicky, I take myself away from whatever I am doing and “distract” myself (‘change the DVD’ as I have now learnt).
‘I can (most of the time) recognise when I am going to have a “moment” and take my self away and use the techniques I have been taught to calm down. But obviously there are times when you instantly get upset and you don’t know or understand why, and you can’t stop it. I now
know that is ok too. In fact, it’s more beneficial to me to just let it out and it doesn't mean that I am going crazy.’
The only way out of grief is through it. The most important fact to learn about grief is to choose to recover from it and want to grow through your loss, and have a good and full life.
‘Grief work is hard work’ says Bob Deits. ‘Effective grief work is not done alone’
Be open, share, tell people. Many people can help you work through your loss, especially others who have had similar losses.
If you keep too busy to face your feelings and avoid talking about them, you put yourself at a higher risk of illness following a major loss.
Support from outside
Professional support, such as offered by Beyond EAP, can help where family and friends – who maybe grieving themselves – may struggle.
‘Talking to someone who isn’t family or a friend, who is not there to judge, just listen and rationalise things out, who is there for me, to support me and doesn't have an agenda at the end of the day has been so amazing.
Fiona is still recovering from grief. She says: ‘There are still a lot of things – thoughts, situations – that arise, which I don't understand, and I need help and support to keep me on course.’
‘Being back at work still isn’t easy. There are a lot of days when I still want to
hide under the duvet and want the world to go away.’
But she is back at work, full time. She’s not on long term sick leave and she’s
not struggling to cope.
She’s vocal in her praise of Grief and Bereavement work. Though her words are about Beyond EAP specifically, I think they capture the benefits that professional support in general can offer. Support in ‘darkest days’ Back to Fiona:
‘The help, support and understanding has been incredible.
'They have listened, provided tissues, asked the awkward questions, been
kind and caring, and guided me through what I can only describe as my
‘They have had the patience to help me understand what it is I am feeling and
going through, to understand that there is no time limit. My support coach gave me
encouragement and support, even for the little things that most people take
for granted but to me seem like mountains.’
So, don’t expect your employees to just ‘get over’ their mountain of grief.
Get a programme of bespoke support that will help them learn how to climb,
for as long as they need it.
'Life after Loss' by Bob Deits