My heart goes out to Sheryl Sandberg with the tragic loss of her husband, Dave Goldberg. Dealing with the death of a loved one is difficult but even more so when you return to work and try to carry on while knowing everyone is tip-toeing around you.
Today, my guest blogger is Jason Garner who will talk about dealing with grief in the workplace, sharing his very personal experience. Jason says when his single mother, who struggled and sacrificed while raising him, died from stomach cancer, he lacked the tools, support, and understanding to get through the grieving process. Garner’s book And I Breathed (2014) tells his cautionary tale and he has lots of advice, tips and insight for people like Sandberg who must readjust their work life balance and fit grieving into the equation.
Six years ago I was the CEO of Global Music for Live Nation, the world’s largest concert promoter … and then my mom died. My life took a drastic turn as I found myself unable to deal with the crippling grief while continuing my duties of overseeing thousands of employees and live concerts around the globe. I lacked the tools, support, and understanding to get through the grieving process, and have spent the last six years on a journey to better understand myself. I’ve spent thousands of hours learning with masters of body, mind, and spirit with the hope that by sharing what I’ve learned, others won’t have to face life alone like I did.
Dealing with the death of a loved one is a complex and difficult experience full of powerful emotions. Experts say the grieving process takes around three years for us to heal, understand, and accept life absent a person we deeply loved. I’ve learned this process is necessary and can’t be rushed. But few of us have three years to pull ourselves together before getting back to the pressures of work. This is where simple tools can be valuable in helping us cope with our grief as we return to work after a loss.
Following are ten tools that can help us better function in our jobs while dealing honestly with the pain and loss that comes with death.
- Be real. Grieving is tough. Our hearts are filled with emotion that often comes spilling out in the form of tears, anger, and lack of patience with others. Accepting this fact and giving ourselves permission to be human in the process relieves the tension of trying to “gut our way through it,” “put on a game face,” or “just move on.” Have patience and compassion with yourself and set the tone for how you hope others will deal with you during this process by being kind and understanding with yourself.
- Breathe. When we are going through pain we often hold our breath in the fear that letting go might lead to us breaking down. In reality though, the body interprets the holding of the breath as an emergency, which causes our bodies to feel even more stress and pressure. Take frequent breathers — regular intervals where you remind yourself to breathe deeply — and send the soothing message to your body that all is well.
- Move. The grieving process is filled with emotion, which is stored in the body as adrenaline. This stagnant adrenaline is the cause of the racing and trapped feelings we often feel under stress. Movement allows the body to release the pent up emotions and promotes flow. Find time in the day to move: take a walk, stretch, do yoga, or just stand up and move your body to allow the stagnant emotions to move and release.
- Cry. Crying on the job is often seen as taboo. But when we spend half our day at work, it’s bound to happen at one point or another, especially when we are mourning the loss of a loved one. Bursting into tears can be embarrassing and can cause alarm to our coworkers. So find a safe space and time — in the bathroom, at the park on your lunch break, or for a couple of minutes in your car — and give yourself permission to let go, to really cry, and to feel the sadness that naturally comes with death instead of bravely trying to hold it all in.
- Share. Sometimes during life’s challenges we behave as though we’re the only one having problems. So we bottle our troubles up inside and try to be superhuman. The result is rarely positive and eventually we break down, feeling misunderstood, alone, and isolated. The reality is, though, that many people are going through challenges at the same time. Death in particular is an experience to which we can all relate. Be open with your boss and coworkers. Share your challenge with them, ask for the patience, and allow yourself to be supported.
- Sleep. Getting enough rest is a powerful way to help regulate your emotions. Be sure when you’re grieving to plan for extra sleep. Pulling all-nighters at work or with friends is a sure way to leave your emotions frazzled and increases the likelihood of a breakdown on the job. Make it a point to shut down work at a reasonable hour and give yourself ample time to rest and relax.
- Get away. Many employers offer some kind of leave following a death. Even if your job doesn’t have a formal policy for leave, talk to your supervisor and ask for some time. A few days away from work to process your loss and let your emotions out in private can go a long way in making your return to work less emotional and more productive.
- Get help. For many of us, our job has become all-encompassing and we have little time for friends, family, or hobbies. While grieving, this adds another element to the challenge of coping at work because we lack outside outlets where we can share our feelings. Find a friend, family member, or therapist and allow yourself the chance to vent your feelings so you don’t have to carry so much to work.
- Meditation. Even if you’ve never practiced meditation, the grieving process is a good time to start. A few minutes of silent meditation gives you a break from the stress of the day to be present to yourself and your emotions. Don’t worry about how to do it; just sit, close your eyes, breathe, and give yourself a little space.
- Be tender. Be tender and gentle with yourself even if the world around you isn’t understanding. Share words of encouragement, give yourself space and patience, and don’t add extra stress by taking on new responsibilities or obligations. Most of all, understand that you’re going through a major life event and give yourself love and compassion along the way.
Remember: you aren’t alone. The process you’re going through is one that everyone faces at one time or another. Use these tools as trusted friends to lean on when times are tough. And above all be kind and gentle with yourself as you grieve.