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About Carol Kearns

San Francisco Buisness Journal

May 17, 1982
By Mike Flynn
Editor's notebook...

PART OF CAROL KEARNS DIED that November day more than five years ago when a freak wave rolled in off the Oregon Coast, snatched her young daughter from the rock on which she was standing and swept her out to sea.

When Kristen's battered body was found a few days later, Kearns began the painful and lengthy process of working through her grief.

"There were times I flirted with despair," she recalls. "Other times I thought I might actually be losing my mind."

But on occasion she would meet someone who had already worked through the grief process that follows the loss of a child or a spouse.

"They would be smiling and I'd think, 'That's my lifeline. Someday I'll be able to smile, too.' "

In the years since the accident, she has found she can smile again. But her belief in the importance of that lifeline of support for those in grief has led her to what she views as her career commitment.

That commitment lies in prodding Bay Area companies to develop bereavement programs to aid employees who have suffered the loss of a loved one.

Kearns is a senior consultant with Dalaba Associates, a San Francisco consulting firm that offers counseling services to corporate personnel. She is also a director of counseling for Right Associates, a national executive outplacement company.

Because she had no background in business and no knowledge of the business community, she concedes, "the whole financial district was rather overwhelming to me at first."

But buttressed by her commitment, she began knocking on doors. What she found, she says, is that few doors were closed in her face. "It's been really gratifying to find that companies have a human side."

To the best of her knowledge, the bereavement-counseling effort in which she's involved is unique. "There doesn't seem to have been any contact with companies in the area of bereavement.

"Companies are really coming around to the realization that they have an investment in key personnel and that a loss by that key person can have a profound effect on job performance," she notes.

She suggests one reason may be that "when you consider all the problems for which counseling is a necessity, like death, divorce or job loss, you're talking about a large percentage of employees."

Her goal is to work with companies "to point out how they can support these people and basically tell them it's okay to grieve when they've suffered a loss and let them know their company is prepared to offer any help possible during that grief process."

A lot of companies, she says, have a natural reluctance to get involved with people at that level. "But that kind of support in the work environment can be crucial."

She points out that people experiencing grief "tend to feel the rest of the world is going forward and they're going backward. When these people become aware that an atmosphere of caring exists at their company, they realize they don't have to be so stoic in handling their grief."

A KEY PROBLEM IN A WORKPLACE where such sensitivity does not exist, says Kearns, is "People feel they're not permitted to evidence their grief. Thus they tend to keep their emotions bottled up inside them, and the result can be turning to alcohol or drugs for release."

Kearns says she's counseling one businessman who jogs during his noon hour. "He doesn't feel he can let his grief out at work. But while he's running, the tears mix with the sweat so no one can tell he's crying."

She says she has found the sudden loss of a loved one can have a particularly profound effect on successful people. "The Golden Boy or Golden Girl for whom life has served up a series of successes has a more difficult time coping with loss than the average person."

Some of the Bay Area's largest companies are on the growing list of firms that have responded affirmatively to her campaign to develop bereavement counseling programs.

"When I started this effort nine months ago," she notes, "I thought it was going to take a lot of pushing to get companies interested. But it hasn't turned out that way. There's been a very positive response."

Reprinted with permission.