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Sugar Cookies and a Nightmare

How My Daughter's Death Taught Me
The Meaning of Life


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Silent Support

Intervention by a professional experienced in grief and loss can help co-workers provide ongoing support. In the case of sudden death, the parent's pain is intensified at the three-month point, when the numbness has worn off. While initial support by co-workers should be given, silent ongoing support -- again, in the form of flowers, cards, cookies or candy left on a desk — will help alleviate the isolation a parent frequently feels.

Silent support is especially helpful to those who have difficulty expressing feelings. The parent is able to feel the care and concern of co-workers while still maintaining her privacy. A colleague of one bereaved mother commented,

It appeared to me that she was doing well. If she hadn't been, then I would have felt a need to help her get over it. I wasn't sure I had the skill to really help with this. It's one of those experiences that if you haven't had it, you really don't understand it. And so I was happy that she was willing to come back and adapt so well, and yet she wasn't sweeping it under the rug, or taking all of her son's pictures down, or not talking about him. It was just the opposite. She was doing what I thought were healthy things. She was attempting to get on with her life and yet enjoy memories of him — the enjoyable parts. And I listened and was pleased to find that leaving something special on a desk is a more comfortable way of expressing feelings than awkwardly struggling for words.

Silent support is helpful when bereaved parents return to work after the death. Their grief is acknowledged without a required response. While the bereaved want the loss acknowledged, they do not necessarily want to be confronted with it by statements requiring a reply. Instead of asking the employee, "How are you doing?" one might say, "I missed you," "I've been thinking about you," "I'm sorry," or, if spiritual, "I've been praying for you."

The power of remembering, Dr. Expert, is significant in creating a more comfortable and desirable workspace, which can improve the concentration and performance of the bereaved. Feeling trapped in grief, the bereaved employee need not also feel caged in at work due to an unsupportive environment.

That trapped feeling was expressed by a woman whose husband was having a difficult time at work following the death of his 13-year-old son in a mountain biking accident.

He's not enjoying his job. I think it's too bad he couldn't get support. It's not the same with a man who's grieving. They kind of expect that he should be over it. There was an agreement with his bosses when he returned, but when they need something, they forget that that was even talked about. When they want things done, they want it done now.

Gender Differences

This brings up the issue of how different genders receive support in the workplace. One mother was concerned about her husband after the death of their six-year-old daughter. The little girl died suddenly after she was hit in the head accidentally by a baseball bat. The mother was supported in the workplace, but the father wasn't.

Well, for him it is "business as usual." People at work don't support him anymore. No one says anything or does anything. It has been almost a year since Carrie died. It is not the same with a man who is grieving or going through a crisis. At work, they kind of expect that he should be over it, or else they just don't think about it anymore. Where I work, people still kind of protect me and I know they're considerate of me and what I'm feeling. They are still aware that I have a lot I'm going through. That is not the case for him.

With a slightly different twist, gender differences were addressed by a female co-worker wanting to offer support to a male employee whose baby daughter died at birth.

If it were a woman co-worker, I personally would be much more inclined to ask her about it — offer her help — just encourage her to talk. Because to me, it's so important to do that. I really tried to feel out what I would do before Jack came back to work, and I just decided not to because it felt awkward. Maybe it's a female thing. I don't know how to support him.

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