Grieving and working can be very difficult things, especially if a person is not granted time off from work. In some cases, due to lack of staff, workers can only take a short amount of time and return to work relatively early. There isn’t an exact timeline of how long someone can grieve; however, it’s important that, as fellow coworkers, we can provide help and resources through all of the stages. David Kessler, author and grieving expert, explains the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. He also prepared a helpful guide of the best and the worst things to say to someone while grieving. You can find the list of them here.
It is important to be there for the person who is grieving and to ask them if they need anything. Whether it’s babysitting, dog sitting, helping with repairs, cooking, or helping them clean—offer something. Offer kind words and bring up positive memories of them if you knew them as well. Another helpful thing is just be with them and not say anything. David Kessler mentioned this in his best and worst things to say to someone who is grieving and thought it was an extremely powerful takeaway. Often, we always want to find the right thing to say to someone. However, sometimes there is not anything we can say.
If they want to talk about the person they lost, take the time to listen and ask questions. Be attentive and do not do other things while the grieving person is talking. Do your best to give them your full attention and even ask them questions. You can ask what their favorite memory was or what made them laugh about that person. Be mindful but not pushy when it comes to talking to them. Console them this time and help them heal along the way.
If you are a manager and you have been informed of your worker losing a loved one, go above and beyond. Find grief support in their area, ways to relax, and offer them a personal day if they need it. Give a lesser workload if it is possible as well. It is important to be flexible since grief is not always linear. As Elizabeth Gilbert wrote in Eat, Pray, Love: “Deep grief sometimes is almost like a specific location, a coordinate on a map of time. When you are standing in that forest of sorrow, you cannot imagine that you could ever find your way to a better place. But if someone can assure you that they themselves have stood in that same place, and now have moved on, sometimes this will bring hope”
If you notice your coworker unable to return to a normal routine, unable to cope with depression, thoughts of suicide, etc, please contact your company’s HR professional. Grief is complicated; however, with a solid and helpful support system from our work and home life—we can make it better for them. Even if it’s just by giving them a hug.