“Grieving is like breathing, but we act like we have to hold our breath.” ~Dr. Shatavia Alexander Thomas
The world as we knew it doesn’t exist anymore.
It’s been 3 months and I don’t know what my ringtone sounds like. My phone is perpetually silent. Any loud tune that sounds like a notification has the power to leave me in a frenzy. I have been a victim of many anxiety attacks caused by unscheduled calls and unexpected texts. I live independently in a city that was known to not sleep before and is now being forced to stand still. To support my sanity, my parents and friends are allowed to call me only at a scheduled time. Any call or text outside of the stipulated time means emergency.
I hope you can’t relate to this.
But if you do, we’re here for each other.
Covid-19 or not, the loss of a person always comes with the weight of grief – grief that never really leaves us but changes its shape with time. This time around, we are collectively grieving, all at once. And this calls for a deeper introspection of how we as a society deal with death, what our social bereavement etiquettes are, and how our workplaces handle such events.
Because the tragic truth after death is that those of us who are left behind have to keep on moving forward. As professionals, we have committed ourselves to work and it is a huge part of our lives which cannot be put on hold indefinitely.
So, the big question is: How do we manage a full-time job while grieving?
1. Inform Your Boss And Your Coworkers
Wherever you work, you are expected to bring your A-game into work every day. But grief has a way of scraping us and bruising our best parts in such a way that we do not remain what we were before the loss occurred.
The first and most important thing is to let your boss know that you have suffered a loss, so that they know about your mental and emotional state as you sign in for the days to come.
If you do not tell them, they won’t be aware of your emotional and mental state and will fail at supporting you the best way they can. Being honest with your co-workers about the loss can also be step 1 of accepting your loss outside of your immediate circle.
While you process your loss, it is highly possible that the quality of your work will suffer. In such a situation, if your boss is aware of what you are going through, they will be able to offer help you might require to meet deadlines.
2. Check Your Company’s Bereavement Policy
Consult your co-workers or management to find out if there is a bereavement policy that allows you to take leaves of absence, should you need them.
Your point of contact in such a situation can be someone from the HR department.
They are in charge of all kinds of leaves one can avail, and would be able to help you best. They can help you understand the bereavement policy your company has and ways in which you can choose to use those leaves. Additionally, they will also be able to tell you if such leaves are paid or unpaid so that you can make an informed decision about your next steps in dealing with the loss.
2. Make Time In Your Daily Schedule
Set up some time in your daily routine to grieve. Sounds preposterous? It does.
But carving out slots of time to be truly immersed in your pain is a practice you can benefit from while grieving.
While, of course, it is impossible to plan when the most painful pang and wave of pain will hit you, allowing yourself to have time in your busy schedule to be one with your sorrow can make the process of grieving easier.
Grief overpowers us. Some of us are left immobilised, some cry, and some want to just sit still and forget how to breathe. But grief also happens to be a constant companion. And after a point, we have to find a way of dealing with it in such a manner that it doesn’t disrupt an entire day.
For example, give yourself 30 minutes four times a day to sit with whatever emotions you are experiencing. Once the 30 minutes are over, push through to make it to the next slot.
The best way to fit into an old routine after a loss is to make time to process the loss within the routine.
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3. Plan Your Escape Route
The popular idea of keeping the personal and the professional separate is also the root cause of employees not being open about their circumstances with their employers. Allowing oneself to feel the emotions they are experiencing is often seen as a sign of weakness and that is only one of the things that need to be corrected about our working systems.
However, even if you are in a safe space and the people around you truly care about your well-being, you do not always want to grieve amidst an audience. There are moments through the day when you would really want to be by yourself and having company isn’t always a successful hack for distraction.
For moments like these, when you feel like hiding away, taking a few moments off, you should plan an escape route.
At the moment we all are shut in our houses owing to the pandemic, so there is not much room to escape. However, you can let your family know of the simplest acts that can be helpful. For example: If your door is shut, you would like some alone time.
If you’re worried that you might tear up during a virtual meeting, decide in advance how you’d ask to be excused. If you know the kind of questions that can come up in a conversation, prepare a brief response beforehand.
Knowing what to say or how to communicate your needs at work can make you feel empowered and in control.
4. Set A New Routine That Suits Your Present Version
The person you are now is very different from the person you were before the loss. We constantly try to keep up to who we were before the tragedy and deal with things the way that version of ourselves would’ve. But we are not that version anymore. Grief changes something fundamental within us, and we will have to accept that in order to move ahead.
Find a way that suits the present version of you. A way that meets the needs of the present version of you.
Do you want longer deadlines? Do you want to jump head-first into a new project? Do you need all weekends off? Do you need a tight schedule? Understand your needs and cater to them. Explain your needs to your boss so that they can help.
Organisations have a basic on-paper policy to help someone during loss but they cannot possibly write policies for each member separately. In such a situation, if they are willing to listen, help them help you.
Nora Mclnerny, in her Ted Talk said, “We don’t move from grief. We move forward with it.” Grief-adjacent people have to make room for the grief-stricken to feel safe. While our desk jobs are important for sustenance reasons, they can also be a way back into a routine that can help the bereaved move forward. But it is hard to keep working as if nothing happened. There also comes a sense of guilt upon distraction, as if the loss means nothing. Working a full-time job while grieving a loss can be traumatic, so one must do what one needs to. But for those who continue working will have to understand their needs and communicate them, and the organisations they work with will have to meet them at least halfway in making this phase a little easier. More than anything, the processing of grief is crucial. So, try not to push it to make others’ lives convenient.
You’re brave to have made it this far; you will find a better way through this. The only way through this, is through this.
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