Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine tells a grieving woman that it’s never too late to seek bereavement support.
“During the height of the pandemic, my sister died. She had been unwell for some time, but although her death was expected, it still shocked me. We had always been very close. She was my only sibling and was definitely a very protective older sister – the one person I went to with all my problems.
“When she died, funeral restrictions were still in place so I couldn’t attend. Thankfully her husband and children were able to go and say their goodbyes, which gave me some comfort, and I made the decision to go back to work just two days after her death.
“Because I couldn’t go to the funeral, and the surreal-ness of living through a pandemic, I don’t think I have ever processed my grief properly. It’s starting to hit me now, as I find myself thinking about her a lot and getting really upset that she isn’t there for me to phone when I need some advice.
“I have been back at work for a while now and everyone assumes I’m ok, but I’m really struggling and don’t know how to tell people, or even my boss. I find I have a serious lack of concentration and motivation to do my job and part of me doesn’t really care about it all, if I’m honest. I often find myself going outside to have a little cry or staring at my screen but thinking of my sister.
“No one at work has never spoken to me about the policies in place for colleagues going through a bereavement. Can I approach my boss for some support, and if so, how do I have that conversation? Please help.”
“Coping with bereavement at any time is hard enough. But having to cope with it during a pandemic has had a hugely traumatic effect on many people. Whilst it may feel like it, you are not alone in your grief – so many people have experienced grief in a very different and difficult way over the past two years. And so many people – like you – have not had the opportunity to express their grief as they might normally do.
“A funeral is a hugely important opportunity for people to get together to comfort and support one another, so to have been denied that must have been devastating. I am sure your decision to return to work right away was a means of helping yourself cope. And I’m equally sure that whilst doing so felt right at the time, you didn’t have a chance to grieve. That pain is catching up with you, and you need to find ways to let it out.
“Talking to someone who understands what you’re going through would, I feel sure, give you a chance to express the pain you’re feeling. O Marie Curie organisation (mariecurie.org.uk) have done a lot of work and research into helping recently bereaved people and their Support Line on 0800 090 2309 would be a good place to start.They offer emotional support as well as practical or clinical information aimed at reducing feelings of isolation. The line is open seven days a week and you can find further details on their website.
“Marie Curie also recently launched a Workplace Bereavement Support Hub. The hub will provide employees with advice on how to have conversations about grief with their managers and others in the organisation they work for. It will also offer employers free resources, templates, and guidance to help better support employees through bereavement in the workplace – it could be a valuable tool.
“As to how you approach your boss, I would suggest you ask for an appointment to talk to them privately, and tell them you’re struggling to cope and need help. The death of a loved one is one of the hardest things any of us will go through – that’s why it’s so important to ask for the help you need. Ask if there are any resources available – there may be a bereavement policy in place for a start.
“Also, you didn’t take any time off at the time of your sister’s death, but perhaps you need some time now – even if you have to take it as sick leave – and a bereavement policy should cover this. If you feel you need it, ask if there might be opportunities for flexible working for a while too.
“The hardest thing you have to do is start this conversation – I’d like to hope that, once you’ve done so, your boss will be only too willing to be supportive. It may well be that you’ve hidden your grief so thoroughly up to now, that no one has noticed that you’re struggling.”
If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.