2-8 December 2021 is National Grief Awareness week in the UK
Grief can be a bit of a taboo subject, but many of us are living with grief as part of our everyday lives. Sadly, on 2 June 2019 I became one of them.
My sister was a midwife living in New Zealand. She was married with two little girls, aged 6 and 3. On 2 June 2019 she was on her way to a night shift at Christchurch Women’s Hospital when she was involved in a head-on collision with a van driving on the wrong side of the road. She was killed instantly. The van driver was 3 ½ times over the drink driving limit and had taken crystal meth and cannabis. In November 2020 he was found guilty of her manslaughter.
In that instance, grief became part of me. For me, it does not change and it does not get better. It is with me every minute of every day. Some people describe it like waves in the ocean that sometimes knock you down but gradually calm. For me, it’s more like carrying a rucksack of rocks up a steep hill. Sometimes it is manageable, sometimes I slip and fall and the bag pushes my face into the ground and makes it hard to get up again.
People think you move on from grief. Maybe sometimes some people do. But there is no timeframe for when that might happen. Everybody’s grief is different.
What I have found is that it gets harder to talk about as time passes. There is an expectation that, as time passes, the impact will lessen. My sister’s death is shocking no matter how much time passes and I know if I tell someone about her, I will have to deal with their reaction too. It is hard to know how to say it because there is never a good time.
What you can do to support someone who is grieving
Make time. In the workplace, for me, the thing that helps most is being given time. Whether that’s time to talk or extra time for tasks. My grief has symptoms I never expected, including physical pain, being over sensitive to noise, lack of concentration and difficulty sleeping. Being able to say, “I’m having a bad day” and know my colleagues have my back means a lot.
The Good Grief Trust has some other ideas about how to support people who are grieving:
Check in. Be there for the person grieving. Remind them that it is ok not to be ok and however they are coping is fine.
Make time to chat. Grief makes it hard to know what to say but it will mean a lot to the person grieving. It surprised me, how many people shied away from me after the first few weeks of condolences.
Say their name, we’re thinking about them anyway. We are often afraid to mention the person's name who has died. We think we will upset our friend or family member, but it is generally the opposite. By saying their name, remembering them and talking about them, you are helping to share your love and affection for that person. This is very important and will help those grieving to know that you will help to keep their memory alive.
Organisations who can help
Compassionate Friends https://www.tcf.org.uk/
“SIBBS” Compassionate Friends Sibling Support https://www.tcf.org.uk/ftb-siblings/
Cruse Bereavement Support https://www.cruse.org.uk/
The Good Grief Trust https://www.thegoodgrieftrust.org/
Caitlin Hartley is a workplace diversity and inclusion subject matter expert with Vercida Consulting. Her particular interest is in applying project management principles to evidence-based diversity and inclusion – focusing on actions everyone in the organisation can take to drive real change.