Grieving is a normal process and the duration and intensity can vary depending on the individual and the situation. During this process, the mourner must come to terms with the fact that the deceased will never come back, and gradually learn to live with the memories that remain.
Mourners generally, but not necessarily, go through different stages (denial, anger, disorganization, reorganization) during which their daily functioning may be affected to varying degrees. Normal reactions include feeling sad, questioning the meaning of life in general, or of one’s own life, needing more solitude or more social support than usual, experiencing concentration problems, irritability, etc.
The loss of a loved one is a destabilizing experience that requires time for recovery. In the early stages, most people feel intense grief which diminishes over time, but may return with varying degrees of intensity when certain events rekindle the feelings of loss (the person’s birthday, the first office party without the person, etc.).
After a certain amount of time, which can last two years or more, mourners come to feel that they’ve done their grieving and have regained a feeling of stability that is comparable to (although different from) the stability they had before their loss.
How you can help
If any of your employees show signs of grief, either directly (by talking about it) or indirectly (by unusual behaviours or attitudes that emerged during the grieving process), here are some strategies that can be helpful:
- Tell them regularly that you care about how they’re feeling and that you’re there to help if they wish.
- Respect the fact that people may be deeply affected by a death, even if they did not have much direct contact with the deceased, because they may have been significant to them in some way. It’s also possible that the death may have reactivated another grieving process which they had not completed.
- Resist the temptation to want employees to “get on with it” quickly. Grieving is normal, and you can’t speed up the process. If you show signs of exasperation, this can make the grieving period longer and more difficult.
- If you obtain more information on the circumstances of the death, tell your employees. In the case of a suicide, consult your Assistance Program specialist, before sharing any information as some information may have a negative effect.
- Be on the lookout for signs of serious destabilization which could indicate that the person needs additional help (i.e. no improvement, or even deterioration of attitudes and behaviours). Offer your support, and encourage the person to contact the Assistance Program.
- Resist the temptation to use clichés like “I know how you’re feeling,” “It was fate,” or “At least now he’s at peace.” You’ll never know exactly how the mourner feels, and minimizing death is never helpful. Although such comments are intended to diminish the feeling of loss, they often have the opposite effect.
Feel free to contact the Assistance Program yourself if you’d like to obtain advice on how to help your employees, or if you’d like suggestions for improving the action plan you’ve already developed. We’re here for you, too.