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Coping with emotional grief in the workplace is never easy. It becomes even more challenging and complex to deal with a personal loss as a working parent. In this blog post, Axiom Medical’s CMO, Dara Wheeler, shares her emotional journey with grief and practical steps based on her real-life experience.

Coping With Grief in the Workplace:

Most of us will actively process grief at some point in our working life. Yet, no one tells you the practical things about managing grief at work. In fact, coping with grief in the workplace is the hardest thing, in my opinion. Processing deep emotions and grief will not be the same experience for everyone, but maybe what I went through can help someone else on their journey.

Coping with grief

My Story:

In 2013, my father was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. My dad had just retired from a teaching career, moved to Texas to be near my family, and was looking forward to his retirement years. My sister and I are both proclaimed “daddy’s girls,” and I was so happy he moved a couple of miles away. My daughter was about to turn two, and she loved her Grandpa.  

At that time in my career, I was the third wheel leader to the two founders of the company I worked for. I was mostly through an MBA and working a lot to help grow a founder-led business.  

At first, it was all about practical considerations. Who would drive him to treatments? Who would teach him to download shows and movies on his tablet for lung cancer treatments? As chemo and treatments progressed, a lot of the appointment support fell on me. I felt guilty for being frustrated and taking work calls on my drive back and forth, feeling like I wanted to be fully present for him and missing important milestones with my daughter, work, and school.  He lived for about one year after his diagnosis, dealing with intense treatments and life moments.  I had read at some point that major life milestones bring out major insecurities or underlying issues in families: death, birth, marriage, and other moments are major life changes that are difficult to work through as a family.  My dad was hospitalized for a while before he died, and I brought work along with me.  I sat by his bed with my laptop, responding to emails and messages and being ever available.  

My Healing Journey:

These are the things I wished someone had told me or warned me about.  You might not ever be prepared, but I was surprised about a few key things: 

  • Grief is Cyclical.  There is nothing linear about it at all.  You can feel like you are dealing with it, but it will come back in unexpected ways.  You could be talking to a co-worker about something you did with your lost loved one years ago and ended up in tears. 
  • Life Meaning. When you go through one of those big life events, all other things feel trite and meaningless.  As I sat in that hospital, answering what felt like silly questions, I felt two things simultaneously.  It put what really mattered in perspective for me, and it also made me angry that people cared about the minor issues at work.  A person is dying…can’t you figure out how to handle the coffee order?  In some ways, perspective is a good thing. It showed me how to value my time with the people I love.  Anger is a part of the grieving process, and I was extra careful to not take that anger out on co-workers.  My husband wasn’t always so lucky! 
  • Time and Communication.  I don’t regret the choices I made at the time regarding where and with who I spent my time.  My company allowed me the flexibility to be there for my dad at appointments, and I made sure to communicate extensively along the way.  Make sure if you are going through any big life event that could affect your work, you communicate comprehensively with your team and your supervisor.  You may be surprised by how supportive they are, and you will need all the support you can get. 
  • Seek Professional Help. When things were out of control and I could not manage my emotional distress while coping with grief and loss, I reached out to a mental health professional for help. We worked together and came up with practical and actionable steps to help me with my healing journey.

How to Deal With the Grieving Process

Grief is an unavoidable part of life. There are ways to find help, move on, and live again. Here are a few steps that helped me and may help you if you are in a similar situation.

  • Acknowledge your pain and give yourself time to heal.
  • Grief can trigger many different and surprising emotions. So accept it.
  • Understand that your grief will be unique to you, so don’t compare yourself to others who have lost someone close to them.
  • Reach out to people for help, especially those who care about your well-being.
  • Take good care of yourself both mentally and physically.
  • Recognize the difference between grief and sadness.
  • Always seek professional help if there is a need.

 

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