good life, good death, good grief

Scottish Bereavement Friendly Workplaces Toolkit

Case Study 7

"In the months preceding my mother’s death, I had several supportive conversations with my line manager. When my mother died, they sent a text message, which was very kind. The full six days of bereavement leave, was requested via my line manager. I am not sure that was communicated to HR. Was I to follow up?

After that, I heard nothing more from my line manager or the HR department. I was not invited or requested to speak about my return-to-work intentions, nor was I asked about how I was doing. Was there was an unspoken expectation that if I needed any support, I would contact them? I suppose a brief welcome back, I wonder how you are doing email might have been a nice gesture. Perhaps an informal ‘checking in’ process directed by managers or HR, would be helpful. Not a tokenistic admin exercise, but one of genuine concern. To expect people to reach out to their employers on their own amidst the different experiences of bereavement and grief may be unrealistic? Then again, I struggled with having an answer – how was I?

My colleagues were very kind and supportive. There was a collective effort to offer coverage for my responsibilities. Some colleagues sent personal messages of support; others sent messages of condolence. Some invited me ‘to call.’ These were all appreciated but I found it difficult to know – what would I say if I was to call?

I had made it clear that despite the typical process of sending flowers to people who are off work due to sickness or bereavement, I did not want this. My colleagues respected my wishes. They followed up later to share a desire to do something tangible to honour my Mum (and me). I accepted this and found that to be a very moving gesture. Colleagues who wished to, contributed towards a donation to support therapeutic gardens at a children’s hospice. My Mum and her green thumb would have loved that.

When I returned and was ‘back to work’, I felt an unspoken expectation to be ‘fully back.’ I was not absent. I was not fully present, though. My grief experience seemed manageable while working from home – I could take more time to do everything I needed to and met all my deadlines. At home, when the tears unexpectedly arose, there was no need to explain or hide them. Returning to the workplace however, with the continued removal of Covid restrictions and a wider expectation to ‘return to normal’ I recognised that my ‘normal’ had changed. This was all new to me, but I still wonder – do HR mechanisms and the demands of institutions recognise the complicated experience of ‘normality?’"

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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