It’s been nearly six years since I lost my husband to suicide. It feels like far less time than that, and far longer – both rolled into one. One of the things that really strikes me when I look back at that incredibly tough first couple of years, is the loss of control. As well as the utterly breath-taking grief and guilt, the kids and I lost our routine, the plans we had made for future, our financial security, our privacy, a fair few friends and many, many other things besides. We lost control of our own lives.
I’ve been very struck that, since the middle of March, an awful lot of people have found themselves in similar positions: They’ve lost loved ones – in situations where they must wake up in the morning and wonder if that actually happened; They’ve lost all or part of their household income; They’ve lost their jobs; They’ve lost access to their support networks; They’ve lost their mental health. They too have lost control.
It’s also worth remembering that someone doesn’t need to die for you to feel grief. You can grieve for the pet who was your sole lockdown companion. For the relationship that didn’t work out. You can grieve for the loss of the life you planned.
At the beginning of August I co-hosted a webinar for www.everymindatwork.com called Grief in the Workplace. I talked about my husband’s illness and death, about going back to work afterwards, about the inquest process, about the press articles, about my fears for the kids, about PTSD … about desperately trying to get back to where we were, before accepting that we couldn’t. About accepting that, however far we come (and we have come such a long way), there is before … and there is after.
The impact of any loss varies dramatically from person to person, and from day to day – grief is very personal. But we all know that change is often a difficult landscape to navigate. So it makes sense that change and loss combined is a rockier landscape still – whether it’s in the office or outside it.
It’s worth keeping this in mind as we welcome some colleagues back to work, catch up with those who have worked throughout, and say goodbye to others. Speak to your colleagues about how they feel about what’s happened to them and their co-workers. How have they been? How are their kids? What have they been up to? Have their caring responsibilities changed? Have they felt guilty that they weren’t working or that they kept their job?
And finally, try to keep an open mind. Just because you coped with a change or loss easily doesn’t mean that they have or will. Welcome that diversity. And if one of your colleagues has been through a tough time, take them a Covid-compliant cuppa. And rather than asking the age-old, often-trotted-out “How are you?”, be more specific… “How are you today?” “How’s your mum?” “How are the kids feeling about school?”