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As the end of the year is fast approaching, it is natural to reflect on the events of the previous year.  We will all naturally reminisce about our losses and gains over the year. Whilst some of us will experience this as a positive, many more will feel pain and a huge sense of grief associated with these memories.

Understanding Grief

Grief is a response to loss; that sounds simple, and yet it is one of the most complex emotional states we will ever experience in our lives. Many people automatically assume that grief is the result of death, but in reality, an adult will experience over 40 different situations that will result in the same response of sometimes acute pain and grief.

Several examples of events that may result in grieving are cited, including death, but this can also be due to a change in circumstance, separation from family, relocation, end of a relationship, change of job, or loss of an item or something with sentimental value, amongst others.

Helping those who are grieving

How can we help others, especially around this festive time, when they are in pain and grieving?

The first thing we can do is notice. Let’s notice when people may be feeling a loss or when they may be feeling extreme sadness and grief.

On a personal note, I experienced loss, most notably when I left Australia to live permanently in England having married an Englishman. I mourned the loss of my single life, my family and friends, and my life in Australia, which was so different from life in the UK.

My greatest grief, however, came when my brother died suddenly of a brain tumour in Australia. I remember getting on the plane to come back to England after the funeral thinking, ‘Yes, I can do this’, but subsequently wondering why I had days when I just couldn’t function, especially at work.

Not long after my return, I encountered a delegate who clearly didn’t want to be there and was quite obstructive in one of my training sessions. Normally, I would have dealt with this behaviour quite easily and ‘won them over’ in no time, but I remember how difficult it was for me, and how much more effort it took because I was still experiencing overwhelming emotional pain and didn’t want to be there either!

Grieving at Christmas

Christmas is a universally celebrated festival, shared by people regardless of faith, particularly in the West, as it is a time when so many of us are not working and there is a strong emphasis on spending time with family and loved ones. This can make it incredibly hard for those of us who have lost loved ones.

After losing a loved one myself, I know I am much more sympathetic to those who have lost theirs. I understand the emotions and pain of losing a lot more, and I also understand how difficult it can be around Christmastime when that person is no longer there to spend the holidays with, and the loneliness that this brings can be overwhelming.

I also recognise that my brother’s death was a personal loss for me, even though it was shared with my family, his wife and children, and his friends. Each of us who knew him had a unique experience with his death, just as our individual relationships with him were unique whilst he was alive. As a result, our reactions and feelings are as distinct and personalised as our grief.

This quote by American writer Arthur Golden describes the feelings of grieving beautifully.

Reaching out during the holiday break

Most workplaces are extremely busy leading up to Christmas, followed by the holiday period when we have little or no contact with our colleagues or team. We cannot always know people’s circumstances, or how they are feeling in their homes during the break.

Being aware of other people and their situations can be key to helping people during the holidays and finding a way to maintain a mutually acceptable connection can be a challenge, but could mean the difference between someone coping and not coping during this time.

Work is often one of the only social interactions that many people have, so they may struggle more than it appears. Look out for anyone who is hesitant to take annual leave or who volunteers to do extra work during the holiday season, possibly citing that they will be alone.

Having something in place— perhaps a ‘buddying up’ system could be a simple way to stay in touch without focusing on one person in particular.

Talking about grief

Ultimately, the change that occurs when we have experienced a loss is at the root of our response, and being able to communicate this with someone we trust is critical to healing and progressing with life. Talking about loss has always been steeped in negativity, perhaps even failure when it comes to the end of a relationship, but it can be helped by maintaining some interaction and conversations, and, as always, sharing how we are feeling.

Being more aware of each other’s challenges and recognising that each of us will manage our response to grief as individuals is an important commitment we can each make to create more understanding and supportive workplaces.

Managers, if you or anyone in your team is experiencing loss or grief and you need help in opening up those conversations, especially during the holiday season, message me so we can ‘buddy up’ and support each other.