Grief: The Journey Continues

from Jody Neufeld (June 7, 2010)

Most employee handbooks distributed when you begin a new job are rarely read in the first 90 days. They are usually dropped into a drawer and pulled out when a specific question arises. Questions like: My mother-in-law just died. Do I get any paid leave?

Since working for a hospice over 12 years I have been astounded that the ‘norm’ for paid bereavement leave is three days! Most companies will approve a week when the death is a “close relative” like parents, children, brother, sister, and immediate in-laws. You probably won’t get paid for it but they won’t fire you either.

In what universe is a human being able to handle all the paperwork and personal tasks that are required after the death of near relative much less compartmentalize their emotions and slam the door on that compartment so they can function in the workplace? It is no surprise that companies may find the employees reporting ‘minor’ illnesses like migraines, flu, ulcers, and difficulties in achieving their ‘normal’ production level. Well, duh!

It has been almost six years now since my son, James, died of cancer in September 2004. This summer two of his friends celebrated milestones in their lives. The first got married. The second graduated from college. I rejoiced for both of them and yet, sobbed off and on those days. James would not be going to college. James would not be getting married. And I so I grieved for what would not be.

Grief is a sneaky emotion. Sometimes you can see it coming but most of the time you don’t. I have learned some things that help me pick myself up and move on:

  1. Don’t expect to be super-human. Being human is hard enough. I did not go to the ceremonies of these two men. There were valid reasons for not going but I also did not force myself to go. I sent cards and prayed sincere prayers for them.
  2. Do something that helps you to release the grief. Listening to music that James enjoyed or flipping through pictures and remembering his life brings the emotions gently to the surface for me and are caught in a few tissues.
  3. Get up the next day and put one foot in front of the other. Moving on is not about racing on or leaping on but making progress forward. It may be a small step forward but it is making the choice not to set up camp and live in a spot. It has been a few months and few weeks since the respective events. And I am better than I was before the events.

Grief drives us into habits of serious reflection, sharpens the understanding, and softens the heart.”        – John Adams (1735-1826)

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