Bereavement and Work – A Personal Journey

Bereavement is a personal journey that effects everyone at some point in their life. How are we geared to deal with it both personally and within our working lives?

A year ago, my life changed completely, my dad a spritely 77-year-old who looked and seemed young for his age (good genes apparently) suddenly became ill. Tests and a stay in hospital gave us the diagnosis of terminal cancer. He had a month to live. Armed with this knowledge I had a dilemma. Did I carry on working full time, I didn’t have the benefit of sick pay. Did I try to do a hybrid and work around my dads needs or did I just take the time out and care for him, knowing I had no income for however long it took to be there for him.

Those choices may seem simple, but the working environment in this current age has deadlines, workloads, our organisations are pretty lean, and we don’t have the luxury of offloading work to others. The pressure to maintain and continue in the work place is huge. But hang on where is this pressure coming from? Is it our beliefs that we can do it all, is it that we believe that we will look weak and unable to cope if we do ask for that time out?

As an HR professional I have seen many of my peers at senior level struggle with the dilemma above. We are getting to that age when our parents are becoming more frail and may need additional support and even care. We have a care system that is not fit for purpose, but it’s the best we have. To have one or both (in my case) of our parents ill or dying is something that we will at one time face.

I am in a position to influence others in how we deal with bereavement, whether it is to ensure effective counselling is in place, offering a sabbatical or just being flexible and supportive around the individual, knowing that day by day things may change and it’s out of their control. With this scenario on the increase, is it time for us all to review how we deal with bereavement and the workplace? If you find yourself in that place as I did, what would you do, what coping strategy do you put into place. The old adage about putting your own oxygen mask to enable you to save others is definitely true here. As HR professionals or senior managers what can we do, I needed someone to see I was in distress, I was so in the moment I hadn’t realised how distressed I was, I needed someone to come and talk to me and talk through the options. I had a fear that I would look weak. I truly believed I could do it all. I needed someone to work on a plan with me, to ensure that we reviewed the plan and make sure I was delivering against it, or if it didn’t it was adjusted. I am sure I am preaching to the converted with my fellow HR professionals, but how can we ensure that across our organisations we touch those that need it. No one mentions bereavement until we need to. Is it time to change that?

What did I do, I tried really unsuccessfully to be everything for everyone…….. I failed. So I made the decision to step back from work and spend all of my time with my dad. Those final 28 days I spent with him was the best investment of time I have ever made. I have no regrets. What would you do?

Source/Author: Caroline Cotterell, Director, HR Solutions Team

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