It might be a death in the family, a miscarriage or a new life situation that hugely alters their life trajectory. Whatever is the event, it plummets your colleague into grief. While many workplaces offer short term bereavement leave, it’s never enough time. Sooner or later, your colleague will return to work, still burdened by sadness. Here’s how to show up for a grieving colleague:
Acknowledge the grief
Be aware that your colleague is going to be sad and be okay with it. Don’t try to rush to “cheer them up” and keep tabs on your own energy, too. If you’re having a great day, be conscious of how your enthusiasm might affect them.
All aboard the mealtrain
Mealtrain is an online free tool that’s frequently used for new parents, but can also be used for someone who is very sick or has just experienced a loss in their family and could use a little help. Organizing or participating in a Mealtrain doesn’t mean a personal visit is necessary. You could just bring your contribution to work or leave it outside their home in the evening. But if it’s appropriate and your colleague is looking for after-hours company, it can be the perfect instigator for companionship. Ultimately a Mealtrain provides you with a way to show love through something everyone needs – food.
There’s still a big role for the hardworking men and women of Canada Post! Writing and sending a physical card (or gift) with some warm and comforting words is an easy way to demonstrate your best wishes in a thoughtful way. Your gift could be flowers, preserves, some craft beer or any other thing your colleague might appreciate. Key is the personalized note and surprise.
Is there anything you can help take on? Maybe you can support them by taking over a component of a project you are both working on. Or you can run out to grab them a coffee or lunch as they’re slogging away at their spreadsheet. There are all sorts of ways you can help, but one thing to avoid is the ol’:
“Let me know what I can do?” That’s not always all that helpful. Being explicit about what you are going to do to help is far more helpful when your colleague is emotionally exhausted.
Gossiping is a pain in the ass at the best of times. No one likes you prying into their business. When someone is in grief, it’s particularly ugly to spend your morning coffee break whispering and speculating about their sadness. Even if you know something, consider that it is your colleague’s story to tell and your privilege to hear. Respect their privacy.
Don’t give advice.
Often when we try to empathize we go to a place where we relate. If you’ve also lost a parent or friend, you may want to tell them all about it. Try to resist that, especially when they are at the deepest point of grief. Telling your own story is different than showing up for them and their story.
Special Bonus: If you are the boss – find a way to be accommodating
Consider what your employer offers. Are there resources or support programs that you can mention to them? Are there informal mechanisms that you can leverage to create flexibility. Every little thing goes a long way.