My friend and colleague from “Making Families Count”, Frank Mullane (of AAFDA) has shared his own personal experiences of dealing with grief in the workplace with me and given me permission to use it in this blog.
“I can recall walking through the corridors at work wondering why people were not coming up to me and hugging me.
They were busy walking to meetings to talk about interest rates or some other trivia. I knew of course that many of these people had no idea what had happened to me but I found it so difficult to cope with the coldness even though it was not intended. Even if they had known, it didn’t mean I was owed their compassion. And they would have their own worries too. I got all of that, but it was difficult to balance profound grief with being in an ordinary work environment in which I would be expected not to show this hurt. As a result, I often felt silenced at work and my blood often ran cold at the unemotional environment.
Luckily I met some great people too who had time to just be there and witness the profundity of the effects of double murder”.
But for me it’s different again. I have a job where I spend hours and hours alone at a computer and then hours and hours surrounded by people. It’s a job where I have to “perform” and I must have a super-smiley face, full of energy, commitment, confidence and dynamics. Most of the people around me are neither friends nor colleagues; they have paid to be in the room with me. I cannot possibly consider sharing my inner turmoil and grief with them. It would be completely inappropriate. So I keep up the smiley face and I don’t put myself in the position of discovering that they are neither concerned about me or understand why after all this time, I would still be grieving for the loss of my child.
Last night I was talking to my daughter about how the week of blogs was going and she asked me if I was taking requests. Normally not, but for her of course the answer is yes. So my daughter would like to share this with you (with some additions from me).
“I’d like to talk about how hard it is for those of us who have to go out to work every day, whatever day of the year it is and we have to keep our smiley faces on. It doesn’t matter how awful I’m feeling, how low or how tearful, I can’t be that person when I’m at work. It isn’t fair to my colleagues or my customers, it isn’t professional, but it’s also so very hard knowing that I can’t share what I’m going through, I can’t share my feelings with people at work or let them see how the real me is feeling inside.
I’m not saying that no-one I work with cares, I think that most of them do care, but the problem is that they don’t understand. If they think something is wrong with me and they ask me what it is, even if I tell them it’s the anniversary of my brother’s death on Saturday, they won’t understand what that means for me.
Perhaps unless you’ve been through something like this you just can’t understand, but that doesn’t make it any easier for me. I have to be super professional, smiley, smiley helpful lady every day. No-one wants to see my sad face – it really isn’t part of the job.
But it’s so hard and it isn’t just hard at this time of year, or around Nico’s birthday. Bad days can be random. Maybe it’s something you see or something you hear, a smell, a sound or just the way you’re feeling that day, but some days you just want to cry and feel so low and you can’t let that show.
I know that if I do have to tell people what’s wrong or what’s going on with me I can tell that they’re thinking “she should be better by now” and I know that most people are expected me to be feeling fine again after 6 months, and are shocked that you aren’t, as if this is something you just “get over”. I know it’s not just me, I know it’s the same for most everyone who has a job – whatever that job is, and they have the same problems.
I don’t know exactly what I want to do on Saturday, but I do know that I don’t want to act like it’s some kind of celebration of Nico’s life – really, it’s the opposite of that.
Why would I want to celebrate a day so terrible, the worst day of my life, a day I’ll never be able to forget as long as I live? This is the one, horrible day that has nothing to do with Nico’s life. I don’t know what is the right thing to do on this day; perhaps there is no “right thing”. I know that I want to be with my family and remember Nico and support and love each other. I want to feel close to him again.”