One of the things I hear from dads most often is that their return to the workplace was awkward and sometimes even painful because of the way they were treated by co-workers and managers. I would like to get a discussion going as to how men handled this experience and what they did to make it through.
My name is Matt, my wife and I lost our daughter Birdie in early 2007. When i returned to work, about 4 weeks later it definitely was akward. It was really hard because after the initial day or two of condolences it seemed as if every one just totally forgot, and I was left to basically break down on my own almost daily... It seemed so pointless to be working, doing the somewhat mundane things that we do at work having just lost our child. i couldn't stand doing paperwork or dealing with annoying people, especially people who were complaining about the most pointless things. I wanted to scream at people "you think that this is a big problem, I JUST LOST MY CHILD, MY FUTURE" These feelings lasted for about 6 months and have slowly dissipated. There was also a feeling of guilt for leaving my wife at home alone as she worked from home. I knew how devastated she was and it hurt so much that I couldn't be with her to comfort her... These were just a few of the feelings that I went through.
Thanks for writing. Your story, unfortunately, is all too common. Our society seems to think that grieving lasts 3 days and then people are supposed to just move on. When you couple this attitude with the fact that people generally have a hard time even thinking about the death of a child, much less talking about it, it can make for a very lonely experience for the bereaved. This is especially true for dads, because so many people seem to concentrate on only the mom when it's the death of a baby.
One thing I sometimes suggest to dads, if they wish, is that they consider bringing their experience of returning to work to the attention of a trusted manager or co-worker at some point. It just seems that the prevailing attitude will only change when people speak up and talk about how it felt and the fact that it was not not acceptable.
I own a communications and publishing business and one of the issues I have tried to address with our corporate and institutional clients is the issue of grief in the workplace. Unfortunately, if you even mention "grief", many start to shut down and don't want to talk about it. Some even say, "we don't have that problem." Yeah, right.
If management would only start to realize that by supporting a grieving employee in simple ways like offering them some flexibility as they work back into their normal routine, that employee is likely to become productive MUCH faster than if they feel lonely, isolated, and misunderstood. I often hear from HR representatives, "we have an employee assistance program for issues like that." Of course that means the employee is supposed to take the necessary steps to go through the process of contacting EAP representatives and making the necessary appointments. Sometimes that is simply too overwhelming, given what else is going on. While an EAP is wonderful and extremely necessary, a lot of people are nervous about the ramifications of seeking help. Also, the need for the EAP consultation might be diminished somewhat by simple things like having a co-worker or manager take the time in the first weeks and months to simply check-in with the grieving employee and see how they are doing. Sometimes just knowing that someone cares, or even remembers, can be huge in the healing process.
I hope you will share more, Matt, about the things you felt and experienced during that time. Your openness will undoubtedly help other dads going through it, and hopefully, start a dialogue as to how improvements could be made. Thanks again, and I hope to hear more.
Hi Matt -- was just re-reading your post and wondered if you were able to communicate with your wife pretty easily during that time? I often found myself crying in the shower in the morning (pretending soap was in my eyes if my wife noticed they were red) or crying in the car on the way to and from work. I was not able to bring myself to share that with my wife, for some reason, and I've always regretted that I didn't let her help me more as I went through this.ReplyDelete
I came across your site when i was browising another site. I a a mother and I am ashamed to say that I too am guilty. A friend of my ex's lost her baby a few years ago, and i could not give her my support when she did. Granted hers was an early loss, but a massive loss to her al lthe same because has has not been able to fall pregnant since and that time when she did fall pregnant it was a miracle for her for medical reasons. I was not emotionally available for her at the time. I just could not say something that would take the pain away. For me a simple , "I am sorry you lost your baby", was something pointless to say, because my heart did break for her, but i also knew I could not bring her baby back.ReplyDelete
Then I came here and I read about you fathers and your pain. I wish with all my heart I could give you your babies back.
I don't know what to say except that your pain is greater than anything that can be understood.
I don't visit cemeteries anymore, because I don't like seeing children's graves. Breaks my heart in two, t osee children so loved being taken from their families.
I pray for your angels to be safe and happy.
Hi ... thank you for your comments and your understanding of how devastating this kind of loss can be.ReplyDelete
You are not alone in being uncomfortable in even thinking about the death of a child. It is just one of those things that should not happen.
I will also tell you that you are correct that there is nothing anyone can say to take the pain away, so it's pointless to even put the pressure on yourself to try and come up with the right words. But, I can most assuredly tell you that your hugs and tears are one of the greatest gifts you can share with a bereaved parent. Just by being with that person and letting them know you are feeling at least some their pain, goes a long, long way toward validating the loss and helping that person not feel so alone. One of the greatest difficulties about losing a baby that most people never even met, is that family, friends, and co-workers have a tendency to act like it's not important, and therefore the parent doesn't really have a right to be so sad. Even if they don't really feel that way, often the silence is misinterpreted.
So...as difficult as it might be, consider letting someone you care about who has had a loss know that you are there for them and will share their tears. Believe me, they know there are no magic words, so they will simply appreciate your caring and find strength in your hugs. Thanks again for writing.