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By: Dr. Brenda Marshall

"I'm not sure what to say," is often the first thought many have when a colleague returns to work after the death of a loved one. There is a fear of somehow making it worse, or saying something that causes an emotional reaction or simply not knowing how to even broach the topic. Often the choice is to say nothing.

 

No one teaches us how to have these difficult and sensitive conversations. School doesn't. Our parents are often as ill equipped as we are and likely didn't offer a model for us to follow. So what do we do?

 

I see a lot of organizations that "outsource empathy" and give those really tough conversations to an EAP provider or at the very least Human Resources. And while there is nothing wrong with bringing in extra support, most bereaved individuals will tell you, that a few close colleagues who can be present and supportive, go a long way in helping them transition into work. Maybe it's the peer who drops by and has lunch several times a week and simply listens. Or perhaps it's the one who comes by your office, sits down and says "how is it going today" and then waits for an answer. These small gestures can mean so much to someone who is grieving. I remember one person who simply said, "how are you doing" and said it with such compassion, my eyes would well. And that was o.k., she'd just wait for me to respond "doing o.k. today." For me that meant she cared and she didn't get flustered when the odd tear trickled down my face.

 

There really isn't any secret skill required to offer support to someone who is grieving. Simply listening and caring can go a long way.

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