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Career Tool

Balancing Grief and Work



Balancing grief and work

Interpersonal Edge
July 24, 2016

Q. My wife died very recently, and I am now a single parent of young kids. I have to admit my attention at work is greatly diminished. I’m afraid I’ll get fired, but I know I am unable to give my all at work. How can I balance intense grief and keeping my job?

A. You’ll be able to keep your job by realizing no one in your office is telepathic. I could tell from your email you have high standards which you won’t meet right now. You can aim for an adequate job and you will be unlikely to lose your job.
When my clients go through personal tragedy they are all concerned that their intense personal suffering will get them fired. Be comforted by the reality that coworkers and managers only know what they see you do. No one knows about the inner hell you are walking through unless you choose to share it.

You will benefit from setting realistic expectations of others at work. Without going into great detail, make sure coworkers and managers know this is not a moment you’ll take on extra work, hours or responsibility. You’ll be coming in and leaving on time and taking more vacation and personal days.
You can also make it clear you are committed to your job and that this is a temporary period where you need to grieve and heal from your loss. To help you heal, find both a good therapist and a grief group. Being with others who are grieving will help you see you will come out the other end. Be picky about your therapist. Make sure this person goes beyond paraphrasing you. They should help you invent solutions to the numerous new problems the death of a spouse creates.

When someone very close dies, a person’s central processing unit is flooded by the attempt to accept a reality that is completely unacceptable. Your attention span, memory and problem-solving abilities will all be diminished. You will feel disoriented, overwhelmed by tiny details and unsure about whether you are able to function in your new reality.

Add the necessity of parenting small people, and you may feel like throwing in the towel. There is a saying that adversity introduces us to ourselves, and grief definitely challenges us to reach deep to find resiliency. If you can just get up every day and do the next thing in front of you, I promise it will get easier.

Be willing to ask everyone you know for help. Don’t do this alone. Don’t ask your workplace for pity, but do ask them to let you pull back to basics during this tough time. Reach out to family, friends, new friends in your support group, others parents, and any hired help (including teens) you can afford.
You’ll often hear during this time that you will need to find a new normal. Grieving people hate this reality because the truth is they want their old normal back, but that is impossible.

To balance your fear of unemployment, also be comforted that since you do have high standards, your version of an adequate job probably exceeds most people’s version of high performance. Your boss is unlikely to want to give up on a high-functioning employee rather than ride out a temporary lull with you.
Lastly, while you walk through this very real personal hell, remind yourself that tragedies will shake us like fierce winds but they also force us to grow roots that will sustain us the rest of our lives.

The last word(s)

Q. I work with a stupid know-it-all. I am constantly having to point out to him why what he is saying won’t work. Is there a better way to handle a guy who is arrogant and wrong?
A. Yes, let him try out his theory and fall on his own sword. People who believe they know it all are only humbled by failure.

(Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel’s "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She’s the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.)