Life doesn’t stop just because someone you love has died or is dying. Life goes on even when a relationship breaks up, or some major change happens. People are still expected to get up each day and go to work. Often there is an accepted period of adjustment to new circumstances, but as everyone is different, it is impossible to say how long is long enough.
Employers and fellow workers can do a lot to help each other in these situations. The first thing to recognise is that people grieve not only for those who have died, but also for those who are dying. People also grieve for relationships that have come to an end, and for situations that have suddenly and rapidly changed. And grief for a pet can be as intense as the loss of a person.
The grief can be for the loss of the physical presence of someone or for the loss of the things and situations that went with that person.
Everyone faces loss at some time in their lives, and the support from work colleagues can make a big difference to how much their loss affects their ability to continue with other things in life, such as work.
It is suggested that there are five stages to grief (Kuber Ross, 1969). These stages may appear in any order, but are usually easily identifiable.
Often denial is a first stage. When facing the death of someone close, or the expected death, or the possible end of the relationship, people will often convince themselves that it won’t happen. In cases of terminal illness, people often resolve to fight it, or suggest that the diagnosis is wrong. This can lead to anxiety as the person fights any suggestions which fail to confirm the belief.
Anger is often very evident and not only attached to the situation of loss. Anger will often take the form of blaming others for what has happened. Sometimes people who follow particular religions will become angry with their religion or with God. Sometimes people will become angry with everyone, for being alive when the loved one isn’t. This stage of grieving requires a lot of patience, and careful communication if it extends to the world in general. It is much easier to deal with if the anger remains contained within the situation.
Bargaining is another recognised stage of grief. When someone is facing terminal illness or the terminal illness of someone close, they will often make deals with themselves and even others to try to avoid the predicted outcome. This is often quite evident in the impending break up of a relationship.
Depression will often result when the reality of a situation sets in. Major adjustments in thinking as well as in living have to be accepted, and there often appears to be few choices. Having the opportunity to talk and to share plans and future goals with others will usually help at this stage.
Usually a final stage of grieving is acceptance. The acceptance of the fate of a loved one or the unavoidability of the predicted outcome is usually the first step to coming out of the grief. While we may never forget people, we can learn to accept a life without their presence, and appreciate the memories.
Recognising the different stages and responding appropriately will go a long way towards helping a person to complete their grieving and look to the future, with minimal disruption to the working life.