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How to Deal With Grief at the Office

How to Deal With Grief at the Office

How to Deal With Grief at the Office

By Caity Weaver

Source: The New York Times

Around a month and a half ago, one of my mentors passed away unexpectedly. He was a former boss of mine, but also a friend, and the most supportive person in the world. He was one of the few people in my life who supported me 100 percent.

My current boss knows what I’m going through, but seems completely uninterested in supporting me through this very painful moment. He doesn’t say a word to me in person, and only talks to me through work chat to ask about upcoming tasks. I’ve told him what I’m dealing with, and he hasn’t given me much of a response aside from “I’m sorry, dude.” This is made a thousand times worse because we sit right next to each other. I’ve tried to spend as much time as possible working from home in order to avoid this anguishing office environment, but he chided me for “abusing work-from-home privileges.”

There’s a massive hole in my heart, and his complete neglect for my feelings is tearing me apart. I lost what was probably the best boss in the world, and instead of feeling supported in my office, I feel cold and isolated. Every single day in the office feels like a poisonous dagger in my heart. Nobody likes feeling ignored, but this feels so powerfully suffocating emotionally. What’s the best way to confront this? Do I need to find a new job, or is there some other way to ease all this anguish?

— Anonymous

Before doing anything else: Schedule an appointment with a therapist. Neither your boss nor your newspaper columnist is a viable substitute for a mental health care professional. Exploring your distress with a trained guide could help you recalibrate in the wake of this death. PsychologyToday.com and other sites have therapist search tools that allow you to filter by factors like location, insurance and specialization. Select “grief.”

Few environments are less conducive to grieving than the average American office, devoid of privacy and irradiated with fluorescent lighting. We do not have good norms for grieving at work. In fact, since the practice of wearing mourning garb for prolonged periods fell out of favor around World War I, we have not really had any norms for grieving anywhere. Today, employees are lucky if we receive three paid days off for the death of an immediate family member, after which we are gently expected to return to work and make our colleagues uncomfortable for the foreseeable future. (Is it O.K. yet to instant message him office gossip? Or is he still upset that his sister died?) Grief is like an injury; workplaces should make more room for it. Of course, they should also offer good parental leave. It’s all mostly dreams at this point.

It can be a source of great distress — and stress — to not feel supported by your boss. But it sounds like you’re expecting a lot from this man, and resenting him for a reasonably professional reaction to the news that an employee’s former boss died several weeks ago. (Of course, while emotional support peaks in the immediate aftermath of an event and dwindles over time, grief is not necessarily linear.) Your high-key reaction to his low-key reaction may be making your boss apprehensive to get personal with you, creating a cycle of perpetual dissatisfaction for both.

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