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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Year, New Changes...going back to work!

January 2011, wow it seems only yesterday we were wishing each other Happy New Year, yet another year has flown by.  For so many of us it is back to work, back to school, back to whatever routine makes up our lives.  Nothing drastic has occurred, we have simply been ushered into a New Year.

Some of you partied, danced and were out celebrating with friends and family, others had a good time at home.  Still others quietly watched the old year slip into the new one, while others slept right through it.  However you observed the entrance of the New Year and the passage of the old one is neither here nor there; it has arrived whether we wanted it to or not.  

Life is so like the passage of time, we can choose to live it fully or quietly watch it going by.  When you are grieving, life takes on a totally different state, it seems surreal.  I remember that very first year after my daughter’s death.  I was neither a participant nor an observer, it went on without me.  But yet it moved on, even in all that pain, despair and depression, it kept going, ticking through my life as if nothing had happened.  

The amazing thing is that even though life kept going, the changes did occur, have occurred.  I am definitely not the same person I was over 4 years ago.  My name is the same, I reside at the same location, I am still married and I am still the mother of three children, all that has remained the same.  But I have somehow evolved, I am still Rose Mary Saraiva, but I have gained insights and experiences that would not have been mine to know or comprehend, had my life continued on its path.  

I have of course changed careers, my previous career would not have been conducive to my grief and the processes I had to go through.  I was in sales, a people business and I was not ready to deal with the demands of the position, or maintaining a façade.  As I have mentioned before, I was home for a year before getting back into the work force.  When I did return, I opted for a position that would allow me to just do my job without the pressure or demands of the sale industry.  I also wanted to find an employer close to home, I did not want to be too far away, just in case.  For many who knew me, they were amazed at my decision, but I knew it was what was best for me at that time in my life.
I have had a few friends and know of others who have returned to their old jobs after the loss of a child, only to leave after less than a year.  I do not regret my decision, nor could l have clearly made one at the time, too much had happened and that was enough to deal with.  There have been others, as well, who have returned to their old jobs and faired very well.  What I found is that when I went back to work, albeit a different position and employer, they were compassionate and understanding.  Even though none of my new co-workers at the time had experienced my type of loss, they never the less gave me the space I needed.
In that first year that I went back to work, there were many triggers that reduced me to tears.  All too often I would find myself crying, I was blessed with individuals who let me do just that, cry.  I was also reassured that if I needed time off for whatever reason, just simply having a bad day, that would be okay.  It was a very supportive and understanding environment, allowing me to feel productive again, but giving me the space and freedom I needed to grieve.  

All too often when a grieving employee returns to work, people avoid and shy away from them, leaving the individual feeling even more alone and isolated than they already believe themselves to be.  Of course, the ‘stupid’ remarks don’t help, but unfortunately, people are only human and they will say the darnedest things.  What I found important, and what many employers do not realize is that when we are grieving, we need to be allowed to do so.  Too often they try to stifle our emotions by making a bereaved employee feel uncomfortable if they express any feelings, etc.  

What some employers don’t realize or seem to forget, it that going back to work for a bereaved employee is a very difficult decision.  It is a decision that is loaded with guilt, with uncertainty, and with the knowledge that they may not be able to control their emotions.  I knew that I might overreact to complaints from my customers, and that trivial conversations might become too tedious for me.  I was also afraid that I may say or do something that I would regret and this fear alone scared me.  Any of you who have suffered or are suffering through the death of a loved one, know exactly what I mean.  You seem to lose any filtration system on your thoughts and words, and often say the first thing that comes to mind.  For me I really didn’t care, what was the worst that could happen to me, I had already lost my daughter, so what if my words hurt, I was hurting, what did I care.  

internet, local libraries, bereavement groups, etc., you would be surprised at what a difference you can make in some one’s life, by just trying to understand and show compassion.

For those who are contemplating returning to work, I have found some advice on various sites by simply entering a search such as ‘returning to work after the loss of a child, spouse, etc. 
The following is great advice from American Hospice Foundation, in an article by Helen Fitzgerald, CT, The Bereaved Employee: Returning to Work.’ 

Before returning to work:
  • Be sure your office knows what happened.  Give them as much information as you are comfortable sharing.
  • Let the office know you want to be included in regular e-mail to be kept abreast of what is happening at the office.
  • You might arrange to go into the ‘office’ to meet co-workers for lunch, getting past the first encounters and the ‘I’m so sorry,’ comments.
  • Consider returning to half-days for a week or so, to ease yourself back into a normal routine.
  • Ask a therapist – or ask your employer to arrange for one – to meet with co-workers, especially if the death was sudden or traumatic.
  • Encourage co-workers to learn as much as they can about grief so they can better understand what you are going through.
  • Keep good communication going.
  • It is important to share your story.  But be careful not to share your feelings too much or too often.
  • You may need help with certain projects or deadlines.  Don’t forget to thank those who help.
Thinking ahead will make your return to work easier and less painful. Healing from the death of a loved one is a long, slow process, but getting back into a routine is an important step in the journey.
(c) 2002.  American Hospice Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

Where ever you may find yourself right now, is where you need to be.  We all travel life’s paths at our own pace, and we need to be good to our selves when life throws us a curve ball.  When dealing with the world, we sometimes have to be kind and gentle with others too, keeping in mind that they may not know what to say or do.  We are all learners, constantly reaching for comprehension and knowledge, seeking to not only help ourselves, but others as well.  Remember, though, that above all, be patient with yourself, this is not an easy journey, and it will have many bumps, detours and obstacles.  Get help if it gets too difficult, or you feel totally lost, it truly helps.  It was my saving grace during those more difficult times in my grief.

Take care of yourself, give yourself space and allow yourself to heal at your own pace.

Here’s is hoping that 2011 will be a year filled with love, laughter and much healing.  Let it be a year of discovery, renewal and of welcoming new experiences and an awakening to a new you.  

Blessings! and until we meet again.


  1. Rose Mary, This is really a great post covering many topics. I appreciate your observation about being neither a participant nor an observer immediately following Rachel's death. Yet, life continues on. Change still happens. I'm glad you made the decision to change jobs, realizing yourself how impossible your old one would have been. Also great advice here on returning to work. I don't think our society knows how to help those grieving very well. That's part of the reason I began writing my blog and book. This is helpful.

  2. Thank you Nancy.

    Change is definitely inevitable, and yes our society shies away from death, and everything that is associated with it. Especially the grieving process, in this hurry up world we live in, everyone wants a bereaved person to move on, quickly. I have found that those who have suffered loss, are more understanding and compassionate. As far as the work force goes, many employers have a hard time understanding parenting, or family issues, giving their employees a hard time if they need time off to care for a sick family member or child. Or in some cases, even the employees own health issues. So imagine how much harder it is for a bereaved person when there is nothing tangible to hang your hat on.

    I have to add that like anything else, there are abuses in any system, but for the most part hurting individuals, are truly 'hurting.'

    In the business world that I delve in, many workshops are offered to help you cope with difficult people, manage employees, write better anything, etc. One of my recommendations would be a workshop on helping employers and coworkers cope and deal with life altering issues. From my angle, it really could be done and from the information I have garnered and from reading the information of other people's blogs, it would be one of the best services and workshops any employer could offer.

    Look at what they do at the schools when a fellow classmate has died, employers should take their cue from this. We all have a hard time understanding why and coping with death.

    Best of luck with your book, looking forward to seeing it published.

    Take care Nancy,

    Rose Mary xoxox