Chell, can you write a blog to explain why we’re doing this joint grief in the workplace workshop?”
“Sure. I’ll put one together now.”
This blog, a looming feature of my workplace ‘To Do List’, means to write about the worst day of my life. To write about the ordinary and unremarkable Wednesday, 20th March 2019, when the love of my life kissed me goodbye, then left for work, and never came back. To write about the day I arrived at A&E to be told I had ten minutes to “Say goodbye” to Craig, as they finished the final fruitless throes of CPR, following a cataclysmic heart attack. The day I had to hold his hand and rest my sobbing head on his thigh, still warm with the final remnants of life. This is where that part of my life – and Craig’s– ended, and this one begins.
I’ll spare you the horrific further details of that day, of the weeks, months and next couple of years that followed, but I will explain this: my world was thrown off its axis; the landscape I recognised, sought comfort from, expected to hold on to for the rest of my life, had been obliterated. I was suddenly an alien on a planet that no longer had any familiarity, a place where bad things really do happen to good people, where even nature seemed to have no purpose. A place where I was everyone’s worst nightmare (no Hallowe’en costume needed).
Fast forward to some semblance of sense, where the deep fog parted, as it sometimes does, for long enough at least to allow me to gather the energy to ‘move forward’. (Whatever shape that takes on any given day.) I spent endless time online with fellow young widows, some even younger than the 40-year-old me as I was then. I heard horror stories about how they returned to work and were expected to ‘bounce back quickly’ as if their time off was for nothing more than a stinking cold in a bleak winter. A close family member, also deeply affected by Craig’s sudden and untimely death, received short shrift and criticism for not ‘being strong’ and for ‘bringing problems into work’. Something had to be done. So when I was ready, I decided to do it.
Out of the ashes rose some tiny elephants. Then larger elephants. Then all the elephants from all the rooms they’d been squatting in for so very long. It was time for the elephant in the room to be addressed, seen, and heard. It was time to remind each other that to listen was to have empathy and to empathise you must listen.
And so ‘Elephants & Empathy’ was born.
My friend, a recent ex-teacher like me, and a Level 5 counsellor, and I set to work. We knew we had enormous responsibility with what we wanted to achieve. Our joint expertise in delivering, plus our lived or studied versions of grief, put us in a strong position to produce our workshops on dealing with grief, loss and bereavement. I got qualified as an Advanced Grief Recovery Method Specialist and started delving in with 121 clients. At first, we wrote our workshops for the community, dipping our toes into this world of the baffled bereaved, desperate for somewhere to turn where they didn’t have to wait months and months, and where they would be really heard – often for the first time ever. We did two pilot sessions: one face-to-face and the other online when the world shut down again. They loved it. So did we. We needed to do more.
It was always my plan to write our workshops for the workplace; there has been – and is – such a glaring gulf between what people think they know about grief and the reality for grievers. The pandemic only highlighted this and forced the issue. We are mostly grief-illiterate, trying our best to communicate when we are not even speaking the same language. We get it wrong, so we stop trying. We say things to help. They don’t. One in ten people in the workplace are bereaved, often with life-changing loss, the kind of loss that, like mine, throws their world off its axis. We want to help. We want to be part of the movement towards learning this new language, to supporting grievers, to supporting those who want to support others. And here we are. Elephants & Empathy and TLC, two organisations, both with the intention of helping people live happy and fulfilling lives, despite the circumstances they find themselves in. We have joined up to be able to bring to you our Elephants & Empathy, Grief in the Workplace workshops, with our beautifully designed accompanying booklets. Come and learn this new language with us; make mistakes, laugh, cry, listen, be heard.
As I sign off this blog, I go back to the reason I’m doing this. For my darling Craig. For all of the others out there whose lives are unrecognisable and forever divided into ‘Before and After’. For all those grievers who need to be understood, acknowledged, and supported in a way we don’t always know how. We can do this.