Bereavement

Help Your Employees Deal with Grief

Published in MultiBriefs By Lisa Mulcahy

It’s a common scenario, unfortunately. One of the best members of your team suffers the loss of a spouse, parent, sibling or child. Corporations, of course, allow for some bereavement time, but experts say the process of working through the initial stages of grief can last on average between six months and a year, and in some cases even longer.

How do you handle it if this employee breaks down in tears in a meeting? What if his work is temporarily not up to par? How can you best encourage your staff to show compassion and support for her at this difficult time?

Here are five compassionate strategies for helping your workers cope emotionally as they navigate their duties as productively as possible through a profoundly difficult time.

  1. Send condolences

First, it’s a must to send appropriate condolences to your employee in the early days of her initial bereavement. This means a heartfelt sympathy card and flowers sent on behalf of your entire staff. Your employees should also be allowed and encouraged to express their individual sympathy as well.

If a wake and/or funeral is open to the public, attending these services is a strong and supportive gesture you and your employees can also make to show care and respect.

  1. Have a productive face-to-face

The day your employee returns to work, ask him to sit down with you in your office. Express your condolences with sensitivity, and express your sincere desire to support him as he re-acclimates to the workplace.

Ask him directly what he needs. Is it a gradual re-entry into his responsibilities? If so, delegate some of his project work temporarily. Is it more time off? Work with him to see if personal days or vacation time could be used for this purpose.

Listen to what he tells you, and let him know you are here to make things as easy as possible. The Society For Human Resource Management has published some helpful information regarding respite time for grieving workers.

  1. Implement a kindness policy

Encourage your staff to show compassion and offer assistance openly to this employee — and let everyone know this policy will apply to anyone dealing with a loss in the future as well. Grieving professionals repeatedly report in studies that compassion shown by co-workers has a powerful effect on their psyche as they heal, and lets them feel supported so they are as productive as possible. Two interesting pieces of research touch on this concept.

Your employee may become emotional at times during her workday, maybe even crying openly because she can’t help herself. Never judge this understandable behavior — instead, let her know it’s perfectly fine to excuse herself for a short time whenever she needs to. Encourage her co-workers to lend her a hand with supportive words whenever they think she’s struggling, too.

  1. Double-check without judgment

Take the time to follow up on your employee’s work to make sure there are no major mistakes (there will probably be minor ones), but don’t make a big deal out of doing so. If bigger mistakes happen, reassure your employee that you understand this is a temporary situation, and assign a second worker or workers to kindly help him with tasks. This technique can quickly get him back on track without any awkwardness.

  1. Praise her strength

Grieving people can use all the positive feedback you can provide. Don’t hold back on a compliment as to how well she handled a presentation — this will give her confidence as she tackles her next task. At the same time, don’t overdo your praise — your employee doesn’t want to feel singled out as “the griever” in your office who needs to be handled with kid gloves.

Treat her kindly but normally. You’ll be helping her feel more like herself, so she can concentrate well, accomplish more and continue to feel better.

Lisa Mulcahy is an internationally established health writer whose credits include the Los Angeles Times. Redbook, Glamour, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Health, Good Housekeeping, Parde and Seventeen.

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The Road to Healing Takes Time

Originally Published in Pocketful of Chelles Blog

By Michelle Kohlhof / February 19, 2018

Last week was tough. The world witnessed a tragedy that has become all too familiar, another school shooting. A day that was supposed to be about love and peace, turned dark and cold for so many. On the day after, when I dropped my little dude, Jason, off at his school, he dashed into his classroom shoving his backpack into his cubby, and my heart just broke into pieces for the families of the victims in Parkland, FL.

How could one person take seventeen beautiful souls, most of them being children? We ask ourselves why did this have to happen, we say prayers for the families who now have to learn how to move on without their child, and we call on congress for change, yet again. It’s hard to imagine how you go on after such a devastating tragedy. Simple things like going back to work, seem like mountains to climb. While we look for answers, one thing is for sure; time doesn’t stand still for the ones who need it to the most. Instead, you learn how to compromise with time, and make the most of what he gives you. We find ourselves pleading for time to just stand still, to have just five more minutes with the ones we love. But you see, time doesn’t wait for no one, and this is why there is more to life than the nine-to-five grind.

We find our humanity—our will to live and our ability to love—in our connections to one another.― Sheryl Sandberg, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, last week was tough. Sometimes you don’t get a “do over”. What you do get is a chance to put things in perspective, and not take the life you’ve been blessed with for granted. So on a whim, my husband, Travis, says to me, “you know, we can take a road trip, South, and hang out with your parents”. So, we took advantage of the long weekend (President’s Day), loaded up the truck, and off we went! And as you can imagine with a nine hour drive, I had time to reflect, time to think, and time to write…

All this time got me thinking, how can employers and HR support employees through grief and loss? Are bereavement leave policies enough? I started to research this and one article from SHRM stood out. Click here to read more. In a time of unspeakable loss, what are some big things that HR can do to support their employees and organization?

1) It’s more than policy – It’s about having a plan:

To my fellow HR professionals, let’s work together with management and executives to create a plan to support employees in their time of need. We should do more than just contact the employee and share information about our organization’s bereavement policy. One great example is what Ernst & Young did last year. They provided dedicated HR support to the family of one of their employees who was critically hurt in the Las Vegas mass shooting tragedy. Thankfully, this EY employee survived, and her story showed us that having a plan can lessen the burden on the employee and her family. It shows us that an employer can really champion for their employees when they need us to the most.

2) It’s time to lead the way:

What can we do to prepare fellow employees for a grieving employee’s return to work?  There are a lot of emotions that the employee will still be dealing with upon his return. There will be lack of focus, and difficulty with concentrating, even on the simplest of tasks. We as HR professionals have to partner with management on creating a smooth path for the grieving employee as they return to the workplace. We need to lead the way in helping the grieving employee navigate back into the environment. It is vital for his success.

3) Give some space – It takes time:

I think the single most important thing we can do to help a grieving employee return to work is to give space. What if we created a private place where the grieving employee can go to take a break when she is feeling overwhelmed with emotions? These emotions will come in waves and it is important to give space.

Some “Chelles” find their way to shore, while some live in the sea for eternity. ― Michelle Kohlhof

My closing thought, take the time to set eyes on the ones you love, and are blessed to still have in your life. It’s another chance to fill your pocket full of “Chelles”.

 

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Grief During the Holidays: Some Tips

The winter holidays are generally perceived as “the most wonderful time of the year.” But for those who are facing grief after the death of a loved one, the holidays may instead be a time filled with pain and sadness.

Even those for whom grief is not as fresh, the holidays may serve as an annual reminder of the loss—not only of that person, but of tradition and celebration.Multi Generation Family Meal

Bereavement professionals working in hospice and palliative care understand how difficult this season can be. They support families coping with loss all year long. Bereavement counselors stress the importance of making decisions that feel right to the grieving person, and giving oneself permission to make new or different choices at the holidays.

Experts in Grief offer some tips:

Be Willing to Change Traditions

Holidays often center on certain traditions and rituals. For some, continuing these traditions without a loved one may be an important way to continue sharing their memory. For others, it may be more comforting to develop new rituals to help lessen the pain and immediacy of the loss.

Help Reduce Stress

While the holidays can be filled with meaning, they can also be filled with pressure and stress because of additional tasks such as shopping, baking and decorating. Grieving people should be encouraged to prioritize what needs to be done, and focus on those projects that may bring them pleasure. Perhaps the gift list can be pared down, cards need not be sent out, or another family member can cook the family dinner this year.

Remember those Who Have Died

The holidays can bring opportunities to remember the person who has died in a way that is personally meaningful. Some families choose to participate in holiday events at a local hospice. Others may choose to share special family stories over a meal. Some may find that making a donation to a special charity or volunteering time to help others in need may be a comforting way to honor their loved one.

The professionals at Houston Hospice know of the importance of providing emotional and spiritual support to those who are grieving but most importantly, they remind us that a person grieving should do what’s most comfortable for him or her during this time of year.

Houston Hospice offers a variety of grief support groups as one way to manage grief. All support groups are open to the public at no charge. If you or a loved one need help, please call 713-677-7131 to learn more.

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Holiday Grief: 10 Tips to Navigate the Emotional Minefield

16014834Grief is never more acutely felt than during the holidays, when there is an empty place at the table. As part of its nonprofit outreach, Houston Hospice offers complementary bereavement support to the community. During their pre-holiday workshops, Houston Hospice grief counselors, Marti Nelson and Tammy Zwahr, help the bereaved navigate the minefield of feelings and expectations they’ll encounter with these helpful tips:

HOW WILL I GET THROUGH THE HOLIDAYS?

10 tips for those who are grieving:

  1. Accept the likelihood of your pain. The energy you would spend evading what is going on around you will be more creatively spend adapting to the reality of what this particular season holds for you.
  2. Feel whatever it is you feel. Recognize the fact that something very important has happened in your life which causes reactions within you. Some of the feelings bereaved people feel include: sadness, depression, anxiety, fear, anger, guilt, and apathy.
  3. Express your emotions. The best means of expression is simple: be yourself. Choose people who will listen and respond thoughtfully. Journaling helps get feelings off your chest, clarifies thinking, and monitors your progress. Use music, pray, dance, or create.
  4. Plan ahead. Give yourself permission to change plans as you go. Talk things over with people whom you usually share the holidays.
  5. Take charge where you can. Evaluate holiday traditions. Some changes may be healthy and important to make. Eat healthfully and drink wisely. Maintain an exercise program or begin one. Get the rest you need.
  6. Turn to others for support. Let others know what you think will help you.
  7. Be gentle with yourself. Allow yourself time to rest. Avoid over committing yourself. Pace yourself on good days and give yourself lots of latitude on “bad” days and accept that grieving people have their share of these days.
  8. Remember to remember. You may have a special linking object which you might carry, wear, use, or place in easy sight. Create small remembrance area at home. Look at photos and talk to others about your life together. Remember the deceased in prayer, with a toast, or by lighting a candle at mealtime. Plant a tree or donate to a favorite charity.
  9. Search out and count your blessings. Stay in the present as much as possible. Savor what there is to savor. Cry and then let the tears pass and see what else you feel. Don’t be afraid to laugh.
  10. Do something for others. You can reach out and offer something of what you have and who you are, even if it feels like it’s only a little. Baby sit, cook a meal, or check on shut-ins. You can drive, shovel, telephone, mow, clean, trim, deliver, type, greet, etc. depending on your interests and abilities.

*EMOTIONAL WISH LIST

What would the holidays be like if I could have these wishes granted?

*Adapted from: “Tis The Season to be Jolly?”.  Dr. William Alexy.  Bereavement Magazine, November/December 1989. Reprinted with permission of Bereavement Publishing, Inc. (713-282-1948).

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Share These Helpful Resources For Grief & Loss

Helpful Resources for Grief & Loss
grief and loss

 

 

 

 

 

Taking Care of Yourself Includes Accessing Support

Grief may be experienced in response to physical losses, such as death, or in response to symbolic or social losses such as divorce or loss of a job.  The grief experience can be affected by one’s history and support system. Taking care of yourself and accessing the support of friends and family can help you cope with your grief experience.

There is no right way to grieve. It is an individual process and a natural part of life. Life won’t be the same after a loss, but experiencing your grief will allow you to adjust to life after loss.

Grief lasts as long as it takes to adjust to the changes in your life after your loss. It can be for months, or even years. Grief has no timetable; thoughts, emotions, behaviors and other responses may come and go.

Helpful Resources

Supporting Someone Who is Grieving [PDF]
There is no Wrong or Right Way to Grieve After a Loss [PDF]

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Service of Remembrance Brings Closure for Hospice Worker

Every six months Gloria Garza coordinates a service of remembrance. Gloria’s been putting together these biannual observances for 15 years; since she came to work for Houston Hospice in 2000. CandlesShe invites families, makes sure the ceremony runs smoothly, and organizes a reception with food and punch. At the service on April 30, 2015 at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church in Wharton, 135 people were remembered. “This event means a lot to our families. They get the opportunity to see the staff that helped them with their loved ones again,” said Gloria. “And, we get to see how the families are doing. After the service, we walk over to the fellowship hall and have refreshments and the families talk to the staff and exchange stories, hugs, tears, and appreciation for the care and for the service they just attended.”

The services of remembrance began when hospice employees realized that both they and the community needed a way to honor their patients and to have closure. After fifteen years of planning some thirty services, the April 30 observance was different for Gloria. As usual prayers were recited, music was played, and, as their loved ones’ names were called, families were invited to the altar to light a candle. However this time, the name of Gloria’s mother, Lena Quintanilla, was among those called.

Lena, the family matriarch, suffered a massive stroke on January 8, 2015. Four days later her doctor told the family there was nothing more they could do. Gloria responded saying, “Call Houston Hospice now.” As a hospice employee, she knew she had a right to select the hospice of her choice, and because she was designated as her mother’s medical power of attorney agent, she knew it was what Lena wanted. “We already talked about what she wanted and what I should do,” said Gloria. “It made it so much easier. I had a hard decision to make. Even if it was not what I wanted, I had to honor what she wanted. She didn’t want to linger. She didn’t want to be a burden.” Gloria feels strongly about Medical Powers of Attorney and Living Wills. After she helps her siblings complete theirs, she plans to speak to community groups and help others, so that their wishes can be carried out should they become incapacitated.

Lena Quintanilla was a doting and energetic mother of five, and she had touched countless lives working as a hospice volunteer since June 2004. “She was a loving and caring mommy to me and to

Gloria Garza and Lena Quintanilla

Gloria Garza and Lena Quintanilla

everyone that knew her. She could cook Spanish rice and hot sauce like no one else. Just ask our El Campo office,” said Gloria. “My father is grappling with how to go on. She did everything for him. They were married for 72 years. She was only 14 and he was 17 when they got married. She did everything around the house. She even paid the bills. All he did was work and he was a good provider with only a second grade education.”

“About 40 people attended and the service was beautiful and peaceful,” said Gloria. “I’m normally busy helping. I sat back by the pianist like I always do, but this time my family was there. It [the service] helped us to take it in and gave us some closure that this really did happen. It means our loved ones are not forgotten and we have to go on.” Gloria stilled a slight quaver that threatened to expose her sorrow and continued, “My oldest sister, who lives in Clear Lake came and she was so touched that we do this every six months. She told me she wants to come to the next one. I asked why since she wouldn’t know anyone and she said she would light another candle for mama.”

Houston Hospice is Houston’s only nonprofit hospice, providing care for patients and families throughout ten counties. To learn more about the local bereavement services offered by Houston Hospice, visit www.houstonhospice.org, or call 979-578-0314 or 800-420-6193.

-Karla Goolsby, Houston Hospice Communication Specialist

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Lessons from a Butterfly Family: Parenting a Dying Child


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National Hospice Month: Kathy Flinn and Tiffany Livanec

Kathy Flinn and Tiffany Livanec

Featured for National Hospice Month for the week of November 26 are Tiffany Livanec and Kathy Flinn. Tiffany is a Professional Relations Liaison and has been working at Houston Hospice El Campo office for five years. Kathy Flinn is the RN, PCM-IPU and has been working with Houston Hospice at the Texas Medical Center location for the past 14 years.

(Tiffany) What do you love most about working at Houston Hospice?
I love educating the community about hospice and knowing that many will have a much greater quality of life due to our efforts. 

 

(T) What draws you to your position?
My grandmother was on our services several years ago. The GIFT of hospice to our family is so dear to my heart that I feel incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to work for such an amazing organization.

(T) What have you gained from working at Houston Hospice?
I have gained a greater appreciation for life, even less fear of death, and an increased faith!

(T) If you hadn’t become a Professional Relations Liaison, what might you have become?
If I weren’t called to be a liaison, I would like to be a chaplain.

(Kathy) What has been a pleasant discovery for you in the hospice community? 
Meeting the dedicated people who do this work because they perceive it as a”calling”… not just a job.

(K) What impact has hospice had on your life?
It reminds me that this life is temporary. It’s the next life that is really important.

(K) If you hadn’t become a nurse, what might you have done?
A travel journalist.

(K) Who was the person who most influenced you, and how?
Jane Sidwell.  She was PCM of the Inpatient Unit in 1996 when I oriented to my role as on-call nurse. I spent a 3-week rotation in the PCC (Patient Care Center) as it was called back then. Jane is the epitome of what I perceive to be an effective manager.

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National Hospice Month: Robynette Hall & Elizabeth Erwin

Robynette Hall & Elizabeth Erwin

 

Elizabeth Erwin & Robynette Hall share their hospice experiences for National Hospice Month. Robynette Hall has worked with Houston Hospice for the past five years as an RN for the On-call Team and works throughout the city.  Elizabeth Erwin, Senior Accountant has worked at Houston Hospice in the Texas Medical Center for the past 15 years.

 

 

(Elizabeth) What has been a pleasant discovery for you in the hospice community?
There are some who don’t know what hospice is all about and then there are others who look at me with admiration when they hear I work at Hospice.

(E) What draws you to your position?
I love Accounting!

(E) What have you gained from working at Houston Hospice?
Respect for what the nurses and doctors do on a daily basis. And let’s not forget the Finance staff who book and report the results of their work!

(E) If you hadn’t become a Senior Accountant, what might you have done?
Forest Ranger – I love nature – the backyard outside my window helps with the forestry side of my accounting!

(Robynette) What do you love most about working at Houston Hospice? 
I love the Team work and how much everyone truly cares for the patients and their families.  I also like how many Disciplines are involved taking care of our patients and their families.  It takes an army to care for them.

(R) What has been a pleasant discovery for you in the hospice community? 
This is where I belong, working Hospice and how rewarding it is to be able to help the patients and their families.  I feel truly blessed.

(R) What impact has hospice had on your life?  
The company is terrific and growing, the Team work has been the best I have ever witnessed and I feel everyone really cares about each other.  Knowing how much impact you have on the patients and families is a great reward unto itself.  As well as being able to work for one of the only nonprofit hospices in the Houston area.

(R) If you hadn’t become an RN, what might you have done? 
This is my third career and my second career move as a nurse.  I think I am hooked as a hospice nurse however.

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National Hospice Month: Sharon Hempler and Sonja Payne

Sharon Hempler and Sonja Payne

 Houston Hospice employees Sharon Hempler and Sonja Payne talk about their experiences at Houston Hospice for National Hospice Month. Sharon has been an RN-PCM on the Blue Team in the West Office for the past five years. Sonja Payne, Receptionist, at the Texas Medical Center location has been working with Houston Hospice for 20 years.

(Sharon) What has been a pleasant discovery for you in the hospice community?
Inspite of the difficulty of our work, we support & uplift each other.

(Sh) What impact has hospice had on your life?
Not only was I able to assist patients and families, but Houston Hospice supported me through my husband’s death.

(Sh) If you hadn’t become an RN-PCM, what might you have done?
If I hadn’t become a PCM, I would still be out seeing patients and families.

(Sh) Who was the person who most influenced you, and how?
Cheryl Holbert was my PCM and set a high standard for me to follow. She is knowledgeable and was a good mentor and teacher. Ruth Landauer was a friend of a friend who recommended Houston Hospice to me. She is a calming influence and supportive of staff and our clients.

(Sonja) What has been a pleasant discovery for you in the hospice community?
What has been a pleasant discovery for me is the spiritual bindings that hold me to Houston Hospice.  No matter how I look at my position here, I can always find myself spiritually connected to the organization. 

(So) What impact has hospice had on your life?
The impact hospice has had on my life is tremendous.  I am grateful for all the years and experience that I have endured here.  I don’t take hospice or the people here for granted. I am aware of other people’s feelings and believe everyone here at Houston Hospice is on a journey. 

(So) What have you gained from working at Houston Hospice?
Compassion and patience are two things I did not necessarily exude before coming to work here.  I knew about compassion and I had heard about patience. However, had I not come to work here I would probably not have gained either.  It prepared me for the grief I suffered in losing my brother and helped me support my family during our losses. Many of my friends and family say that I have two lives; one before hospice and the one I have now, after hospice.

(So) Who was the person who most influenced you, and how?
The person who influenced me the most at Houston Hospice would be Ruth Landauer, Director of Volunteers.  I learned from Ruth’s warmth and dedication from the very beginning.  She embraced me very delicately and made me feel ‘right at home’ on my very first day at hospice.

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