Making Space for Grief at Work
Here we are, shattered in the aftermath of another spate of horrific mass shootings in our country. It’s nearly impossible to remain unmoved by the collective grief. Especially when children are targeted, we are broken open to the senselessness of taking lives that have yet to unfold. Waves of anguish go far beyond a specific region and reach us all. While the affected communities collectively mourn together and places of worship everywhere speak to the loss, many of us experience a void. Where do we channel our outrage and sadness?
Over the past two and a half years, we’ve experienced the massive hurts as well as those by a thousand cuts. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wrap my mind around the vastness of over one million gone from Covid. We sit with our individual losses of friends and family. Now we’ve had a series of headline-shattering, community-upending, family-destroying mass deaths. It’s too much. We need a way to acknowledge and grieve with each other, not separately in our living rooms watching the news or by scrolling through our screens. This is the time for community—and workplaces are that.
As a society we handle grief poorly. We leave it to the individual to sort out their emotions and become impatient if the process takes “too long.” We expect spiritual communities to make sense of cruel acts and provide solace. If we’re close to the most directly affected, there are the rituals of memorials, celebrations of life, and funerals. But what about those who don’t have any personal tie to the deceased but find themselves profoundly moved? This brings me back to the workplace. It’s where many of us go with far more regularity and for far more hours than anywhere else; it’s one of our communities.
Over the course of my work life, I’ve stood with friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers in that pursuit. We were drawn together if only for a few moments of silence, words or music. It reaffirms our belonging in the human family. Together we notice that our hearts still beat while precious others’ hearts don’t, and loss of life deserves notice.
Employers should not be afraid of making space for collective grief. They are not required to orchestrate anything; they can allow whatever happens to emerge organically and encourage it. Or they can sow the seeds. Provide the location and the time to step away from the job, then show up because you need this too. Grief isn’t the purview of any job classification; it affects us all.
I stand with anyone who is heartbroken today and wish to offer you the Prayer of Loving Kindness.
May you be free from danger,
May you have mental happiness,
May you have physical happiness,
May you have ease of well-being.
Please be good to yourself and others.