There are many types of losses. Two that occur often in the workplace are loss of a parent and loss of a child. Here are some thoughts about these two losses. Quotes from bereaved people are in italics.

Loss of a Parent

Before my parents died, I was their child. Even though I’m an adult, I liked knowing that Dad ruffled my hair, calling me his kitten and that Mom wanted me to eat well, exercise, and have a job that I can love. Now that they’re gone, I’m an orphan, right?

One of the most common workplace losses is the loss of a parent. We tend to expect our parents to die before us—not now, but in the parents’ later years. Funny how those “later” years move further away over time. By the time we’re in our fifties and our parents are in their seventies, we still expect that they’ll have a good ten to fifteen years of life left. In reality—and this can happen even if we don’t have the best relationship with our parents—people dread the loss of parents, perhaps believing that when the people who joined their lives to give us life have died, we’re truly on our own.

Workers May Not Reveal Losses

In a workplace setting, it should be expected that some employees will lose parents and grandparents to death. This reality is based on being of working age. However, workers may not reveal these deaths to people other than friends. In a way, parental (and grandparental) deaths are disenfranchised in the workplace because they are to be expected and such expectations may suggest that these deaths are less painful.

Employees may be hesitant to express their grief, yet they should receive not only compassionate leave support but also empathetic condolences that recognize both the universality and pain of such loss, albeit unique to each person given differing familial relationships.

It’s important to note here that many adult children are or have been caregivers of elderly parents. Whether the caregiving was in the home or in partnership with an assisted living or stepped-living residence, there often are phases of anticipatory grief interspersed with emergencies that require focused attention. These experiences can be both painful and energy depleting.

All employees are valuable to the workplace because they are human beings; administrators should support employees facing these end-of-life crises and challenges as bereavement-inducing and worthy of whatever flexibility is possible.

Loss of a Child

Before my son’s death, I trusted that my children would all be okay. I would die first in the proper, natural order of things. Since he died, I worry all the time about my remaining children, their spouses, and their children. There isn’t enough time in the day or energy in my bones for all this sadness.

Another of the common workplace losses is that of a child. This loss is never expected and is completely against the natural order of things: humans believe that children should not die before their parents. Those who have lost a child will say that it is the most devastating loss that ever can be.

We don’t like to compare types of loss because all deaths and significant losses are different. However, there’s something especially tragic, heart-rending, and haunting when a child dies. In fact, according to Cacciatore (2017), all child deaths, no matter the age or the cause, are traumatic losses. Parents lose the promise of a life to be lived, and no one and nothing can replace their child. Quite often, other bereaved parents understand best what these parents experience and feel.

Given that workplaces typically hire people in their 20s through late 60s, deaths of children from the exceptionally young through adult ages is possible. Most likely, coworkers will know of a child’s death soon after it happens. Parents whose children have died will be especially vulnerable and may be actively grieving for a long time.

Bereavement May Be Extended

Beyond compassionate leave, they may need extended leave or more frequent absences from work. Sadly, they also may not be able to afford to take time off work given particular family financial situations.

When it comes to these and other common workplace losses, administrators should offer whatever flexibility they can without harming the company’s essential needs; given sufficient support, these bereaved parents may continue to be effective employees. Support also might include information about local bereaved parents support groups as well as some open-door opportunities to share memories of their children

Learn more about Beth Hewett’s work at Bereavement | Good Words For Grieving | United States
Read more from Beth Hewett on Open to Hope: What to Look for in a Grief Companion – Open to Hope

Beth Hewett

Beth L. Hewett knows grief from personal experience, and she has a heart for those who grieve their loved ones. Her desire to help other bereaved people led to her work as a Certified Thanatologist (CT) with the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) and as a Certified Compassionate Bereavement Care™ Provider with the MISS Foundation. She also has earned a certificate in Death and Grief Studies from the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is a former National Catholic Ministry for the Bereaved Minister of Consolation Trainer.

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