Our latest reader’s story highlights what can happen when managers only go through the motions of dealing with a bereaved member of staff and reminds us that compassionate support needs to be ongoing.
My father died in July 2016 aged 94. I was 55 at the time. My Mum died in 1997. I am an only child. The 12 years before my father’s dementia were wonderful years as our father/daughter relationship was adult to adult and very respectful, open, understanding and close. Just like a father/daughter relationship should be. We were always close but I will never forget those significant 12 years.
However, Dad was diagnosed with dementia in 2010. He and I lived very well with it because we did not make a song and dance of it. We did not make it bigger than it needed to be. Dad trusted me totally with his life/finances/decisions, and so started my journey of living 2 lives, mine and my Dad’s. I must admit, I was kicking and screaming inside a bit at first but acceptance played a big part in all this and once I had learnt to accept the situation I felt a whole lot better and just got on with it.
From 2013 I was working as an Information and Advice worker which gave advice to unpaid carers such as myself so my life was totally consumed by being a carer. Despite this I told myself it was a reasonable job and I needed the money and also something which gave me my own identity. Later that same year I had cause to put Dad in a home for a higher level of care. He was very content in the home, the staff loved him and I had peace of mind.
I knew the day would come when I lost my Dad and, in a way, had started to prepare myself. So, the day came on 21st July 2016. In a way I was relieved for my Dad, as well as devastated and sad for myself.
The manager in the care home said let me know when the funeral is as, depending on shifts, some of the staff may like to attend. I let them know the date and time.
I rang my manager and arranged a one to one meeting so I could tell her what had happened. We met over coffee. At this point I got the sympathy and the listening ear and the “let me know when the funeral is please” along with the flowers and the card from work with everyone’s signature on, just as some people do for birthdays.
The hurt of empty words
At Dad’s funeral not one person from either my work or the care home attended. I felt that more for my Dad than myself. Please don’t indicate that you might attend a funeral if you have no intention of following through as it can be deeply hurtful.
Regarding work, they let me know they were being very lenient in letting me have 2 weeks paid bereavement leave off as I shouldn’t have had that long off because I only worked part time.
On my return I was expected to carry on just as normal and I was never asked how I was and if I was coping. It felt like I was out of sight, out of mind for those 2 weeks. No separate meetings for me for the manager to review my workload? If anything, I was busier than ever. I remember feeling absolutely exhausted.
Two months after my Dad’s death I went on holiday. I remember looking out to sea, crying my eyes out. A mixture of grief, longing for my dad, longing to escape my job, and go back to my counselling career. A month later I wrote my letter of resignation and, in November 2016, I left my job to go back to my passion, which is counselling. I have since set up my own business, which is not without its challenges, but I have no regrets whatsoever and I know my parents would be so happy for me.
Stephanie Walker Counsellor
If you want to learn more about how to manage the bereaved see details of our Managing the Impact of Grief in the Workplace workshop in our ‘Services‘ section