Managing Yourself Through Grief
Loss and grief are part of life; be it the death of loved ones or loss of business they evoke emotions in us all, to varying degrees. How we listen to and support each other will often determine how well we work, learn and live with those that matter to us.
When my mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer in September 2006, work was a safe place. I did tell my District Manager because she needed to know and she was super supportive but I asked that my team not be told. I didn’t want people to ask if I was okay. I obviously was not okay and talking about it did not make me feel better.
What I needed was time and space to focus on things I could have a positive impact on and things that made me feel good. I was probably the most effective manager and parent at the time. I would switch from roles effortlessly. I would show up and listen and be with my mum; rock up for my team meetings with lots of ideas and play with my children with a smile. I had it all together or so I thought. My mum passed away 30th Nov 2006.
May 2008, 2 years from the day my mum was diagnosed, I collapsed. I had nothing left to give. I had buried my head in work and whilst that had proven to be a great strategy when she was dying it was not a good strategy long term.
That day in May I handed in my notice and gave up my career and started on my entrepreneur journey launching my own coaching practice in December 2008. Little did I know that would be the start of a journey that would teach me about what 8 different kinds of listening I needed to not only work, learn and live at my best with others but also to heal and evolve.
When it comes to grief or loss, we each deal with it in our own unique way and depending on how you learn, reflect and make sense of your own feelings; you might need to talk without fear of being judged. Whilst others might need time alone without anyone criticising them for being quiet or withdrawn. And you might need both at different times on different days.
As working parents we often need to hold it together for our family and our businesses. What I failed to do was create space between my many roles to take care of me and to ask for the help I needed. Partly because I did not know what I needed and didn’t want to make a fuss or make a fool of myself and partly because I felt guilty and like I should be able to cope.
Depending on your personality, life experiences and your own way of making sense of the world, knowing what you need and what works for you, makes it much easier to ask for the right kind of help. It is one of the reasons why my clients start every session or programme exploring what they need to learn at their best on their own and with others.
It can be resourceful to have a number of compassionate companions in your support network. People that can listen and be present, who don’t need to talk unless it is resourceful and useful to you. People that don’t need you to tell them what you think or feel and yet they are happy to listen if you want to share. There is something magical about having space held in this way. To have the whole of you witnessed and honoured without anyone inferring that it is wrong in some way. In Do, Delegate or Ditch – Developing the confidence to ask for help without fear of failure or guilt, I talk about the importance of understanding your own process. When you know how you do you, then you will know what you need to work, learn and live with others. You can also be curious about how you do things like loss, grief or change. Below is the process for grief. You may know it and you may not. As you read notice if it makes sense of your experience and then imagine if you knew more of your own personal processes and how much that might help you to understand what you need from others.
Process for Grief
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross first proposed the 5 stages of grief in 1969 whilst not everyone will experience all of them and if they do they will not necessarily experience them in the same order it made sense of my own experience and it helped me to be a better listener when friends or clients needed me to listen to their emotions as they transitioned through the stages.
Not wanting to admit it has happened. Denial is a common defense mechanism and can act as a buffer for the immediate shock numbing us to our emotions. For some this can happen for a day whilst others it can last for years or indefinitely. Being aware it is part of grief means that we can check in and be curious about our own behavior and whether it is working for us.
As the listener it is important not to assume others are in denial just because you don’t see and hear an expression of grief. It might be that they express and process their emotions in a different way to you.
As denial wears off the reality of what has happened and the pain can re-emerge. The intense emotion can be expressed and or deflected as anger and may show up as anything from mild frustration to extreme rage. It can be directed at inanimate objects, themselves, the injustice of the situation and or the deceased. Some listeners find it hard to listen to someone that is angry. This can result in them interrupting and inferring it is not okay to be angry which can either exacerbate the emotion or force them to revert back to denial or some other response. It can really help to simply have the emotions witnessed and acknowledged.
When we lose control of our emotions and we express anger it can often evoke guilt either because we are not happy with our behaviour or in response to feedback from others. This can leave us feeling out of control and bargaining is a way of gaining control again. We might make promises to God or a higher self. We might focus on what if and what could have been.
During this phase you might lack the energy to talk or communicate and feel guilty for not being present and available for loved ones and friends. As the listener we often want ‘to make others happy’ when what they need is time to honour their sadness and the loss. They might need time alone or time with you to talk about what cannot be.
This is the stage when we accept what is and stop trying to fix or make things better and simply accept what has happened and what cannot be. It is sad and yet it can be the stage just before moving on. Not everyone gets here and yet I believe knowing the process it can and has allowed me to learn how to grieve more efficiently and effectively.
Knowing the process or ‘your process’ you can gain some sense of where you are in the process. This can help you identify what kind of support, help or listening you need and can ensure you set your listeners up for success. As each stage often requires a different kind of response and sometimes different people. Not everyone can be resourced to listen to all the five stages.
The more I work with clients to explore their process, the more resourced they become to listen to and manage themselves and others through change.
To order your copy of the book click here:
Founder of Step by Step Listening, Sheryl Andrews has always been keen to create space where other people felt safe to speak their truth no matter what that was. She is well known for her ability to motivate, manage and mentor others through change and loves nothing more than helping others feel heard and understood. She soon discovered there were 8 different kinds of listening and often people started talking without knowing which they needed. At Step by Step Listening they create space to explore what kind of listening works to ensure individuals are resourced to work, learn and live at their best with others and on their own. .
For regular updates and examples of how listening skills can resource you to manage yourself, time and others through change check out Free Success without stress newsletter
Follow Step By Step Listening on Social Media