I worked with a colleague who lost his son, who was stillborn at full term.
We were all really shocked by this sort of loss – I think it was a new experience for everyone in the office. Most people seemed to feel quite awkward in terms of what we could or should say about his loss when we were with him. I remember saying I was really sorry for but that somehow seemed completely inadequate. But the loss of a child is so shocking and sad and so wrong, and the work place such an odd place to discuss it, it felt really difficult to know how to offer much more support than that. It was difficult to know what was appropriate for him and in that context. I think the other thing everyone seemed to struggle with was just how long our colleague would feel overwhelmed with grief at the loss of his son.
One thing I found particularly hard to know how to respond to was the photo my colleague had brought in of his son. He had it on his desk after his son had died and been born. I didn’t know whether to say anything about the photo or whether, if I said something, it would be harder for him because it would put him under pressure to talk about his loss.
My bosses also seemed to struggle to deal with my colleague’s loss. They asked me to go into a meeting with my colleague because he was struggling a little with a project we were working on together. One of my bosses really cared about my colleague, but also had no idea what to say. The other boss struggled to be sympathetic and told me she wanted my colleague to stop ‘going on’ about his loss. The lack of direction from the people leading our team was hard. I had no idea how to support my colleague when he got upset in our meeting and told me he was struggling to cope after his loss.
I wish that I had known more about what to say to support my colleague – generally and about the photo he kept on his desk of his beautiful boy. I wish at the time I and my bosses had been able to access some guidance like that SANDS now provides on what to expect and how to ‘be’ around our colleague so that we could have offered him more help.
If I had known, I would have expected him to feel bewildered and to experience deep grief for a long time. I would have found the words to tell him that I was so sorry for everything he was going through and wanted to support him. I would have told him that the photo of his baby boy was beautiful, and that it was lovely that he kept him close at work too.