Returning to Work Following a Bereavement
Grieving has many different faces.
Some of them are familiar and expected like sadness and despair. However, some of the effects of bereavement are more subtle such as experiencing an insidious decline in concentration and enthusiasm.
This can be a problem for people returning to work after a bereavement leave.
It has been a problem for me for almost a year now.
Over the course of the past year I have managed to produce just four posts for stress.health.business. Before that I had been writing an average of four posts a month.
When I returned to work last April after my younger sister’s death, I was sad and struggled a bit, but I was able to do what I usually do: counsel employees, consult with supervisors, and collaborate with my colleagues.
What I couldn’t do was concentrate well enough to write, the part of my work which is a solo activity. I couldn’t find the motivation and focus to do something which had been such a meaningful part of my work for the prior three years.
So that’s why you haven’t heard much from me over the past year. It feels good to be back: perhaps the cloud is lifting.
When I started this blog in June 2012, one of the things I wanted to write about was the powerful, complicated and sometimes unexpected interplay between home life and work life.
I think finding my way back to doing that regularly again means writing something about my sister and what her job meant to her.
Leslie worked for CVS in Florida as a pharmacy technician for many years.
I remember walking through the downtown shopping district in Ogunquit Maine with Leslie several years ago when a couple of men shouted out “Hello CVS” as we were crossing their path. They stopped to chat and tell us how wonderful my sister was.
Leslie had a lot of friends. Many of them were work colleagues and customers. Whenever I visited her in Florida she wanted me to come by her store. She savored these moments spent at the intersection of her professional and personal life.
When you went to a restaurant with Leslie you would often meet her customers, many of whom were elderly. They would regale you with stories about how much her kindness and diligence meant to them.
Leslie had a difficult personal life. Work was her refuge, a place where she could help people and be appreciated. She wore her white jacket and CVS badge proudly.
During the last year of her life, much of it spent in a hospital, some of her most faithful visitors were customers who had become close friends across the pharmacy counter.
Several of Leslie’s coworkers came to her funeral and their heartfelt condolences were greatly appreciated by our family. Many of them were younger people who looked up to her as a mentor.
CVS is a $37.95 billion company with 137,800 employees. It is mind-boggling and awesome to contemplate the fact that every single one of those employees has a story, a family, problems, aspirations, good days and bad days.
CVS was fortunate to have my sister as one of their customer-facing employees. Leslie was gifted in this role and found meaning, friendship- and sometimes refuge- in the process.
I am comforted by the pleasure and pride Leslie took in her work and by the love and support shown to her by coworkers and customers when she needed it most.