I have been extremely fortunate to have a supportive and caring workplace that wants desperately to help me. Since there aren’t any workplace rulebooks on how to help an employee transition back to work after having a stillborn, my company made a point of asking me for guidance on what I would like them to do/not do. People don’t know what they don’t know. Tell them.
So below is the email I sent to my colleagues when I returned to work. Feel free to use any of this in your own communications to HR or your boss, although what I wanted/needed might not be what you want/need. This kind of note may also be helpful for family and friends that would benefit from some guidance on how to support you as a newly grieving parent.
And a reminder–grief is a moving target. The note below is from Jan 2, just 4 weeks after Tinsley died. Needs change as the grief progresses.
Please know that I realize there are no words to make this better and that everyone is afraid of saying the wrong thing. I also know that everyone’s intentions are good. With that in mind, a couple guidelines if you’re unsure:
- I have no words but I wanted to let you know I am thinking of you.
- I’m so sorry for you and your family.
- I can only try to imagine what you’re going through.
- I’m here to help in any way I can.
- We are praying for you and your family.
- You will be with her again.
- This was in God’s plan.
- God needed her.
- This happened for a reason.
- She is in a better place now.
- At least you have two healthy boys.
- You can always have another baby.
A couple other things to keep in mind:
- Don’t be surprised or embarrassed if out of nowhere I start crying. Seemingly random things to you may be triggering for me and it’s okay. They are called “grief bursts” and they’re a necessary part of a healthy mourning process.
- If I start talking about Tinsley in any way, please let me. Talking about her and her death a lot is my brain’s way of trying to comprehend something that is not comprehensible to me right now. It is why people re-live certain traumatic events in their mind–the brain is trying to process something it does not want to accept.
- It is important I stay honest with myself about what I’m feeling, so I can actually feel it and move through it. So when you ask me how I’m doing, it is better for me to be direct vs use evasive language like “I’m hanging in there” or “I’m getting by.” Instead, I may say “I’m feeling very sad this morning. When I dropped off James at daycare I heard a baby girl crying and it made my heart ache.” Or “I’m feeling a little peace this afternoon because I just visited Tinsley’s grave. I love bringing her flowers.” A simple “Thank you for sharing that with me” is a fine response. I’m not asking you to make me feel better or even offer comforting words. I’m just giving an honest voice to my feelings.
- Perhaps this goes without saying, but expect a change of tone and voice from me. I’m encouraged not to use humor or jokes to diminish the reality of Tinsley’s death or deflect my grief–or try and protect you from it, even though it can be uncomfortable. Please bear with my starkness.
- My energy level is pretty low right now and it can be difficult to concentrate. So I am easing myself back into work mode but it will take awhile for me to get back up to full-functioning speed. Expect some slowness and fogginess from me. My grammar will still be better than Mike’s though. That wasn’t a joke, just a fact.
- I’m very aware that my experience may bring up personal trauma for you. If that is happening, and you want to talk about your own pain or loss, I am here to share in that with you.
- Finally, please don’t feel awkward or like you can’t talk about pregnancies, babies, or daughters around me. The heart can hold both joys for the health of your loved ones and sorrow for my sweet girl at the same time.
Thank you for being there.