Cope with death at work

Q. My wife recently died from cancer and I am finding it difficult to care at all about my work. I need the income and don't want to be fired. How can I cope with this loss and still do my job?

A. You can cope with this loss by realizing that in the long run this kind of tragedy will give you a perspective and resiliency that will be invaluable to you in work and life. You can also realize that the largest contributor to a quality life is our ability to behave well when we feel rotten.

Unfortunately, when someone close to us dies, our immediate family members are the only people who are drastically and permanently affected by a loss. Everyone else will express sympathy, but in truth their life goes on relatively the same as before our tragedy.

After the initial time you take off and the funeral, you'll come back to a workplace (and society) that expects you to "move on" and get back to "normal." The truth is that you'll never return to normal, but you can create a new normal. A new life is unimaginable after the loss of an intimate other, but it is possible.

Don't expect yourself to care about your job or anything else in the same way you did before your wife died. You'll be grateful right now for the fact that telepathy is not a common skill. No one will know how you feel, but they will notice if your work tasks are getting done.

Give yourself a new bar for performance at work. If you can show up and merely do an adequate job after your severe loss, you're amazing. Simply putting one foot in front of the other when you are deep in bereavement is an extraordinary accomplishment.

Also expect that right now you won't have much hope or optimism about your future. You won't be able to motivate yourself by thinking of bright or happy goals. The secret to building a new life is to do the tasks you know will give you richer options in the future, even though you don't feel like getting out of bed.

We often inaccurately believe that we have to feel good and inspired to act in ways that will benefit us -- even though, intellectually, we know we can go the gym, eat better or pay our bills and achieve the same results whether we feel like performing these tasks or not.

If we don't do the things that take care of us financially, physically, emotionally and spiritually, our bereavement will be compounded by the fact our life is falling apart. If we do these things (despite our despair), our loss will soften more quickly over time because our life is working.

During this time, make sure you seek out a grief support group. Most people in your social network care about you but find death an intolerable issue. Making sure you have people who are also dealing with severe loss will be a critical lifeboat during a time when you feel your storm will never end.

The last word(s)

Q. I took a new job where I have to socialize a lot with clients. Is there a universal topic I can open with to help build these new workplace relationships?

A. Yes, ask questions and let your clients talk about themselves. It is the one topic everyone adores.

(Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.)





Look for this special section in your
Baltimore Sun newspaper on Dec. 29, 2013.
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