Remember. Coping with Grief

As we remember the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, it brings an extra poignant punch to me.  My mom died that week too. It wasn’t in New York, Pennsylvania or Washington, D.C. It was in a tiny rural Iowa hospital. I spent her last few days of fighting breast cancer, stranded in the heartland with no way to return myself and 10-month-old son to Texas where my husband was separated from his family, holding together the staff of our company and wondering what was going to happen next.  My heart was broken 3 days later again when mom left us too.

The loss of my mother was the most painful thing I have been through in my life. Yet, it gave me a gift. It gave me empathy for those going through the loss of a loved one. Unfortunately, this understanding has been tapped many times as the demographics of our company has hit the stage where many are losing parents. I understand that grief doesn’t end when the legal paperwork of the estate gets wrapped up. It doesn’t ease up at the same time or in the same way for everyone. I know that you can bury the feelings and yet they can still be there.  

I lived through the following year of 2001-2002 and all the uncertainty the world felt, with an additional anger of being robbed of the sweetest person I will ever meet. I watched the 1-year anniversary roll around with quite a bit of media fanfare and I realized that this would happen for my family forever. Everyone on my staff and my friends that knew us then, remember with me now. Yet others have the date of the loss of their loved ones slip by with few others knowing they need a pat on the back, maybe a little extra time on a deadline or a complete distraction for a few moments on a rough day.

I have no grief counseling training. I am only speaking from experience. I have watched the pain of way too many employees as they know the death of a parent is coming and the inevitable loss. I have been held tight in a hug of more than 1 employee who otherwise may have not touched a co-worker for more than a handshake. But when you are genuine in your kind words at a time when you can tell the pain is there, they grasp to the one who can show them life will go on with a new normalcy. I have found fewer words are often better and an open door is welcome. Keeping the grieving person engaged is usually needed and it usually helps.

It is still draining for me when any of my friends or employees go through the loss of a loved one. It grabs my heart and I feel further invested in them. For me, each time, I can frankly only soothe myself by saying, “at least I won’t have to lose my Mom ever again.” Sometimes that is how I get though it quickly. I can’t believe it has been 10 years since I heard my Mom’s voice but I know I love her as much today as I ever have, so I know it’s all OK.  

The 9/11 anniversary is a reminder for each of us to think about what grief is and how we help others deal with it. I can assure you I am willing to help you through it if you want to chat.

Photo credit iStockphoto

About the Author

Lois Melbourne

Lois Melbourne, GPHR, is co-founder and former CEO of Aquire Solutions, mom to one terrific young son and wife of co-founder Ross Melbourne. After entering a bit of a sabbatical life phase, she is authoring a series of children's books about career ambitions. She maintains a strong personal commitment to career education and small business development and is a speaker, author of industry articles, and an occasional blogger and networker. Connect with her on Twitter as @loismelbourne.


Trish McFarlane

Lois, I am sorry to hear you lost your mother. I am blessed to have not had to face that yet. But, like you, I have held the hands and hugged too many employees to count after they have lost loved ones. I think what your post does best is to tell us that it is not only just ok, but needed to reach out to colleagues in a time of need. To really BE there for them. I’ve experienced many years not facing death myself but this year have experienced it in my own family, my husband’s family, my dear friend lost his mother and an esteemed colleague lost her son. All in the span of a month. I will remember. I will make it a point to be there for them all as the months go by, as the holidays come and go. It’s the “human” part of human resources that no one seems to want to talk about. Thanks for such a heartfelt post.


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