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Topics: Change Management, Leadership
What if you are heartbroken?
In the last few weeks, a family member passed away and a friend's 8 year old daughter tragically died. I've continued to work and do my job, but my heart is broken. I don't think it has been obvious to anyone at work - the projects are on track and I've been able to talk about these deaths with special people in my life. I also have a very strong spiritual beliefs, but I am still so very sad especially for the family who lost their only child. Have you ever been heartbroken while doing your job? How do you cope?
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I'm sorry to hear about the tragic losses of those close to you. My youngest daughter's best friend's father died in a tragic road accident a couple months ago. Her and her mother are still reeling from the loss.
Mental health in the workplace is openly discussed in our organization, and some senior leadership members have publically stated they are personally dealing with mental health issues. It should not be taboo to discuss such things with your immediate supervisor so that they are aware of what it is you are dealing with. Just the other day we were reminded about mental health, and to look out for signs, and to speak to one another. After all, we are still human beings whether at work or at home.
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1 reply by LORI WILSON
Jan 09, 2020 2:11 PM
LORI WILSON
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Steve: I'm very sorry to hear about your youngest daughter's best friend's father. It is never easy, and losing a father is tragic. Reeling from the loss was a good way to describe their pain - and ours too. My heart is broken for a mother and father who lost their 8 year old child to a rare complication from the flu. A perfectly healthy beautiful little girl who was fine on Christmas and died 12/29. Thank you for reaching out. It means a lot and I will be thinking of you, your family and the friend who lost her father.
Lori, sad to hear about your losses.

Myself I had to experience only a few close losses in my life, think I was lucky. If I had such a situation, my project management attitude to recognize and control my feelings helped me, especially as others in the family needed support and things had to be organized.

If you have strong beliefs, I assume they provide means how to deal with these situations. And you might think about to get some professional help for your friend to cope with the situation. I saw people loose their sole kid in an accident and it changed who they are, for life. Nothing to take easy.

I believe people at work can be aware and this might help you to get some relief too.
Lori -

Very sorry to hear about your losses.

Depending on the level of psychological safety within your working team, you might be able to express your grief openly with your close co-workers in the first few days but given that the grieving process takes time, it is important to give yourself the time needed to come to terms with it.

Bereavement leave is one way to deal with the immediate grief but sometimes it helps to be able to speak with those you feel close with at work or even take advantage of EAP offerings.

The key is not to just suppress the emotions and try to "soldier on" as that effort will be unsustainable.

Kiron
Steve, Thomas and Kiron: Thank you for your responses. Your words mean a lot to me. It helps to know how others move forward when their hearts feel broken. Even though I am functioning fine, there is a lump in my throat I just can't seem to get rid of. I am sure many others have been in this place, and it helps to hear your stories and your thoughts.
Dear Lori
Interesting your question
Thanks for sharing

By reading this post you infected me with the moment of sadness that is going on

How can I show my solidarity in this moment of sadness and pain?

Do you feel that you have the support of your team members?
What about the other stakeholdes?
What about managers?
Hello Luis: Thank you for your note and for wanting to show solidarity with me. That means a lot. In a way, just writing the post lifted my spirits a bit - just a safe place to talk with my peers and see if any of you have worked through a heartbreaking experience and how you coped. I am sure I am not alone! I do feel I have the support of my team members. I have not shared with my stakeholders and my manager is very busy - I work remotely - and we have not talked about it. My family is hurting with me, and I feel I have to be brave in front of them, but we are a very close and strong family. I know things will get better, but right now I just need to keep moving forward.
Jan 09, 2020 12:24 PM
Replying to Steve Ratkaj
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I'm sorry to hear about the tragic losses of those close to you. My youngest daughter's best friend's father died in a tragic road accident a couple months ago. Her and her mother are still reeling from the loss.
Mental health in the workplace is openly discussed in our organization, and some senior leadership members have publically stated they are personally dealing with mental health issues. It should not be taboo to discuss such things with your immediate supervisor so that they are aware of what it is you are dealing with. Just the other day we were reminded about mental health, and to look out for signs, and to speak to one another. After all, we are still human beings whether at work or at home.
Steve: I'm very sorry to hear about your youngest daughter's best friend's father. It is never easy, and losing a father is tragic. Reeling from the loss was a good way to describe their pain - and ours too. My heart is broken for a mother and father who lost their 8 year old child to a rare complication from the flu. A perfectly healthy beautiful little girl who was fine on Christmas and died 12/29. Thank you for reaching out. It means a lot and I will be thinking of you, your family and the friend who lost her father.
I had the unfortunate experience of a team lead dying during a project. This was difficult for all project members. We rallied around the idea that we could persevere and excel, in memory of our colleague and friend.
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1 reply by LORI WILSON
Jan 09, 2020 5:49 PM
LORI WILSON
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Thank you, Stéphane. I appreciate and believe that can be helpful for others when something like that happens.
Lori
Very sorry to hear about your losses.

When I was on a mission in Bosnia Herzegovina two colleagues died in a tragic accident during the mission. I imagine that each one lives these situations differently, in my case I focused more at work, I spent more time providing humanitarian aid and to pay more attention to listening to the feelings of the others colleagues. I think this all helped to soften the feeling of loss.

Alexandre Costa
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1 reply by LORI WILSON
Jan 09, 2020 5:51 PM
LORI WILSON
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Dear Alexandre: That must have been so hard to lose two colleagues. I cannot imagine, but appreciate you sharing things that worked for you. Sometimes it can be hard to think beyond oneself when we are heartbroken, but I also believe it can help us in the healing process to think of others. Thank you for that reminder!
Lori - I definitely feel for you. My deepest condolences.

I had approximately 1 full year of upheaval. I worked at the same company as my mother. We lost her shortly after I started my job at HPE (4 months into the job). I was 27 at the time and had returned home to take care of my mother in her final days. I remember my father waking me up to inform me of her passing. I went downstairs and realized I had the unfortunate duty of informing everyone (directors, managers, etc) at our mutual place of employment of her passing. I went to work that day feeling very hollow, but feeling like I needed to work to avoid my sadness. I also happened to be knee deep in studying for my PMP. I passed the exam only 3 months after her passing and was 3.5 months pregnant at the time of her passing. The saddest part was not having her around anymore as a confidante (I used to speak with her for hours because we lived two states apart and we were exceptionally close). I am not as close to anyone (spouse included) as I was to her. It was also devastating that she would never meet her first grandchild either. She really was looking forward to that. Around November, my Dad started dating a new woman. I was happy for him, but also feeling very depressed because it solidified that she was gone. I had my son 6 months after her passing and suffered through postpartum depression for the next year. My Dad also sold my childhood home, moved in with his girlfriend (who is now his wife), and proposed to her a little over a year after my Mom's passing. I also almost lost my dog due to kidney failure right before my son was born. My marriage almost fell apart too because my spouse became very distant. He is not necessarily close to his family like I am with mine, so he was unsure how to handle such a loss. He was also had a pretty great relationship with my mother and it probably hurt him too. As a result, he retreated from me. We sought couples counseling and the counselor essentially made me feel like our marriage falling apart was entirely on me. Suffice it to say, we stopped attending. It felt like the world was taking a giant dump on me. The only comfort I had was that I was performing admirably at work... at the expense of my mental health.

Everyone at work knew what had happened and they all begged me to take time off. In retrospect, I should have taken some time and sought out some counseling very early. You feel numb in the beginning, but grief steamrolls over you after a month or two. I believe my postpartum depression was significantly tied to this.

Everyone responds differently to tragedy and death. What works for me won't necessarily work for you. Something that does work is taking stock of all the wonderful things (and people) in your life. You get a newfound appreciation for life once someone close to you passes and you stop wasting your time on unimportant things. My Mom's passing was the impetus for me to make healthy changes (after I eventually got help).

Good luck to you. Remember, grief comes in waves and doesn't necessarily dissipate over time.

Present day: My marriage is stronger, I have two beautiful children, and my dog who suffered the kidney failure is still with us. I'm not sure how I made it through that very dark period, but surrounding yourself with loved ones and "disposing of all the noise" really played a role in my being here today.
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2 replies by Elok Robert Tee and LORI WILSON
Jan 09, 2020 5:57 PM
LORI WILSON
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Randi: Your terrible year is overwhelming. I cannot even imagine what loss you must have felt during this time and yet you were so courageous and were highly functional at work. You are a very strong person and I am so happy to see what your present day looks like. Thank you for all the reminders about taking stock of the beauty in my life and making healthy changes. Your note is very inspiring and wish you continued blessings.
Jan 10, 2020 12:26 AM
Elok Robert Tee
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I can't imagine how difficult it must have been for you Randi, to go through all that you mentioned. Very sorry for your losses. You too have reminded me how important it is - there is more to work life on this platform. And in our work, to check on our colleagues.
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