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BLUF: My manager and friend lost her fit and healthy husband suddenly 10 days ago. How do I best support her when she returns to work?

I always thought it would be great to work with a dear friend. It is, but her husband passed away very suddenly a week ago. We go back 20 years and now I am wondering how I can best support her. I have listened to the "managing through a personal crisis" podcast, and that was so helpful to relate to the staff. Basically I told them that the best thing that we can do is run the department efficiently while she is away. The work is getting done. It has hit us hard, especially after dealing with H1N1 all year (we are local public health).

If it helps, she is high I/D, effective and well regarded. If there is something that worked well for you I would love to know it.

Janet

12string's picture

 I have a friend whose daughter was violently murdered.  I had no idea what to say to him.  After crying for awhile with him, I told him that I didn't know what to say.  He told me just acknowledging his pain spoke volumes.  

I can't imagine their pain.  I guess it helps just to be there.

Hope that helps

Joe

SMcM's picture

I don't have experience of this happening to a boss but last year one of my directs lost his wife to leukaemia. She was only 26years old.  Like Joe I told him I didn't know what to say but always had my door open to him. The rest of the staff were also there for him. We did our best to carry on with the work and he is now doing much better and is again one of my top performers.

I don't know if this helps as your situation is very different.

Goold luck.

Stuart.

jhack's picture

The loss of a loved one transcends words.  Being there is important.  Here are few things that you can do: 

Be willing to sit in silence.  Be willing to say nothing.  This is hard, but once you've expressed your profound sorrow, there really are no words equal to the situation.  

Take work pressure from your boss.  Offer to take on more:  Draft a report she would normally draft.  Do the schedule.  Run a meeting.   Grief is a powerful emotion, and will prevent her from focusing clearly.  While she'll want the "distraction" of work, she will be unable to put the tragedy out of her mind and it will affect her performance.  You should be there to help fill in and keep the overall team performance up.  Your challenge:  doing this without making her feel inadequate.  NEVER EVER suggest that she owes you anything for your efforts.  

Tend to basic human needs:  get lunch for her, make sure she's got transportation lined up, pick up dry cleaning, that sort of thing.  Strangely, this can be very helpful.  

Finally, accept her grief without making it an issue.  It's just there, heavily, and it will be there for a long time.  Don't dwell on it, but don't pretend that everything is fine.  There may be times when she "drifts away" and you should just wait for her to come back.  No pressure, say nothing.  

Be there. 

John Hack

430jan's picture

Your words are all so true and comforting through all of this. Joe and Stuart, I will definitely be there for her to sit and just be with her, and also keep the work flowing. I had listened to the personal crisis podcast and that helped so much through the panic and fog that first day. I just acknowledged to staff that we have to keep the work going and at least through that can give her comfort.

John, it sounds like you have done this before. You reminded me that we have a general staff meeting next Monday. I need to see if I can support her in that. I ran our briefing this morning, and have been bringing her boost shakes because she can't eat yet. Today I ran her some personal address labels because weirdly I thought that this might be so painful in putting your single name on there, and yet she needs these for all the thank you cards. Spent the evening writing those out too, just generic ones in case she can use them. I know that this something we go through as friends and coworkers. It's the human condition, but no one teaches you these things and I know she needs so much. 

Thank you for the advice.

Janet

12string's picture

 I'm sure she realizes what an amazing friend / DR she has in you.  Well done, you.

~12string~

430jan's picture

Thank you 12string for that kind comment. It is encouraging in a time when I feel so inadequate to provide what is needed.

Janet