Following the tragic loss of his beloved daughter Eloise to suicide in 2018, civil servant Adam Land channelled his grief, determined to improve support for colleagues struggling with bereavement and loss.
As part of this year's National Grief Awareness Week from 2-8 December, I am sharing news about a project I'm leading, in partnership with colleagues from Civil Service HR, to improve awareness and support for civil service colleagues following bereavement or loss.
My motivation for getting involved with this project was deeply personal - in 2018, I lost my daughter Eloise to suicide. Following our devastating loss, I was grateful for the emotional and practical support I received from my Department, the Competition and Markets Authority, as well as from my manager and colleagues, as I gradually returned to work. It wasn’t easy, because grief never is straightforward.
Difficult to talk
I know that many people find it difficult to talk about these things. This year has been particularly hard for many of us to deal with loss or bereavement against the backdrop of a global pandemic. But I want this project to help others in the Civil Service receive the quality of support that I was fortunate to have received.
Making a start
We kicked things off by hosting a session at this year’s virtual Mental Health and Wellbeing Conference , held by Civil Service HR in early October. In this session we introduced our project, discussed our own personal experiences and invited colleagues joining us, to open up about theirs as well.
I was bowled over by the high degree of engagement from that first session. The initial connections we made – through the Q&A and from dozens of emails afterwards - blossomed into conversations and insights that helped shape the direction of our project. Some colleagues, working across the Civil Service have volunteered to work with us, enabling us to place individuals’ opinions and experiences at the heart of what we’re doing.
We have asked colleagues what support they had and what support they felt they needed to move forward through their own personal experiences of loss. They have told us that whilst there were, indeed are, some great resources available, these could prove hard to find; to put it mildly, you’re not at your best in the days and weeks following bereavement.
With that in mind, we are working on bringing all of the best resources into one place; so that these are easily accessible for everyone dealing with a bereavement or loss. We are aiming to have this ready for early next year.
Colleagues advised us that they want it to be easier to open up about their experiences. Most of us can feel uncomfortable talking about loss and it can be particularly difficult for managers to know how to approach these awkward conversations when they happen so rarely.
We want to make it easier to talk about this stuff, and we are working on ways to support both managers and colleagues in having these difficult conversations. As part of this, we recognise that it is important to create a culture of openness and we will be sharing the experiences and stories from as many colleagues as possible. If you want to get involved please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sharing our stories
To mark National Grief Awareness Week, we are sharing Amanda’s experience of receiving support from her colleagues following her recent bereavement.
Amanda, who works for the Ministry of Defence, finds it helpful to keep talking following her own experience of loss. Amanda has found her daily Skype session with her colleagues a 'life saver.’ Amanda has also joined Ministry of Defence Webinars on sharing experiences and normalising bad mental health times, ‘the clear message is the value of emotional honesty about mental health issues’.
Amanda has one key recommendation:
Keep on talking to any bereaved person. Not about the death necessarily which people find difficult to address, but just to keep lines of communication open and to foster a sense of connectivity. Grief is lonely and frightening, and maintaining connections is crucial.
I certainly agree with Amanda’s thoughts to keep talking. My colleagues' acknowledgement of my loss, and the ability to talk about Eloise at work when it feels right to do so has been a huge comfort over the past couple of years.
I hope you have found reading these thoughts and contributions helpful. This is just the start of an ongoing programme of communications aimed at making it easier to talk about bereavement. Meanwhile, if you feel you need help with your own experiences of loss please do reach out to a colleague, your manager, your Employee Assistance Programme provider or Mental Health First Aider. You will also find some helpful resources on the Charity for Civil Servants website including a recording of a recent webinar they hosted that discussed dealing with loss over the last year.
You are not alone.
Thanks for reading this.