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Civil Service

Living with loss: A little message goes a long way

Image of grave surrounded by flowers

When Keela Shackell-Smith was rocked by her mum’s death, she founded The Grief Cafe to bring bereaved staff together, and her subsequent blog struck a chord with you. Now she’s back, determined to help staff who lost loved ones during the pandemic.

I was overwhelmed with the response to my  blog ‘Connecting over Grief’. Since then, the mailing list for the Grief Cafes has soared to more than 350 civil servants, a new baby loss support group has  launched and many organisations have approached me about bereavement networks and holding in-house Grief Cafés. The Cross Government Grief cafes will continue, but I’m really pleased that more cafes are being set up. 

Grief Cafe

This summer, I hosted a Grief Café for those who’ve experienced a covid-related bereavement. We talked about how everything has changed, some people couldn’t comfort  their loved ones in their final moments, some had to watch funerals online, some wanted to be consoled by family, but could only do so online. 

We spoke about moving into the next phase of the roadmap, and for many staff bereaved during the pandemic, this has presented  a double-edged sword. 

Sea change: losing a loved one is challenging

Many are anxious. Many are concerned that what happened to their loved one will happen to more family/friends. Many feel alone because whilst their friends are celebrating, planning  holidays and enjoying nights out  at the pub, they just want their loved one back. For them 19 July isn’t a celebration but a painful reminder of their loss. 

No two people have had the same experience through the pandemic. Many people in the Civil Service will have lost loved ones. 

What I ask is that you acknowledge their loss. A simple message goes a long way. When you meet again, send a message to a colleague if they were bereaved during the pandemic. Ask a simple question ‘how are you’, acknowledge that they may have mixed feelings, or offer a 15 minute coffee chat if they’d like to chat about their loved one. 

Considering colleagues

If you’re a Line Manager, consider how your colleagues might be feeling on this day. It might have been over a year since they experienced their loss or it might have been in the last few weeks. The important thing is to acknowledge their loss. 

It’s the simple things: 

Holding Hands▶︎ Be a good listener – Be guided by the individual. Listen to memories. Listen to stories. 

▶︎ Let them feel sad – It’s natural. Grief Cafes are triggers for everyone who joins them. There is no judgement in Grief Café. Don’t try and ‘fix’ things, the only ‘fix’ is to bring back my loved one and that’s not possible. 

▶︎ Say their name – Often people are afraid to say the loved ones name for fear of upsetting a friend/ colleague. Don’t be afraid, I’m thinking of them constantly. 

Future Grief Cafes

The Grief Cafes are open to everyone in Government and have been scheduled for the rest of the year. 

28 Sept, 11-12am

27 Oct, 3-4pm

22 Nov, 2-3pm

3 Dec, 2-3pm

So pop a note in your diary for 28 September  and send a short message to someone grieving to show you care.◼︎

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  1. Comment by Tina Desmond posted on

    Oh how I wish I had known about the grief cafes. My mum died of Covid in the first week that the country was shut down in 2020 - it came 2 weeks late for my mum. I am only now beginning to feel the loss fully; realising that I was mostly numb at her loss for 6 months followed by anger.

    She went out twice in the 2 weeks before she fell ill and not being able to say goodbye in person or fully at her funeral was terrible. As we had all been in contact with her shortly before her hospitalisation there was only 1 person in our entire family that could be with my dad until the funeral because he is one of the 1.5m most at risk. Her first great grandchild was born in the August and how I wish she was here to meet him every time I visit my grandson.

    I too feel anxious and scared and the idea of returning to the office; the potential risk of exposure to Covid is a very real risk for my dad and it has left me feeling that if I do return to the office I then need to shield from my dad and the heartache that would bring. The discussions in meetings about it have escalated the anxiety leaving me constantly worrying.

    Ironically, the 19th of July would have been my mums 72nd birthday so that day was especially painful for me.

    Thank you for supplying the dates for the grief cafe. I have registered for the first one. Thank you so much for your bravery in setting something up like this for all of us. You should be commended for doing so. Thank you, thank you.

  2. Comment by Gavin Thomas posted on

    I commend you Keela for finding a way to turn your experience of grief into such a positive initiative that will help to support others.

    I am sure that colleagues who are finding it difficult to come to terms with their loss will welcome the Grief Cafe, and the opportunity to talk in a safe space.

    Unfortunately, my father in law suddenly passed away last year, and we had to conduct the funeral arrangements and administration under the restrictions of the pandemic. It was quite challenging, but we were able to overcome these and ensure that we fulfilled his religious beliefs.

    I also agree with Geoffrey that we all suffer the loss of family members, relatives, friends and pets.

    Two weeks ago our elderly dog suddenly became unwell and we had to make that difficult decision to have him put to sleep. He had been an integral part of our family for a number of years, and had given me a sense of purpose. His passing has left us with a big hole in our day to day lives.

    Welcome your suggestions on how we can support others at they time of need. Would agree that it is best not to try to fix the situation and respect their privacy.

  3. Comment by geoffrey walker posted on

    this sounds like a brilliant resource as at some stage in life we all suffer the loss of family members, relatives, good friends not forgetting pets and it is not something that can be turned off at the door when we get to work

  4. Comment by Karen Fowkes posted on

    What a beautiful idea, a firm believer that the dead are always among us when they are on the lips of the living