When grief strikes the workplace

Our small work community has been buffeted by health crises and death since the days before Christmas, and they continue. While this makes us a stronger community, it also takes an emotional toll.

A colleague lost her spouse to a quick, previously undiagnosed illness. Another lost a young adult son. Still another, a matriarch grandmother. Another, an aunt and a childhood caregiver. A close professional colleague with whom we worked for years lost his battle with cancer, and another who led us through organizational change and leadership training, died this morning.

In addition, a colleague in a partner organization and who is instrumental in our work in Africa was hospitalized in France with a life-threatening illness. He is now recuperating.

When I walk through our building, it’s common to have a conversation updating one of these circumstances, and I often find myself in a pastoral role while also receiving pastoral care. That’s the strength of this community. It’s more than a workplace. In times like these, it becomes a supportive faith community, even more than is normally the case.

To be clear, these concerns that weigh on our hearts are not all-consuming. We get our work done, but our work and our faith are not in conflict; they are compatible, and, sometimes, interconnected.

Facing such difficult times, I can be caught up in a swirl of conflicting emotions, yearning for privacy and connection, experiencing pain, wishing for comfort. It’s a privilege when caught up in this whirlwind that we can experience community and comfort as distress abounds.

Speaking to staff in a prayer service this morning, I was grateful to them that we can be available to one another when grief is so deep it has no bottom.

When loss changes the course of our lives and leaves us feeling that we cannot dream or hope, a supportive community can at least share the journey and encourage the vision of a better tomorrow.

When life seems broken in a way that leaves us feeling too exhausted for the journey, a community of support provides strength beyond our own.

I came to believe early in my life that when we are in our most vulnerable state, we are closest to God, who is the source of life. We are likely to be most authentic and human because we are stripped of our false sense of security.

In fact, we are vulnerable to the vagaries of the universe at every moment. We really cannot know what’s coming next. But we make plans and take for granted that our plans will happen. And when they don’t, we’re caught short.

The loss of someone we love exposes our vulnerability in the most unsettling way I know. From doubt and despair through anger, questioning, bargaining, hope and finally to celebration.

As a person of faith, I take great comfort in scripture.  It’s clear to me that the writers of our sacred texts experienced life as I experience it, and their words come alive in remarkable ways.

This morning, I shared several selections that are meaningful to me in such times as these.

The affirmation in Isaiah:
“Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49)

And Paul:
“We do not live to ourselves and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14:7,8)

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things past, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38,39)

To know that we share bonds so strong they span history, and so real they speak to our experience as we live it, is powerfully reassuring. That, along with the faces of the community, the presence of a spirit so holy it is beyond naming, and the promise of Jesus standing in our midst saying, “I will be with you always, even to the end of the age,” make these difficult times more than bearable. They make them more comprehensible and ultimately, celebratory.

5 Responses to “When grief strikes the workplace”

  1. UMCOM Admin January 27, 2011 at 10:51 pm #

    Posted on behalf of Don:
    How comforting to know our church has leaders with such caring and compassion! You and your staff are in our prayers during these difficult times knowing the promise of Jesus is with us “to the end of the age”!!!

  2. Ken Sloane January 28, 2011 at 10:03 am #

    Larry, thank you for this, and especially for your words yesterday.Not just your words, but your coming and calling the rest of the staff to just be present with each other for a while.Sometimes just that is enough to remind us we are not alone.

  3. Aquilino January 28, 2011 at 3:11 pm #

    Thank you for those words of comfort, Larry. Coming from you, the gestures are sincere and real. In my short time in the UMCOM board, I experienced that kind of relationship with your staff. I miss those moments. Pong

  4. Margaret January 28, 2011 at 11:28 pm #

    Thank you, Larry. Knowing that you’ve lived these words many times over makes them even more meaningful. I miss my UMCom friends–and I’m thankful that I can picture the halls and offices you’re walking through.Those of us who aren’t there are with you in spirit–and in community.

  5. Kathryn Spry February 5, 2011 at 9:57 pm #

    Larry, what inspiring and yet comforting words – thanks for the time you give to us sharing your words and your heart . . .

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