Saturday Morning Message: Returning to Work
Author: Carol Lane
This picture was taken outside the hotel at the TAPS New England Survivor Seminar last weekend. I thought it was appropriate for a December Saturday Morning Message and have titled it "Blooming Through Adversity." These roses are still blooming despite freezing temperatures and are reaching toward the sun, which you can see filtering through the bushes nearby. Isn't that what we survivors are doing? We are blooming even though we have gone through severe trauma caused by the death of a much-loved person in our lives. This week, survivors have responded to one of the questions that faces many of us: How do you approach going back to work? Each survivor who responded had a different way of coping and shared what worked for them. Hopefully, there are some ideas that may be just what you need. Thank you to all who replied this week and those who read the message.
Sharing questions and reading responses from others can be helpful as we continue on this journey toward a "new normal" without our loved one by our side. It helps to know that we are not alone. I encourage you to reply to the weekly question in the Saturday Morning Message by sending your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org. This is a change from the usual email address, but I will still receive your message. You never know how your words may touch the heart of another. In order to have your reply included next week, it is best to send them to me by Tuesday, Dec. 13.
Would you like to read how other survivors respond to a topic or question you have? Questions from survivors are an important piece of the message. You can also submit favorite songs that are meaningful to you. If you would like to send a message thanking one or all of those who wrote this week, send it to me and I will make sure your thoughts are passed along to them.
Question for Next Week's Saturday Morning Message
The holidays can be a stressful time for those who are grieving. Sometimes, it is good to make a plan before the upcoming events. The question this week is: What new traditions have you created or would like to establish for the upcoming holiday season? Think about one year at a time. That way, you can decide if you like these new ideas or not. There is no pressure.
♫ Song for the Week
Tabitha, spouse of Michael, sent the song this week, which is "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues" sung by Elton John. Tabitha wrote that the song "was playing constantly on the radio right after I lost my husband. It brings out the sobs every time. The words ring so deeply and touch on all of the emotions I was feeling and am feeling."
Answers from Survivors
From Leslie, mother of Eugene: I was a private piano teacher at the time of my son's death. I was fortunate that every parent and my older students attended his funeral. I had nothing to explain. I went back to work after three weeks. During the summer I cut students who weren't practicing. Six years later I am retired for the second time and concentrating on performing.
Tabitha, spouse of Michael: My husband and I both were/are active duty. When he died, I did not have much of a choice on going back to work. I HAD to. However, this has given me unique insight on how to get through the day and how to approach going back to work.
- Armor up: My husband always said I was a different person once I put on the uniform. I find this holds true, even more, now. I mentally prepare myself for the day. This involves things like psyching myself up with little phrases such as, "You can do this," "Just focus on it hour by hour or day by day," and "Remember who has your back; he'd want you to do this."
- Have a work-wife/husband: I have at least one friend at work. They know some of what I am going through. I've asked them to let me know if I start getting short or easily frustrated at work. These are telltale signs of anxiety that I don't always notice.
- Take breaks: It's easy to say take breaks but not everyone gets them. Usually, you can get a break for a few minutes every hour. Take it! Stretch, walk a bit, or go to the bathroom and cry. Know what you need and do it.
- Take lunch: Again, this is not something everyone can do. It's too far for me to go home during lunch so what I usually do is just get out of the office.
- Bring something to help: If you have something that keeps you calm, why not bring it to work where you need it? I have a small stuffed toy that is filled with essential oils. If I get a bit stressed, I take a quick sniff and then I feel a little more relaxed. I also have a couple of fidget items on my desk when my anxiety is high. I also have a spinner ring that I wear. When I get anxious, I spin it until I refocus. It's better than clicking my pen all day.
There is no "set thing" that works for everyone. Also, there may come a time when your "set thing" doesn't work anymore. Have multiple options and ways to use them. Do what you can, when you can. Take it an hour at a time. Once you've got that down, take it a day at a time.
You may also find going back to work helps. It keeps you occupied.
From Donna, mother of Eric: I took a full year off of teaching. I just couldn't think straight enough to be in charge of teenagers in a science lab. I'm glad I took that full year. I went back and taught two more years only to realize it is just too heartbreaking to help someone else's kid every single day and never be able to help my own child again. Many of the Gold Star Mothers I know either stopped working or changed jobs completely; few stayed in the same job. My advice: Be prepared for it to be totally different working now. I am not the same person I was before. Therefore, my outlook is very different, even jaded. I can't tolerate any shenanigans now, and high school students are full of them. It stressed me out so much. I was miserable even though I love teaching. It's not for me right now. Be open to changing jobs/careers or open to not working. I spend most of my time now volunteering for a veterans' group and find it fulfilling.
From Katherine, mother of John: Since grieving is unique to each individual so is the response in returning to work. Many bury themselves in work to put off or not think about their loss. Such was the case with my husband, Bob, a middle school counselor. He had one week off for the memorial service and returned to work immediately. I was on spring break and asked for an extension. After the service I, too, returned to teaching. When school was out for the summer, we had time to grieve for our son. However, others can actually ignore it completely. It will eventually come back to them later.
I've known others who have taken several months off and return to work either full or part time, depending on their job and financial responsibilities. Your grief journey will determine your action. When returning to work, take things slowly, if possible. The worst scenario is returning when you are not ready and ending up losing your job. Most cannot afford that end, so make sure you are ready to return to work.