“As a leader, you have to make space for people to talk about a coworker who’s died because people will take the space if you don’t provide it by talking at odd moments or out in the parking lot. But there’s such a difference in the leader saying, ‘Let’s come together and honor our fallen colleague. Your grief is welcome here. We will face it, we will talk about it.”
“Because I talk about Jimmy and I’m open about that loss, my clients and the folks that I was meeting through the work I do around writing and talking about grief and loss started sharing their stories with me. What I quickly realized, as both of you know, is that we are ill-equipped to navigate grief at work.”
“When we show up at work, and we are devastated by loss of any kind, we wear it in our bodies. Even if I don’t know that your mother has died, I know something has happened because I can feel it. It’s like the molecules around you have shifted. As someone who works with you, I want to be supportive, but there’s no path to saying anything if no one has told me that it’s okay to ask or bring it up.”
“There’s no ignoring grief. It will happen to all of us, including the person who’s saying ‘I don’t really want to deal with this.’ The strength of the team and the organization, the very fabric of the culture is based on compassion in the best organizations. That means leaning into whatever is happening for your employees. It doesn’t have to be death. It can be divorce or not getting a promotion. It can be a layoff where 20% of your colleagues are now gone. There’s so much grief and loss in the workplace and not acknowledging it is a terrible strategy.”
“People look away and hope they don’t have to deal with the situation, but you really can’t avoid it. What leaders find if they lean in and ask a few questions is that what their employees need isn’t as much as they’re expecting. It’s a bit of a space, a bit of extra support, some extra time to get their work done. It’s about acknowledging the loss and making space for that grieving employee to navigate work a little differently.”
Most of us will suffer a loss more than once during our careers, yet few of us know how to navigate our grief at work, and most of our colleagues and workplaces are ill-prepared to support a bereaved employee. Margo joins Tim Moye, Delta Air Lines and psychotherapist Meghan Riordan Jarvis for a conversation facilitated by Zoe Sinclair, founder of This Can Happen, on how to make our workplaces more grief-friendly.
“… no two people will react to a life-altering loss the same way, making it challenging to create hard and fast policies. One colleague may need extended time off while another will return to the office quickly, seeking a distraction or reprieve from their sadness. Because very few managers get any training on how to support a grieving team member, they default to guessing as to what might be most helpful, often hoping that if they give the employee time and space, the person will recover on their own.”
Grief is an inescapable part of life, yet the vast majority of workplaces are ill-prepared to navigate the minefield of loss. In her article, “Grieving on the Job,” Margo offers some ideas on how a grieving parent can ease the transition back to work and garner the support they need from their boss and their team.
“I don’t think that we as a culture do a good job simply acknowledging grief exists. We pretend that if an employee has lost someone, they can park that sense of sadness and grief at the door when they come to work.”
The list of things to do when someone dies is long and burdensome. If one of the things on that list is “return to work,” then this episode is for you. If you are a manager or co-worker wondering how to support a grieving employee, this episode is also for you.
For many of us, the thought of talking to someone who’s been shattered by a loss is scary. And to have to go into that conversation with no guidance is terrifying .. The grieving employee’s colleagues will oftentimes make the judgment that it’s better not to say anything because they might upset her, leaving the employee sitting there at work knowing everyone knows, but no one is saying a word.
Margo joins host Mark Haney to discuss grief and loss in the workplace and share ideas on how leaders can build a compassionate, supportive organization that offers far more than the standard bereavement leave.
Margo Fowkes knows that neither death nor grief takes a holiday. So she decided to write a relatively brief, totally accessible book to help business owners and managers welcome back into the fold employees who’ve suffered the loss of loved ones.
Margo Fowkes’ son lived with cancer for almost a decade before he finally died. In her grief, she noticed that work places were not equipped to support or even acknowledge the griever. Inspired by her son’s power to live his life fully even under the threat of his death, she set out to bring change to the businesses and organizations she worked with when it came to how they handled grief.
“I quickly learned that no one, not even the doctors, knew how many months, weeks, days Jimmy had left. It did us no good to try to count the unknowable. We had him here now. That was all that mattered.”
“The big shift came after my daughter was born. A friend said, ‘I think you should consult on how to make the workplace a more positive environment because that’s what you’re passionate about.’ That was the piece I was missing in the work I was doing prior … the opportunity to work with a team and see change as a result of that work … the ability to make a difference.”
“There’s a lot of ranking in grief. A feeling that there’s not space to honor everyone’s pain. First, we must rank. We must put your loss into the hierarchy. And if you’re grieving the death of a dog, you don’t get as much space as those of us who’ve lost children.”
“We are all a sunlit moment away from a long darkness, as poet David Whyte says … Somehow it was less painful to try to catch glimpses of my shadow son than to stare at photos of the flesh and blood child I raised, for to do so meant accepting that all he did was all he would ever do.”
“I watch the newly minted kindergarteners race around the colorful playground and think of the children who should be there and aren’t, picturing my own ghost child with his dark brown wavy hair, shiny green eyes, ready smile and merry laugh. I remember the sweetness and promise of those joy-filled days, grateful for all we had as I long for just one more.”
“Our friends and family need steadfastness to see us through this gorge of grief. We disappear for days, failing to respond to calls, texts, emails. We decline invitation after invitation, only to say ‘yes’ then leave early, show up late or not at all. We cry constantly or sit dry-eyed in a strange state of frozen relief. We offer no road map on how to reach us, no guidebook on what to say …”
“Whenever I trip up, say something stupid, offer the wrong help or am no help at all, I remember how much value there is in listening. That it’s in that quiet space where we learn what we need from each other …”
Twenty Twenty contains essays and short stories about pertinent 2020 topics such as: COVID-19 and shelter-in-place life, George Floyd’s murder and racial justice, wildfires, graduations, sourdough, pandemic pets, Zoom dating, masks, hand sanitizer and toilet paper. Margo has two pieces in the anthology – Brave & A Life To Call My Own.
“We navigate the world without spending a lot of time thinking about how easy it is to leave it or have it fundamentally shift on us … When we get that diagnosis or we lose somebody dear to us, what gets exposed is just how little control we really have.”
Margo joins Wellness Within founder Patti Brown for a conversation about vulnerability and grief.
“Jimmy and Dad are made of memories now, living in the stories I tell, the history we shared. My remembering is fierce and intentional, as I conjure them back to life with my words. This is what remains, what comforts, what heals now that they are gone …”
“I will never regret being present for every minute of those final months and weeks. To see my son’s courage, his willingness to enjoy whatever and whoever the day brought to the house, his determination to keep laughing and spend time with the people he loved best. It was an honor to be part of it, and I’m grateful I didn’t hold back or look away …”
“I spent nights thinking about what was lost – his balance, his hearing, his cognitive abilities. Jimmy had this beautiful ability to focus on what was left.” Margo shares the lessons she learned from her son Jimmy as he battled brain cancer for eight years and the way her grief has influenced her work.
“Even in the final days, there’s still hope. For more time. For more conversation .. there’s always room for hope.” Margo and Wellness Within Founder Patti Brown discuss people’s reluctance to share their losses and how we can support a friend or family member who’s grieving.
Mark Dimor, author of Donna: A Photo Memoir of Love and Loss and Margo discuss why we work so hard to avoid grief, both our own and other people’s, and the way sharing our stories helps us heal.
Margo turned her enormous grief over the death of her son into a global force for healing. An extraordinary interview with a mother, entrepreneur and activist about the communal nature of grieving.
“I started Salt Water because it was the website that I couldn’t find. I wanted someplace that was geared toward loss more broadly … a site where people could come in whatever place they were in and feel welcome and where there is no judgment to the loss.”
We hear the story of Jimmy who died at the age of 21 after an eight year brain cancer odyssey. This episode includes so many poignant, informative and beautiful messages as a mother tells her story of love and loss.
How do you go on living after your child’s life ends? How do you continue to find connection, beauty and meaning when someone we can’t live without dies? This is the question Margo Fowkes faced when her son Jimmy died of brain cancer at the age of 21.
Rather than criticize people for saying or doing the “wrong” thing, Salt Water offers practical suggestions and encouragement for those who want to help, along with gentle reminders of what a griever might find hurtful despite a loved one’s best intentions.