In December 2022, City Hospice employee, Deb’s 24 year old son died suddenly overseas. Deb shares her #DyingMattersAtWork story and how compassionate bereavement care in the workplace made living through bereavement less overwhelming.
Losing our son left my family completely overwhelmed and utterly broken. There were no opportunities for final memories to be made, and there was no chance to say goodbye. One minute we were chatting about Christmas or the World Cup, and the next there was nothing. All the hopes and dreams we had for Paddy and for us were shattered.
Our lives changed forever but we are moving forward with our lives. I’ve worked in hospice care for almost all my professional life. People have asked me if that meant I felt better able to cope. Though it did mean we had talked more than most families about death and dying. We didn’t realise it at the time, but we had gathered insights from Paddy that made some of the difficult decisions we faced a little bit easier.
The first conversation I had with someone outside our family and close friends was with my manager.
It was just hours after we heard the news and I remember feeling like I couldn’t breathe. My manager just listened and told me not to worry about work, that she would take care of everything.
Having only worked at City Hospice for 4 months I was just at the beginning of getting to know everyone. My team and other colleagues sent me messages saying they were thinking of us all and sending their love.
Almost everyone said they had no words, and one thing I’ve learnt is where there are no words there is always kindness.
I remember how my colleagues were sensitive to the fact that I was probably being bombarded with lots of texts and they said ‘no need to respond’. It was often little things like that made the difference. My manager stayed in touch, I knew she was always there but it didn’t feel overwhelming and never intrusive. When she visited, she listed. She brought a rose from all my colleagues and it was called ‘special son’. Unlike flowers, it would never die and in a comforting way, it felt hopeful.
City Hospice’s policies meant my manager was able to be flexible, first off with time away from work and later with a phased return and working from home. It meant we could find a way forward that was right for me and the hospice.
Everyone is different, but I knew I wanted to return to work, it’s part of who I am, and I felt I needed structure and positive distraction. Since I’ve been back at work, people have continued to check in with me and just let me know that they remember it’s still early days. I’ve noticed how people worry they might say the wrong thing, it mattered to them but I didn’t mind, even if it was sometimes a bit clunky, it was always wrapped in kindness.
Dying Matters week this year is throwing a spotlight on #DyingMattersAtWork. For me, this means empathy with solutions, a combination of big and little things that collectively make living through bereavement more manageable and less overwhelming. I feel grateful that managers at City Hospice are both skilful and kind, and that our policies are people led and wellbeing focused.
Research from Hospice UK shows 57% of employees will have experienced a bereavement in the last five years and every day, more than 600 people quit work to look after older and disabled relatives. By talking to those around you, you can help us make sure that workplaces are properly set up to support people who are ill, who are caring for those around them, or who have lost someone close to them. Learn more here.