National Grief Awareness Day is August 30 this year. It began almost a decade ago. The intention of this day (and National Grief Awareness Month throughout all of September) is to raise overall awareness of the many ways those affected by grief cope with loss, provide resources to those going through personal losses, and to remind us all the importance of supporting people we know to be grieving. Like many silent struggles, there are many tools available to the individual experiencing grief but there is often a stigma associated with needing or using them. To try and reduce the stigma around conversations about grief, I’d like to talk to you about my personal experience using one of the tools available to millions of Americans attempting to manage their grief – their EAP (Employee Assistance Program).
What is Grief?
According to the Mayo Clinic, grief is a strong, sometimes overwhelming emotion for people, regardless of whether their sadness stems from the loss of a loved one or from a terminal diagnosis they or someone they love have received. The feelings associated with grief can vary greatly from person to person and so can how long it most strongly affects people. People can also use a wide range of tools to cope with grief, both internal and external. If you’re uncertain about whether your grieving process is normal, consult your health care professional. Outside help is sometimes beneficial to people trying to recover and adjust to a death or diagnosis of a terminal illness.
What is an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)?
An employee assistance program (EAP) is a work-based intervention program designed to assist employees in resolving personal problems that may be adversely affecting the employee’s performance. EAPs traditionally have assisted workers with issues like alcohol or substance misuse; however, most now cover a broad range of issues such as child or elder care, relationship challenges, financial or legal problems, wellness matters and traumatic events like workplace violence. Programs are delivered at no cost to employees by stand-alone EAP vendors or providers who are part of comprehensive health insurance plans. Services are often delivered via phone, video-based counseling, online chatting, e-mail interactions or face-to-face.
How do you use an EAP for grief assistance?
My father died on Halloween of 2021. Dad and I were close and his passing was not peaceful or pleasant. I wouldn’t say I’ve necessarily struggled since losing him, but I can’t pretend I’ve thrived either. Some days I find myself crying in the car for no reason and others I feel like my focus is affected. When I was first reminded that our EAP through FlexTrades had resources for dealing with grief I checked them out online and found them helpful. When another bad day hit me months later, I decided to call and use one of the 3 annual sessions with a trained and licensed councilor which my EAP provides. I was connected and prescreened to make sure I was not in need of emergency assistance then we simply had a conversation. We talked about the things I’ve been feeling and the things many others typically feel in my situation. Then we discussed avenues and alternatives to coping. Finally, we talked about professional service providers in my area and the counselor even was able to provide a list of those I could call in my area that matched my requirements and were covered under my insurance plan. It was easy, non-judgmental, helpful, and surprisingly cathartic.
Ways to cope
What I learned from that counseling call was that my, and everyone else’s, experience with grief is unique. There is no right or wrong way to act or feel nor is there a “proper” amount of time for those feelings to last. But there are simple ways you can cope with grief.
- Give yourself permission to take as much time as you need to help you move forward through processing your loss.
- Surround yourself with caring, supportive people.
- Find safe ways and places to express your feelings without hurting yourself or others.
- Try to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
- Maintain as much of your “normal” routine and schedule as possible.
Empathetic grief is normal
Grieving isn’t just for those experiencing loss but for those who care about those who’ve lost. If you are a friend of someone currently experiencing grief don’t be frustrated if you’re struggling to support them. It can be difficult but try to remember these 5 things as a guide.
- Be a supportive, caring listener.
- Be a “safe friend” accepting your friend’s feelings, even those that are more negative.
- Continue to reach out a month or more after the funeral.
- Help your friend slow down their decision-making process when making changes following loss.
- Let your friend know that it’s ok to not be “normal” yet at work and socializing, regardless of time-frame.