Bereavement: for the love of PR, listen to your colleagues

Rowan Adam’s article on how PR bosses are failing grieving employees was a tough read.

It’s a visceral description of what grief is like and the intense pain that has to be managed, somehow.

There are 95,000 of us employed in PR and, according to at least one study, at any time one in 25 (four per cent) of us will be experiencing the most intense form of grief – as many as those among us who could be experiencing the most severe form of depression. Whether prompted by the death of a loved one (or pet), loss of a job or an illness, complicated grief is the kind of life-destablising event that forever changes you.

I wish I didn’t empathise so much with Rowan or know as much as I do about grief. But, a year ago this week, I experienced the sudden death of my beloved mum. Like Rowan, I was also freelancing when I got the call, and had to navigate strangers’ response to my very personal collapse.

Fortunately for me, I wasn’t working for people who put client deadlines above all else.

When I opened up, people most often leant in to help – even those I’d met just that morning. The colleague who, at the end of a training day, asked how I was and, when I said I was relieved to just be standing, let me cry it out. The former colleague who jumped onto a train to work from my living room after I called him because I couldn’t fathom how to deliver the project I had just won. I can smile now at how incoherent I was.

Alongside my incredible partner and family, I was lucky at work to feel I had people who would be there for me. Open to listening when I needed to vent or cry. Respectful not to ask when they sensed that my job had to be my escape that day.

That isn’t to say everyone got it right, or would say the right thing if they even acknowledged the situation at all; but the fact people tried was more important to me than anything else.

I couldn’t agree more with Rowan that we need to "stop being dicks" about mental health, and in this instance grief, but I’d say this is much bigger than just how PR agencies deal with it. PR agency bosses are not the only issue here.

Grief is horrendous. It affects so many people, but in general so very few talk openly about what it’s like or what we need. And so often ‘all’ that’s needed is a belief that it’s OK to ask for help and to expect a bit of kindness and understanding in reply. To know that you’re allowed to keep asking for this help, even when you feel your friends, your boss or family want you to stop.

Opening up and giving people a chance to listen when you’re ready to talk is helping me process what I’ve experienced, as is reading and listening to others (‘Griefcast’, the podcast with Cariad Lloyd, is worth a go, although it took me months to be ready to listen to others talk about their grief – which I’m told is normal).

Not everyone will get it and, should that boss, peer or friend consistently let you down, then go with Rowan’s advice and say no. But, in my experience, it’s worth giving people a chance. You owe it to yourself and to others to bring about change in how we deal with grief, once and for all.

For support and more information, contact Cruse, the national grief helpline.

Natalie Orringe is chief marketing officer at Access Intelligence

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