Advice from Spill's therapists
Don't be afraid to talk about her lossCheck her needs and wishesOffer support with spaceRelated resources
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Supporting a team member who has lost a baby

Spill's qualified therapists answer real questions from employees struggling with grief.

One of my team members very sadly lost a baby last year and the anniversary is approaching. I would like some help with how to address the conversation and how, if at all, I can help them to deal with this kind of grief.

Our first therapist suggests...

Don't be afraid to talk about her loss

You need never be afraid of talking about grief or the person that has died. A lot of people avoid raising the subject of death because they fear upsetting the person who is grieving.

When you think about this logic it makes little sense because we cannot be more upset than we are at carrying the weight of the grief when someone we love has died.

The other thing to bear in mind is that we rarely want to be treated differently when we are bereaved. It is comforting to have those around us speak to us in the same way as they always did and to care about us in the same way too.

The first anniversary after a death is often very  difficult and overwhelming, as is the year that follows.

When we are first grieving we can feel numb to the passing days and it can be that only in the second year we feel the full force of being without the person who died.

I tell you all of this because I think understanding how hard grief is whilst also being something we need to be supported through is what will help inform your conversations.

There is, of course, nothing practical you can do, but simply by showing that you care and that you are thinking about your team member will make such a difference to her.

When she comes back maybe ask her how she spent the anniversary and how she’s feeling to be back at work. Don’t try and talk around the truth of grief because death cuts through and nothing can hurt us more than it does. Be strong in your support of her.

Your concern for your colleague is worth much more than you probably realise. Just being there for her and having a willingness to move with the vagaries of her emotions is huge and will be valued as such I am sure.

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Our second therapist suggests...

Check her needs and wishes

That’s incredibly sad news and it sounds like you’re a compassionate colleague. Firstly I need to ask if you need to address this anniversary? It’s lovely that you’d like to, but your team member may not want it acknowledged at work so the first thing that comes to mind is to just check with them first. They may ask for no acknowledgement at work. If ever we’re not sure of what someone needs,  just ask. Check out with them what’s OK/not OK. We all move through distress in different ways so it’s important to check out someone’s needs rather than assume them. Some people are very private or compartmentalised so won’t want to discuss personal matters in work; others will find it a comfort that there’s someone to chat to.

If they do want to recognise the anniversary, just check in with your own boundaries and how much you can handle first. You may be full of emotion right now for your own reasons so a deep conversation may be quite a lot for you to take on, but if you have capacity to hold space for this person then that is a lovely thing to offer. If you are happy to listen and able to, then offer them this space.

When holding a compassionate conversation, make sure you offer it in the appropriate time and space (e.g. not rushed in between meetings, and in a private space where they feel they can talk openly). You ask about what you can do to help them deal with the grief, so this is a time to ask them. Grief is a very emotional and transitional journey and the experience is different for everyone. There is no ‘right way’ to grieve so no ‘one way’ to support. Your team member will need to process it in whatever way makes sense to them and what you can offer her is the space to do this.

It's lovely you’re concerned for them but be mindful about not trying to ‘rescue’ them; when we do this it’s more about OUR needs. WE want this person to be OK and WE want to make it all better for them. This can be unhelpful to both parties as the rescuer is always trying to find new ‘solutions’ and can become consumed with this as a project (and ultimately exhausted). They can also be left feeling utterly helpless as many emotional events are not problems that can be solved but experiences to process and adapt to with support and time. In a nutshell, ask them what they need.

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Our third therapist suggests...

Offer support with space

On the return of your colleague, I think it would be normal to check in with her to see how she is doing in light of the anniversary. You don’t need to know exactly what to say. It is normal that you can’t imagine the pain, unless you have had the unfortunate experience yourself.

Expressing interest and care is sufficient. You could ask her if there is anything she needs at work to facilitate her return. You may also wish to send sympathy flowers to her home as a gesture. No doubt she would like to know she is supported but not in a showy way at work. It will help to also make it clear you are available should your team member need to discuss anything about her loss and how it impacts her at work. I would avoid asking any specific questions about the time off as this may feel intrusive and difficult to talk about.

Losing a baby is something that someone may never truly recover from, and the time it takes to grieve cannot be mapped out. The grief of losing a baby may also be more painful than other types of grief. Often people find that support after a bereavement lessens over time, so I think it’s great that you intend to show support at this stage and going forward.

Anniversaries may trigger strong grief feelings. If your employee says to you that she is struggling to cope, and it is clear she needs resources you could mention accessing mental health support to her (if it's provided), but I would avoid mentioning it without any evidence that it is necessary. She may already have accessed therapeutic support or have other coping strategies that feel more useful.

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