By Kristin Brown (reprinted from the blog of the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics.)
I learned of Vice President Joe Biden’s son’s death in church last Sunday. This was not the first time this family has gone through grief. In 1972, he lost his first wife and daughter in a car accident, the year he was first elected to the Senate.
While there is much to remember and appreciate about his son, Beau Biden, I was drawn to read more of the vice president’s story and how his career has been “bookended” by tragic losses.
Whether you’re the Vice President of the United States or a McDonald’s server, grief is never a private affair, nor should it be. Most of the time, grief is shared and expressed with those we live and work with most closely.
While the vice president has been criticized for his free-flowing personality, often saying awkward things at the wrong time, we should be grateful for his willingness to share with the nation in a more personal, unfiltered way.
We learn from how he has walked through grief, on the job and in the public eye, and we grieve with him. In fact, two weeks before his son’s death, he spoke at Yale University’s commencement sharing intimately about his life’s joys and sorrows.
For anyone who has gone through grief, you know it lasts much longer than you anticipated. You must return to your workplace and continue to serve to the best of your ability amidst the swirling, unpredictable emotions.
How do you function? And how do you support those who are grieving in the cubicle next you?
This is what intrigues me about Mr. Biden’s story, and where I thought we might stop to ponder some principles for “grief at work”:
1. Don’t feel ashamed to show your grief at work.
You may be worried about crying at odd times at work, like in the middle of a meeting. Or if not crying, saying or doing something out of character because of the pain.
This is a hallmark of grief. If only you could schedule those moments neatly onto your calendar during more appropriate times! It doesn’t work that way.
Let those close to you at work know what you’re going through, if they don’t already. Then give yourself permission to be a little less poised. Crying is an important part of the healing process. Plus, sharing your sorrow with those who are close to you is a gift. If they are wise, they will let it touch them deeply.
Trust your tears first and foremost to God, who cares for you. For many, journaling is a healthy and productive way to do this. Psalm 62:8 says, “Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”
2. Avoid major decisions while grieving.
You may be tempted to make some major decisions, either in a conscious or subconscious manner to assuage the pain. These may be in or around your workplace, or in your personal life, such as moving, changing jobs, or selling and buying a home. Some of these decisions may be unavoidable. But for those that seem optional, best to wait until your thinking is less clouded.Let the word of God be your guide in all things: “My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word” (Psalm 119:28).
3. Don’t interrupt or abbreviate your season of grief, but productive work is healthy.
There is much to learn from those who’ve been through grief. One of the leading Christian voices on grief is Nancy Guthrie, founder of GriefShare and author of Holding on to Hope: A Pathway of Suffering to the Heart of God, a study on the book of Job.
Guthrie writes that there is no set time period for how long grief should last, but that the process should not be truncated either by you or others who tell you it’s time to “move on.”
Yet, Guthrie says that both hope and joy can co-exist with sorrow and sadness. Putting your hand to the plow with tears coming down your face is not a bad thing. As she said on one radio show:
I actually think that a person who has had great sorrow has a larger capacity for joy. It’s almost as if the sorrow expands our capacity so that we can feel joy more deeply, more persistently.
Certainly, Vice President Biden’s capacity for joy has been expanded by his sorrow, yet we must pray for him and his family in the days ahead.
4. Share in the sorrow of those who are grieving around you.
It’s awkward knowing what to say or do for those who are grieving, especially in the workplace. Is it best not to say anything than to say something that seems trite? Guthrie writes that the worst thing for grieving people is for those around them not to acknowledge the loss. She writes:
You just really want a sense that they’re with you in it, that they want to be with you in it. People in grief want to know that others are, in a sense, carrying some of the sorrow that they are experiencing — just by the fact that others express that they care.
For those who are walking through a season of grief at work, and for the Biden family, our prayers are with you. It is our prayer that you move toward God in your grief, rather than away from him. May the love of Jesus Christ be with you and your family. And may those of us called to walk alongside you wrestle with our own grief, allowing God to heal and transform us.
Kristin Brown is Vice President of Communications at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics where she develops and implements the strategy to connect Christians with the Institute’s transformational message on faith, work, and economics. Kristin received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Princeton University.