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Opinion Editorials

How to address coworkers (or anyone) after a personal tragedy

(EDITORIAL) When tragedy or hard times strike, anyone’s professional life can be impacted, but how can you get back to normal with the least amount of pain possible?

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When tragedy strikes, it is so hard to navigate your personal life, let alone your professional life.

But the world doesn’t stop, even when your world feels like it ended.

I want to share my story with you, and how I recovered in my professional life after devastation in my personal life – what boundaries I set, how I reacted to others, and what I did poorly that I wish I had done better.

In 2005, a little over a year after marrying my beloved, we found out we were pregnant for the first time, and we were so enthusiastic that we called everyone we knew before leaving the gynecologist’s office. At our next visit, however, we were referred to a perinatal specialist and told we were already in the second trimester, but I wasn’t even showing yet.

We learned right away that Kennedy had so many things wrong with him that there was literally no chance he would survive during birth or after birth, and we were faced with being urged to abort for my personal health, but we felt compelled to keep him safe for as long as we could in the comfort of the womb for his short life.

So for almost two months, we lived with the “is today the day his heart will stop?” fear. When the day came, we delivered our son stillborn. Even though we knew it was coming, it was the most crushing silence you can imagine – a silent sonogram, and then child born through traditional delivery that never cries.

Aaron, my younger brother, my Irish twin, my best friend outside of my marriage, sent a teddy bear and chocolates, not knowing what to say, and experiencing his own fear as he found out after we did that his wife was also expecting. We named the bear K-Bear for Kennedy, and I still sleep with in my arms to this day.

Fast forward almost two years, and we were still not completely put back together – not me, not my husband, not my family.

At the time, my brother has two babies, one just four weeks old, and we relish in how amazing they are, and what a miracle babies really are. He failed to show up to make silly internet videos one Sunday, and we figured he got distracted by his babies and went home, but no, he called and left a message that I missed. In a happy voice, he proclaimed he was on his way and that he would be there in a bit.

A few minutes later, he was gone forever in a single car accident, and no one knows why. His wife and children survived the crash. I’d ignored my phone all day, so it wasn’t until the police knocked on my door that night that we knew what happened.

I found myself comparing the losses, and felt massive guilt over being more devastated by the loss of my brother. When Kennedy passed away, we had time to rationalize and understand through genetic testing and talking with our Priest that sometimes bad stuff just happens.

When Aaron died, it never made sense.

It still doesn’t.

Here’s how people around me reacted…

The first loss was very private, and was before social networks were big, so we silently suffered, and as our siblings all got pregnant at the same time, we had to choose to be happy for them rather than feel slighted.

When Aaron died, the Internet reacted by fundraising for his wife, since they were so so young, and had no savings or insurance.

Letters of condolence rolled in by the hundreds, flowers came, and a friend even sent the local Knights of Columbus to our house and presented a rosary. It was all very moving.

I remember going to the grocery store in the morning after Kennedy died and wondering why everyone was just shopping like nothing had happened.

Didn’t they know?

Why were they all smiling?

When Aaron died, the exact same thing happened. It is so hard to grasp that when my world stopped, everyone else’s went on like normal, and the silent pain ringing in my ears was too high pitched for others to hear.

Regardless, I had to recover at work.

In 2005, I worked at a medium sized commercial developer, and I was honest with my employers about everything. I called them the minute we found out we were pregnant, and again when we found out it wouldn’t work. I also told my boss when everything was totally over.

At that time, when people would come by my office to offer condolences, I let them. I chose to be very open about what happened, how I was feeling, and that we would try again. I found that the open door allowed people to not feel sorry for me (which was my fear), rather to understand the journey.

When I read concern on peoples’ faces, I asked if they had any questions. I asked if they knew anyone who had been through a stillborn, and I realized that most people were so concerned with how I was because they had experienced something similar in their life or through someone close to them.

Allowing people to connect over that tragedy truly helped an office to get back to work rather than tiptoe around me, or wonder and gossip.

In 2007, my work was exclusively online, so I didn’t have an open door on my office, I had an email inbox, a Twitter account, a Facebook account, and so on and so forth. Because we were hosting the wake at our home and dealing with moving my sister in law to her parent’s house, it was tough to work, let alone share what we were going through.

In order to open our doors, we had a handful of friends that were our point people.

They were the ones who blogged about what happened and what was going on. They were the ones with our address and phone number for those that wanted to reach out to us, and during the peak of the business of burial, they were our gatekeepers so to speak, and they were there to serve as a means of keeping the gates open instead of closed.

When the dust settled, we shared our experience publicly, and asked people to share their stories of loss.

In a digital world, people are desperately seeking to connect, be it professionally or personally, and giving them a way to do just that was a tremendous help, and I found that people never expected an immediate response, they just wanted us to know we were being cared for, and I answered every single email, even though it took a long, long time.

The takeaways – my mistake and what helped the healing

Any loss is terrible, be it a son or an Irish twin, a neighbor, a spouse, a parent, a house to fire, a job, or any loss. Pain can’t be measured on a scale, I promise.

If I could do it all over again, the mistake I made was not in keeping my doors open to co-workers so that we could all focus on work, but in closing them to family because I assumed they knew what I was going through, since they were also going through it.

The truth is, we all experienced these losses differently, and it hurt some of our family relationships that we grieved differently.

Don’t be afraid to cry, don’t sugar coat things to make people around you comfortable, don’t make people tiptoe, and for goodness’ sake, don’t tell your story as a means of getting attention. Be healthy about your recovery and life will go back to normal at a better pace than if you don’t experience the stages of loss. Do what’s comfortable to you and don’t feel like you have to pretend like everything is normal.

When you go back to work for the first time after a tragedy in your life, keep your doors open, invite questions, and ask your own questions.

There’s an elegant power in redirecting people to talk about their own tragedies.

The pain of loss is deep, but most people mistake telling their story for picking a wound, when really, being open to talking about it is tremendously helpful toward healing and one of the best ways to get your professional life back on track.

This editorial originally ran in 2013.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Missy Caulk

    June 16, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    Lani, I barely remember when Aaron was in his accident, not sure we were friends yet, I think I read a post from Jay Thompson on it, but I could be mistaken.

    In saying that even “if” I had known you and Benn, I can tell your right now I would not have known how to handle it or what to say. I do now because I have been through it but it took my own pain to be able to understand and be able to comfort others.

    Personally my family and I have had a tremendous amount of support online and IRL. Actually after the initial, raw, numbing, walking in a fog grief… more support from online friends.

    You are absolutely correct in that we all grieve and deal with any loss in different ways. Yes my business took a tumble but you know what I’m ok with that. I had no energy to deal with real estate.

    • Lani Rosales

      June 16, 2014 at 1:00 pm

      For me, and what I failed to mention in this editorial, is that faith plays a tremendous part, no matter your beliefs, AND that remembering that your cross is never heavier than you can carry, despite the pain.

      Missy, thank you for a thoughtful comment – recovery is tough, and we all choose a different path… knowing that you’re not alone is a HUGE part of it.

  2. Pingback: When someone else gets the thing you want most - AGBeat

  3. Michael Schmidlen

    March 23, 2016 at 12:35 pm

    First & foremost, DIDN’T know about Benn (BEST wishes for a speedy recovery!) and secondly, you truly are an “IRON LADY” as I’d never heard either story before reading it now.

    This helps me to understand you better, thanks for the peek behind the curtain! We ALL have our “shit”, and most of us choose not to wear these experiences as our cape or armor. We can learn from these tragedies and experiences and move forward with living our lives, or we can allow them to define us, I can easily see which path you chose!

    • Lani Rosales

      March 23, 2016 at 3:54 pm

      Oh hey, thanks Michael! The note about Benn was a year and a half ago (old post), but the recovery took a long time and is a major part of our life story.

      Thanks for reading! 😀 😀

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Opinion Editorials

The painful, beautiful paradox between suffering and success

(EDITORIAL) Evaluating success is about more than focusing on “rise and grind” cliches, instead adopting a meaningful perspective.

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The painful, beautiful paradox between suffering and success

I know I’m not entirely old, but in my 27 short years on earth, I’ve found one thing to be absolutely true — life exists inside of paradoxes.

Foods are sweet and savory, sour and sweet. Weather is sunny and beautiful, damp and dreary. Life itself is living and dying, up and down. And in every paradox there is something to be learned.

The most recent paradox I’m learning is the one that exists between suffering and success.

I think it is important to first define the two words: suffering and success. And not the Miriam-Webster Dictionary definition, that definition focuses entirely of the etymology of the word and doesn’t take life into account.

Suffering, as it pertains to success, is what a lot of people call the grind. Suffering is whatever loss you feel along the way. They’re the tiny deaths you die each time something doesn’t go the way you thought it should. It is that voice in the back of your head that keeps telling you to quit— that you’ll never make it. Suffering is what makes the success so sweet.

Success, as it pertains to suffering, is each time you get back up. It is the drive you have that tells the naysayers to suck an egg. Success is the rebirth that follows each tiny death. It is what accompanies each milestone that is met. Success is what makes the suffering worth it.

I think this paradox is materialized well in the Japanese practice of Kintsugi. Kintsugi is an art form of repairing broken ceramics with gold alloy. It is the artistic manifestation of the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, or celebrating the imperfection. You see, Kintsugi has less to do with the what, and everything to do with the why… Why repair broken ceramics? Why go through such lengths to make it beautiful?

Because the imperfections tell just as much of a story as the original piece. The gold lines that now hold the ceramic together add beauty to the piece *while* strengthening it.

Kintsugi reminds us to exist in the paradox of suffering and success. Not to fight it or to ignore it but to celebrate it and to be a part of it.

Suffering is an inescapable part of existing. It is also the fortifier of most experiences.

Suffering is the gold alloy that binds our successes together. Suffering is the the beauty that intricately weaves between the success of a once shattered dream. Success is the mended piece that is now decorated with suffering.

The two give each other such a deeper context. Outside of each other, suffering and success are merely events that happen. Independently, they give some things context. Together they give everything context.

So I implore you to try this:

Make a list of your successes, then list every single failure that led you to that place. Don’t do so out of spite or out of anger. Rather, do so with thanksgiving. Fondly remember the lessons you learned through suffering and don’t forget them when you experience success.

And through this exercise, going forward, you’ll remember your own gold alloy sprinkled throughout your life.

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Opinion Editorials

10 ways to digitally declutter and change your whole mindset

(OPINION EDITORIAL) One of the easiest ways to boost creativity and productivity is to do a spot of cleaning- both physically and digitally.

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Decluttering digitally

As more and more of our lives have moved digitally – our hard drives and cloud storage have become the 21st century junk drawer. It’s about time for some spring…er…autumn cleaning, and one of the places that could use straightening up is our tech.

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Digital clutter not only eats up memory – a premium on phones or tablets, but it slows us down, makes us feel like we have too much going on, and blocks the gorgeous photos that we set as our wallpaper. Here’s a few tips/ideas to help jumpstart your list:

1. CLEAN THAT DESKTOP

Like a messy workspace, a dirty desktop on your mac or pc looks terrible! Clean up those files and folders, and delete those application shortcuts you don’t need. Put a nice zen or minimalist background (or a picture of your dog/child/Subaru) to show off that shine.

Smart Folders – Set up your folders and documents in a good folder system. Organize by subject or date, and know when to toss old files. A logical folder system means you don’t waste time hunting through things.

2. Unsubscribe

For the most part, we receive way more retailer notices then we can ever use. If you find yourself ignoring those, just go ahead and unsubscribe – or at least reduce the email in the preferences options found at the bottom of every email. You can also junk old RSS feeds!

3. Toss the Downloads

The downloads folder in your mac or pc gets anything you pull from a browser. That’s often a digital junk drawer that takes up a lot of space on your hard drive. Sort by date, and either delete or organize what’s in that folder.

4. Cut the Lights and Sound

If you have movies or music you don’t listen to, delete it from your phone or hard drive space. Chances are, most major media services remember your purchase and can be downloaded or streamed in the future.

5. Close or Forward unused email accounts

If you have unused email accounts that you don’t want, either close the account or forward to an active email – this is especially great for those university emails that you don’t remember your password to because you graduated in five or ten years ago.

6. Slow that Camera Roll

Your camera roll on your phone is another big user of space. Delete any photos that are poor quality or that have no value. Import or organize your photos in something like Dropbox or Google Drive if you need to make space.

7. Clear out your inbox

That little red notification icon on my iPhone drives me crazy. Regularly keeping your inbox clean can not only help you find emails easier, but ensure you don’t miss a bill or important communication.

8. Use email filtering

If you can’t bring yourself to empty your inbox, use filtering to move emails to certain folders, like IMPORTANT, IGNORE, COUPONS, etc. Filtering tools exist in Gmail, Exchange, and iCloud Mail.

9. Uninstall Applications and Software

If you have software you don’t use on your computer – take it off. You can always download it again. If you’ve been afraid of deleting Flappy Bird from your phone – it’s okay. You can always re-download purchased phone apps as well.

10. Delete the Social Media Noise

If you have friends, pages, and follows on Facebook or twitter that don’t bring you any value, cut them out. Or be liberal with the unfollow/unsubscribe/mute functions.

Get to it, Lars

In many ways, digital clutter is just as bad for us as physical clutter. It detracts from our enjoyment and takes us away from the content and work we want to get to. Take a few minutes, cut the kilobytes, and don’t let tech take your time. Get cleaning!

#DigitallyDeclutter

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Opinion Editorials

Serial procrastinator? Your issue isn’t time management

(EDITORIAL) Need a hack for your time management? Try focusing on your energy management.

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Time hack

Your author has a confession to make; as a “type B” personality who has always struggled with procrastination, I am endlessly fascinated by the topic of productivity and “hacking your time.”

I’ve tried most of the tricks you’ve read about, with varying degrees of success.

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Recently, publishers like BBC have begun to approach productivity from a different perspective; rather than packing days full of to-do items as a way to maximize time, the key is to maximize your mental energy through a different brand of time management.

So, why doesn’t time management work?

Time management

For starters, not all work time is quality time by nature. According to a study published at ScienceDirect, your average worker is interrupted 87 times a day on the job. For an 8-hour day, that’s almost 11 times per hour. No wonder it’s so hard to stay focused!

Second, time management implies a need to fill time in order to maximize it.

It’s the difference between “being busy” and “being productive.”

It also doesn’t impress your boss; a Boston University study concluded that “managers could not tell the difference between employees who actually worked 80 hours a week and those who just pretended to.” By contrast, managing your energy lets you maximize your time based on how it fits with your mental state.

Now, how do you manage your energy?

Energy Management?

First, understand and protect the time that should actually go into deep, focused work. Studies continually show that just a few hours of focused worked yield the greatest results; try to put in longer hours behind that, and you’ll see diminishing returns. There’s a couple ways you can accomplish this.

You can block off time in your day dedicated to focused work, and guard the time as if it were a meeting. You could also physically retreat to a private space in order to work on a task.

Building in flexibility is another key to managing your energy.

The BBC article references a 1980s study that divided students into two groups; one group planned out monthly goals, while the other group planned out daily goals and activities. The study found the monthly planners accomplished more of their goals, because the students focusing on detailed daily plans often found them foiled by the unexpected.

Moral of the story?

Don’t lock in your schedule too tightly; leave space for the unexpected.

Finally, you should consider making time for rest, a fact reiterated often by the BBC article. You’ve probably heard the advice before that taking 17 minute breaks for every 52 minutes worked is important, and studies continue to show that it is. However, rest also includes taking the time to turn your brain off of work mode entirely.

The BBC article quotes associated professor of psychiatry Srini Pillay as saying that, “[people] need to use both the focus ad unfocus circuits in the brain,” in order to be fully productive. High achievers like Serena Williams, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates build this into their mentality and their practice.

Embracing rest and unfocused thinking may be key to “embracing the slumps,” as the BBC article puts it.

Do yourself some good

In conclusion, by leaving some flexibility in your schedule and listening to your body and mind, you can better tailor your day to your mental state and match your brainpower to the appropriate task. As someone who is tempted to keep a busy to-do list myself, I am excited to reevaluate and improve my own approach. Maybe you should revisit your own systems as well.

#timemanagement

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