Ask Dr. Jillian: “I just experienced a personal tragedy but am not ready to talk about it with anyone at work. How do I handle this?”

Adults |

“My best friend just passed away in a tragic car accident. I’ve taken a few personal days to process the loss, but now that I’m heading back to work, I’m terrified that I will break down in front of everyone if they bring up my friend’s passing in conversation. How do I communicate to my coworkers that I’m not ready to talk about it yet?”

First off, what you’re feeling is 100% fair. Grief is one of the most difficult things we deal with in life, and the best place to start right now is to try to understand and advocate for your own needs. The first thing you need to do – though it may be incredibly hard – is to explain your situation to your boss or Human Resources representative. It is their responsibility to inform the rest of the team what has happened, only to the amount of detail that you are comfortable with. Your colleagues need to respect your wishes and refrain from bringing up your friend in conversation beyond sending their condolences. Part of running and maintaining a healthy, effective team is ensuring that staff feel supported when tragedy strikes – and this is your employer’s responsibility, not yours. 

Losing a best friend is an unimaginable tragedy – and no part of this is easy. Do the best you can to be patient with yourself. Refrain from self-imposing “should” timelines, such as “I should be back to normal by now,” or “I shouldn’t still be crying like this.” Grief can, and often does, look different for everyone and there are no right or wrong ways to grieve. Lastly, give yourself time to process your loss, but make sure you reach out to family, friends, and/or counsellors for support when you’re ready.