Dealing with personal loss whilst at work


I am posting this to commemorate the anniversary of my friend, a teacher, who died by his own hand a year ago this week. It was written at the time.

Grief is a filthy business. It is not just sadness, that might be manageable. For me it is disconnection, disaffection and distress. It is needing to be alone but feeling lonely. It is insecurity and incoherence; questioning the point of everything, wanting to stop feeling for a while and panicking that I am not feeling enough. It is the urge to hold onto every memory but the need to let go of my last conversation with the person who died, which incessantly circles my mind.

As a teacher used to being practical, problem solving, taking action I find the sudden loss of a friend to be an agony of inaction. ‘Is there anything we can do to help?’ everyone says but if you are not closely involved in practical arrangements there is little to do but wait and wring your hands at the terrible tragedy of it all.

And how to carry on at work? It is a blessing to be busy and deal with minor homework quibbles, missing books or lost resources; braced by the gaze of 32 pairs of eyes and carried by the momentum of a scheme of work. The show must go on. But it is harder to care about marking and lesson planning at home; life going on as normal, when life is not normal, it is shattered into tiny, unidentifiable pieces.

Lucky then to have warm and caring colleagues, who provide the soft cushion of comfort when they discretely bring you a sweet cup or tea, sit next to you for a chat at lunch but spare you the dangerous catalyst of sympathy when you are about to go into class. Wonderful to have a quiet chapel to hide away in and sit, stunned, before switching back into role.

I think about those students who have experienced terrible loss, who now sit in my classes. They might be drifting off in quiet moments, unable to see the value of a piece of History homework, when nothing makes any sense. Trying to forget but desperate to remember. How do they manage? Grief might be like blocks of concrete holding their legs, yet they try to keep going. And perhaps I don’t notice their cement after a while. There is too much content to get through and they seem to be fine.

We have a great pastoral team here; they acknowledge the cement which can weigh on the students even as they appear to be functioning. They help them  to manage their grief, their anger or their desire to blend in and be normal. They remember the anniversaries, they give a quiet little word, ‘You okay?’ They notice.

So, this week I am just taking a moment to notice all the people around me who are getting on with things and boxing off their feelings, just long enough to get through the day and maintain the enriching flow of education. It’s hard. Be kind to yourselves.



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