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Dealing with questions when I return to work


Chandra

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My brother passed away from an overdose last month on his birthday. I work at a community college and most of my colleagues were already off for the summer when I left to fly home. I will have to go back to work at the end of August and there will be endless people asking me "How was your summer?" I'm trying to wrap my head around how to cope with these questions from people who don't know (which I think will be most people). I don't want to lie and pretend my summer was just great, but also I don't want to have to face having the same painful conversation over and over again at work. I don't know, I guess it has to be one or the other, but I was hoping maybe somebody would have some advice, insight or even just understanding.

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I'm so sorry for your loss. How about an email to as many as you think might be wondering or would ask ("all faculty" or whatever) saying what happened and how you feel about it, esp how you feel about being approached? For ex:

"Hi Everyone, as you may or may not know, my brother passed away in June, so it's been a rough summer to say the least. I am glad to be back......"

Then add whatever most fits your feelings, like:

.......but to answer the obvious questions of "how are you," I'm doing as well as can be expected and would appreciate not being asked."

or

"......but pls understand if I'm a bit distant at times or not quite myself."

or

".....it is an awkward subject obviously, but I don't mind and would even appreciate if you approached me about it"

and so on - you get the idea. Mention how you would prefer people approach you (or not) and just let them know you appreciate their consideration about it.

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Thanks for your response. I don't think an e-mail message is the right solution for me. The organization I work for is quite large, and I also work with a wide range of volunteers and community partners, so there isn't one small core group of people to e-mail. I don't feel comfortable sending out a mass e-mail to everyone about something so personal. But I do appreciate you taking the time to reply.

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Understandable. Just trying to think of options. Well if you mention it to a few people, news like that tends to spread quickly, so once word gets out, I don't think it'll be as many people to deal with as it may seem, because many will simply not bring it up, or already knowing the situation, may just approach you and say they're sorry for your loss etc, so you don't have to figure out how to mention it.

Another way to do that might be to approach a few of your closer co-workers/boss/whatever in the same room at the same time - coffee break area maybe, or you could even just take this head on and say I'd like to talk to a few of you privately - and just "get it out" right there. Regardless, I think it's the initial thing of letting anyone know that's the hardest. Not that it'll get easy of course, but easiER as you deal with it more. I've been amazed how calm and "OK" I was mentioning it or briefly discussing it with some people who didn't know.

I guess in a way I was lucky in that most anyone who knew me and her already knew about it right away so I didn't have much of it - although I've been at a new job for a few months now and it hasn't come up, so I'm kind of dreading it too - as I get to know people, sooner or later it's bound to. Anyway, I wish you the best of luck with this.

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Chandra, I am sorry about the loss of your brother. Could you possible talk to your supervisor or department chair (a phone conversation would probably be good) BEFORE you go back to work and explain to him/her what has happened and how you feel? What about the Human Resource personnel at the office? I work for a good size community, and our HR department sends out condolences and notices but in no way discusses the details--that's left up to the individual to talk about when ready. My brother died while I was on Christmas break during school one year. I told one of my closest friends at the school, and she told everyone else It was way easier after that first awkwardness and difficulty. Even if you cry as you talk, it will be okay, and you may be surprised at how supportive some will be. Others will not know what to say and may even avoid you, but it will still be okay. You also do not have to give people any details about how he died or anything else. Just be honest and say you can't talk about it. We will be here for you. ModKonnie

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Thank you for your replies. I go back to work tomorrow so we'll see how it goes. I've decided that when I'm asked, I'm just going to say that I had a difficult summer and leave it at that, unless I feel like divulging more to whoever is asking.

ModKonnie, when other co-workers of mine have lost close family members in the past, the administration has usually sent an e-mail around to everyone. But my brother's death happened in June when most people were already away for the summer so I guess it got overlooked or something. I don't really want to ask anyone to do it now.

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Chandra, How was your first day back to work? I hope things went well for you. We are thinking of you. --ModKonnie

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