The business world does not recognize mourning in the workplace very well. Once we bury our loved one, we are expected to go back to our jobs to continue, as if we were unchanged by their death.

We do not see widows wearing black clothing in the business world, and men certainly do not mourn in public. A universally accepted time allotment for mourning is not recognized. When is it enough? When is it too soon to stop?

Yet, there are some job cultures that do recognize a person’s mourning. I belong to a job culture in the law enforcement world, which allows for the public display of mourning for the loss of a brother or sister in law enforcement.

A friend of mine had recently been promoted to the rank of Police Detective. He had a wife, son, and a brand new baby girl. He was assigned to uniform patrol after his promotion and was working a beat in a police car. He and another officer responded to a routine loud music complaint. During the course of this investigation, he was fatally shot.

Several years prior, my department lost another officer. She had been employed with the department for about 18 months when she was struck and killed by a drunk driver.

Both of these funerals were grandiose, and my law enforcement organization spared no expense in memorializing these fallen officers.
When a peace officer dies in the line of duty, law enforcement officers are allowed to wear a black cloth band across their badge, shield or star. These are called mourning bands, and they tell everyone a brother or sister has died in the line of duty.

The public display of the mourning band shouts to others, “Tread lightly, because a police officer or deputy has been killed, and I am sad.”
The American flag at various police stations are flown at half-mast and a feeling of sadness, soberness, and mortality fills the air. Employees will be allowed to mourn the loss of a hero. Counseling will be provided for those experiencing difficulties with the death. Sensitivity and kindness abound.

Unfortunately, if the loss is not police related, as is the death of an employee’s family member, then the job culture does not go out of its way to recognize the mourning of the individual.

Friends and co-workers will give their condolences, but once a griever returns to work, they are expected to perform as usual. Because no social or cultural signs of grief are recognized, the routine of work continues unchanged. This is a fault in society as a whole, and not just in law enforcement communities.

I went back to work two weeks after my father’s death. Once I arrived at my job, people expected me to function like I had prior to my father’s death. I certainly was not ready to face the world yet, and I operated in utter confusion for a long time afterward.

These people were not mean or cruel; they just did not acknowledge mourning in the workplace. In their defense, I displayed no outward signs or signals suggesting to others that I was still mourning the death of my father, and I had no aura that told others to tread lightly around me. I had returned to work, and was now expected to perform as if nothing happened.

An interesting incident happened to me on the day I returned to my job. My telephone rang an hour before I was to start. On the other end, was an administrator frantically looking for a document, which I had given him prior to my leave of absence.

The first words from his mouth were, “Are you coming in today? We need that paperwork now. It’s an emergency!”
It would have been nice if he had asked how I was feeling or said he was sorry to hear about my loss, before demanding this paperwork that had already been submitted to him. He had forgotten he had it, and created his own emergency.

If only he would have thought of looking a little deeper, he could have saved himself a lot of panic and spared me the shock of coming back to work with both feet hitting the ground, running at full speed.
We were in two different worlds at the time, and he simply did not recognize or acknowledge my world of grief. This man was not malicious, intentionally mean, or cruel. However, because I was back to work physically, it was assumed, I was also back mentally and emotionally.

My superior was operating in his business world as he had been doing all along during my time away, and I was still in my world of sorrow and confusion. Incidents like these made it difficult to return to the normal life I once knew.

What people did not understand and what even I did not understand at the time, was that I was in no mental, emotional, or spiritual condition to handle the bombardment of everyday common occurrences in the workplace.

Two months later, while still struggling with my loss, my father-in-law died. My wife and I returned to work one week after his death.

My wife returned to her job, because she felt guilty about being away too long. She put pressure on herself to get back to work as soon as possible. She believed she could ease into her prior work schedule and slowly get back to speed. However, once she returned, she was fair game.

Although my wife displayed physical and mental signs of grief, such as tearful eyes and confusion, most people were uncomfortable with her display of pain, treated her as if she had a contagious disease, and chose to ignore her loss.

Projects, mail, staff reports, telephones, and a host of other things vied for her attention, as she attempted to think out of her cloud of grief. After two days at work, she could not bear the confusion, stress, and pain, and took a leave of absence for two more weeks.

Both my wife and I became comfortable in our world of grief. It was painful, but not as painful as going back to the real world of making new decisions every hour and facing the unpredictable nature of the business climate.
We wanted to stay with what we knew. We knew sorrow and pain, and that is where we were most comfortable. We were in our comfort zone with others, who could relate to what we had experienced. It was very uncomfortable talking to “normal” people about “normal” everyday things.

Our subordinates, peers, and superiors were not able to allow us to grieve at work. So we held it all in and carried the grief within ourselves.

In reality, we needed to realize we were not going to get a special reward in Heaven or on earth for returning to the workplace immediately, as if our loved one never existed.

We should have allowed ourselves the time to grieve. We needed to admit we were in pain, recognize our anger, and work through the many emotions with time.

I now know it is perfectly normal and natural to grieve, mourn, and to let others know I am not completely well yet. I may not be able to wear black clothes or a mourning band on my badge, but I can display symbols of my loved one to remind people around me about my loss. I can also tell others about my feelings of sadness and confusion, asking them for their patience and kindness.

For example, I have a framed picture on my desk. The photograph is of me in police uniform with my arm wrapped around my father’s waist, and his arm wrapped around mine. We are both smiling, and appear full of life.
This picture does two things. First, it reminds everyone who comes near my desk that I have experienced the loss of my father; second, it constantly reminds me of the fleeting nature of life itself.

It is important to remember that grieving is a natural process which should be allowed to run its course. The bereaved should not re-enter the work world too soon after loss.

When we do eventually return to our jobs, we can create our own “mourning bands”. We can be creative using photographs, cards, candles, drawings, or screen savers on the computer. Anything can be used as a symbol or sign in the workplace, which speaks in our behalf about our mental, emotional, and spiritual condition to those who work around us.

Like the grieved law enforcement officer wearing a mourning band across their badge, we can display signs which tell others, “Be patient and kind. I am mourning the loss of my loved one.”

Author's Bio:

Paul R. Villanueva is an 18-year law enforcement veteran. He has seen death both in his personal and professional life, and has experienced the loss of partner police officers that died while protecting society.
Personally, he has lost several close family members to death as well as his own father and father-in-law within two months of each other. Paul learned valuable lessons about life through his experience and participation in these deaths.
Paul has a Bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies from Southeastern College of the Assemblies of God, and is a graduate student at California State University Dominguez Hills in Behavioral Science. He conducts grief recovery seminars throughout the year where he puts his knowledge and experience to use helping others with sorrow.
Paul lives on a five-acre ranch in Hemet, California, with his wife and three dogs. The Wisdom of Death: Six Paths to Understanding Loss and Grief is his first book, and is available from online book retailers. The Wisdom of Death can be purchased from any bookstore using ISBN number 1-4033-4227-X.