by Kara L.C. Jones aka MotherHenna
This started because of this story:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/09/cecelia-ingraham-new-jers_n_956266.html - (this one includes the entire appellate opinion - which far from making anything clear, just pisses me off more, but it's there for anyone who wants to read it.)
If you know me at all, you know I will not keep quiet about these things. If you don't know me, then this ranting reply will give you a pretty good idea of what drives me. Here are the collection of my myriad replies shared on Facebook, 1) to the article/ruling itself and 2) to the comments/messages people then left.
My comments posted when I posted the link:
Wow. Just wow. I'll say the same as I say about photographs in the office of your dead kids: if I can't have photo of my stillborn son on desk coz you are bothered, then you can't have photos of your living kids on your desk coz I'm bothered. Fairs fair. We can't talk about our dead kids, then the subject needs to be ruled off limits for ALL talk about any kids. It's just stupid.
We get bs from people about "making a cottage industry" out of our kids deaths. But I'll say again that where there is a vacuum, something must fill. If society would do its damn job and support bereaved families throughout the LONG tendrils of grief over lifetimes, then there would be no need for my "industry." ARG.
And can I just say, how frickin' stupid is it to tell anyone, "pick us or pick your kids." I mean really, that is what these parents are pushed into... either shut up about your dead kids or lose our friendship/lose your job/lose your loved ones. So I should be telling my friends with living kids to shut the hell up about them or lose me as a friend??? That would be stupid. Come on. It just isn't frickin' rocket science to see that supporting families means supporting families of ALL KINDS!
Just wake up. Really. I mean if people actually thought about this shit for 1/2 a second before doing stupid things in response... The employer in this case, for instance...instead of taking the stupid route taken, could they have not taken the time to educate themselves about bereaved parenthood -- say through something like MISS Foundation, Compassionate Friends, Grief Watch, Centering Corp, SANDS, SHARE, Sweet Pea, Remembering For Good, Kota Press and any of the other myriad of opportunities out there???? But no. Let's just minimize and hide all those possibilities and tell the bereaved to shut up. STUPIDITY!
A reader then replied that she was sorry if it seemed mean, but she didn't want to hear this at work and that grief is a private matter. I responded:
All I can say is this: if a standard like the one you and the NJ court propose is to work - is to not be considered discriminatory (applied to some and not others) - then it needs to be applied to ALL parents and ALL kinds of grief.
If parenthood, whatever its circumstances, are a private matter, then all parenthood, whatever its circumstances, are a private matter. If co-workers do not want to see items about kids, don't want to see pictures of or items about kids, don't want to talk about what it means to be a parent -- if those things are too much for the workplace -- if those things are private, then that standard applies to ALL of us. So the others must take down their photos and items that relate to their living children. If memory items about dead children are too much, then baby shower items, invitations, mentions, photos for children being born are too much, too. Actually, there should be no talk whatsoever about living children at all. If we don't want to be around someone constantly talking about their kid, then we need to make standards that say we don't allow any talk about any kid nor any aspect of parenthood, whatever the circumstance.
And by extension, this covers the areas of talk about or memory items of parents who have died. So the many of us middle agers who are starting to deal with death of parents, we should be made to take down photos of our parents after they die, we should not be allowed to talk about them either, and we should get used to no longer considering ourselves as someone's child. And when a spouse dies, I certainly do not want to see anymore photos or items on the desk that related to that marriage because it is over now. Oh, and please don't anyone even try to put up pictures of the dog who died. And when you have to come to work the same day you had your cat put to death at the vet, I definitely do not want to hear about that either coz it is a private matter.
Maybe that sounds mean, but if it is the "standard" people want in their work places, then the standard must be applied to ALL of us, to ALL kinds of parents, to ALL kinds of grief. If it is not applies to ALL, then it is discrimination.
We make the choices we make. If the NJ court decision is one that people like you and so many others support, then so be it. But it applies to you as well as to the bereaved parent. Don't forget that.
And lastly, I'll just say that I will never again work in a workplace like this nor with anyone who supports this kind of atmosphere. I'll be self employed till the day I die because I will never again contribute anything to any workplace where any of this ilk might benefit from anything I might have to give while forcing me to live in the closet. And I'll spend my self employed life teaching other bereaved parents how to do the same thing so that none of this ilk ever benefit from any talent, skill, or anything any bereaved parents might have to give. It's such a shame that the American Workplace has never found a way to honor the WHOLE BEING who comes to work each day. Self Employed Rebels Unite!
Another person left reply saying that this news story was making her angier and angrier the more she thought of it. I replied:
it is very difficult to encounter these kinds of "news" pieces and not get madder and madder. It seems to be the case that most people don't get a real understanding on this kind of issue until they themselves are dealing with grief like death of their own child, spouse, parent, etc. I wish it didn't take that kind of first hand knowledge to really get through to people -- and to be fair, there have been lots of non-bereaved people who've taken it upon themselves to take workshops with MISS Foundation or ASU's Trauma & Bereavement Certificate program or any of the myriad opportunities that exist out there to learn and understand and have compassion. Over the years though, it has astonished me how clueless "mass media" can be -- and how "the masses" respond so unthinkingly to it. Try out this one from 2007 where Dear Abby decided to dictate office police on photos of stillborn babies:
I can tell you I fumed for months over that one. And there have been so many of these cases along the way. Eventually, humans will just legislate and etiquette themselves out of being human. We'll build robots to do everything in work place so we don't have to deal with those messy human things. And we'll make everything virtual so that we don't even have to leave our houses where we might encounter other people's messy stuff. Anyway, that's what the pessimist in me says. My rebel keeps trying to just speak out...
From that, I got a private message from a reader challenging me -- so I replied again:
Just an additional clarification, too. Just had someone point out to me that I personally know people who have had their children die, and still they feel these issues are not to be talked about. So they were challenging what I said about "people don't get a real understanding until..." -- but please notice, I said that people don't get a real understanding until they are "dealing with grief" of that death. I did not mean to imply that just because someone you love dies, you suddenly understand all this emotional crisis stuff. I meant that when we are lucky enough to have support and models around us to help us learn to actually *deal with the grief*, then we can get a full understanding of these issues.
If however we find ourselves in a family, culture, community, work environ that models the ideas like: there is a time limit to grief; or that we shouldn't grieve because feeling grief or anger go against "God's Plan"; or that it is somehow "bad" to grieve for longer than some made up deadline (like the debate with the DSM IV dictating that after two weeks, if people still display grief, they should be diagnosed complicated and put on meds); or a double standard like photos of living children can be displayed at work, but after they are dead, the photos must come down ------ well, that's a whole other ball game. How could we ever come to understand "rulings" and "laws" and "rules of the workplace" in a humane way if we are surrounded with models that keep stopping us from dealing with the grief.
Of course every single person will deal with grief differently and there is no one single prescription we can apply to everyone. But I'm saying that if people have had a real chance to *deal with their own grief,* then and only then can there be a real understanding. We still may not want to be the person who the bereaved mother talks with in the workplace BUT we will not be bothered by giving her space she needs to express, to find her new role as a different kind of parent, to see that her grief is a small part of the process -- what she is really trying to do in a long term way is integrate how to continue expressing her love when the object of her love is no longer physically present and the love has to be redirect.
I just wanted to point out that there are ways to allow for people to be human and messy instead of firing them or legislating them into silence. I just don't think any of these grief issue are simple or "all or nothing" or "black and white" -- and it is a shame that the American Workplace cannot deal with the reality of what it means to have a whole human being show up...there is a real economic impact to the bereaved precisely because the American Workplace is ill equip to deal with grief.
Death happens to us all, but the actual dealing with grief is not an automatic.
If that makes any sense at all?!
And another addition to another reply where the point was made that the woman in this case was not fired -- and that if people still feel grief this strongly, then they have returned to work too soon:
No, of course her co-workers (any co-workers) are not grief counselors and shouldn't be expected to be -- and you are right, we know very little about what actually happened in her workplace. And you are right she wasn't fired. Neither were most of the bereaved parents I know who encountered this same kind of harassment and bullying at work. They also didn't have the resources to go to a lawyer either. So they simply quit -- which for some was a hugely devastating economic factor for their quality of life and family. So many have no choice but to go back to work. Then feel bullied in the workplace and quit. But then have no means to make the ends meet let alone get the real solid grief support they need. The tendrils of grief experience are *so incredibly long* -- and until the American Workplace -- and heck, now the court system -- understand and support this, we are simply leaving bereaved families isolated, in more crisis than they started with, and falling through the cracks.
It would be an amazing world to live if we created American Workplaces -- heck any countries workplaces -- where we actually dealt with this idea you presented here:
"...if your grief is still so overwhelming...it may be too soon for you to have returned to work."
But very few of the bereaved families I've dealt with over the past decade have had such a luxury. They are forced for economic reasons to go back to work as soon as possible. If there is any paid leave at all, it is maybe three days. This is why/how I stumbled upon Coaching bereaved people -- with one focus of the Coaching being that I can help people learn how to be self-employed as an alternative to being bullied in the workplace. I know this employer and co-workers in this case -- and in probably all of the others I've heard of and worked with -- would say they were not bullying the bereaved parent -- they were not forcing the person into silent submission -- they were not committing harassment. But the fact remains that in all these cases the bereaved person themselves FELT bullied, forced into submission, and harassed. So what options do they have? Quit. Some end up homeless -- I know Hawk and I ended up homeless in our car for a month as we transitioned to self-employment.
Again, not saying there is one answer that can be applied to all situations and people -- because there just is no one single prescription for grief. But to legislate bereaved people into silence it just leaning into one of the most inhumane options. The forced submission to silence is already happening insidiously in the workplace -- but to now legislate to make it real, explicit, sanctioned. That's just a road I will fight against till the day I die. There are too few advocates for bereaved people as it is... I just cannot give up this fight for expression, for the option to speak, for allowing the drama in the workplace to be an opportunity for healing instead of doing more harm to the bereaved. Productivity and efficiency be damned, you know? Those things are so secondary to the human beings who present themselves in the workplace.
One more reply, this time in response to Medical Leave Act opportunities and the fact that this wasn't legislation against grief, but rather bereaved mom bring case against workplace:
Couple things in reply: to take Family Medical Leave -- if it is paid and not all businesses have the kind of insurance coverage that allows for it -- they person must qualify for "medical" reasons. That means getting grief classified as a medical condition -- which takes us back to the DSM V classifications of making grief after two weeks a "complicated" condition and therefore recommended for drug therapy. All of that is ridiculous. Grief is normal. It takes a lot of time. And to mandate it become a "medical" condition so that people can try for Medical Leave is one of the most wasteful ways to use our resources that I can think of... Leave the Medical Leave for those who have actual medical issues and need it. We can so differently construct society to support bereaved people at whatever level of functioning they have. But our society doesn't want to do that. Just medicate them. Which only delays the actual deal with grief btw... it's a catch 22 and a bad one to get into I think.
There are free support groups, indeed, but there are not many advocates for helping people find them and/or get there. I meet newly bereaved parents every single day who are starting new foundations because they think nothing exists out there, because nothing was there to support them -- and then I compile lists of information for them and they are shocked at how much exists. Our society does a lousy job from social workers all the way to "boss" who could act as advocates for these families.
In consideration of the boss offering this woman the chance to come into private office to talk if needed, I say again, if that is mandate for bereaved parent, it should be mandate for all parents. Another parent wants to talk about baby, baby shower, child, first day of school -- take it into private session with the boss because it disrupts productivity of the bereaved parent. It's just silly when you look at the reality of applying an idea like that to workplace.
And if OTHER people's livelihoods are that important, then so should the bereaved parents livelihoods be important. They are disrupted by baby showers and photos of living children -- so then their productivity is hurt -- and that hurts everyone -- so do a clean sweep on the whole place. Nothing personal displayed at all. No personal discussions of anything. Just productivity. Again, it's silly when applied to the reality of the entire human experience of being in a workplace.
And yes, you are right, this was not a case brought against grief -- it was the mother going after the workplace and boss and other bullies. But the ruling is a precedent for bereaved parents -- it gives all workplace employers the right to say "shut up" or "get out". Maybe. Of course it will be challenged when someone brings it up next as precedent. There will be more cases going both ways eventually because that is the way of a litigious society. We don't want to deal with the messy humans in front of us -- easier to legislate it. The mom herself who brought this case to legislation, she got the message loud and clear that no one wanted to deal with her messy humanity, and what is the sanctioned way in our society to deal? Take it to court.
I don't know. It's just all a sad commentary. I do think eventually we'll legislate ourselves into total isolation. But in the rail against it, I am glad a few of us are keeping space of debate open like this.
And one more addition in response to a post about 1) it seems absurd to censor all parents and 2) how important it can be to be reminded of life and to interact with living children after death of a child -- the person who posted shared that their first grandchild was born on same day anniversary day of child who had died:
Yeah, it is a silly thing to consider the idea that all parents should have to stop talking about or having photos of children. That is no answer when you think about it practically. But it is discrimination if the bereaved parents are single out and told not to talk or have photos. Until we can grant that parenthood is parenthood -- different kinds of parenthood -- but still parenthood, we would be discriminating against bereaved parents if they are told they can't talk or have photos. And if we do single them out because it disrupts things, then what's next? Will we start telling parent of disabled children that it's too much to hear about their kids and to see their photos?
The thing I see over and over again with bereaved parents is the fear -- sometimes with reason, sometimes not -- that their children will be forgotten or cancelled out by the living children. What a beautiful thing that you and your best friend were able to connect and honor both your child and her child at the funeral. What a beautiful thing that your child and your first grand child are both honored on that particular day. But for many families, they are simply told that there is no place at the Christmas table for those dead kids. There is no place in the birth of another child for their child. There is plenty of room in the workplace to host baby showers, but you cannot have a shrine at your desk for a dead child. The children who died are being excluded in those places.
Often time it is just a fear and not a reality. For me, when our first grandson was born, I flatly did not want to go to that hospital, I did not want to be in the room while everyone ooooh and ahhh'd and made no mention of the child who was missing from room, made no mention of WHY I might be uncomfortable because me, my messy feelings, and my other child had no place there. Even though, if my other child had been alive, he'd have been welcomed there. And so it ended up being our daughter who taught me the BIG lesson -- that there is room for ALL the kids. When I finally got there to see her and her newborn son, she exclaimed to me, "OMG, Kara, I think Dakota was in the delivery room with me, I think he is still here!" In that intuitive flash, she invoked all the kids in our family, she made the room big enough for all the love and grief we all felt, she gave permission for ALL of us to be there. What a gift. I will be indebted to her forever.
And so from her lesson, I witnessed over and over again, that when we give permission for ALL, there is plenty. Conversely, when we get stingy and start trying to control who can be in the room and what level of talk we allow and which children can be invoked by photos in the workplace and which children are banned -- *then* we hit scarcity. There isn't enough room. There won't be enough productivity. Grief is too narcissistic (as if the whole baby shower syndrome in workplace situations isn't narcissistic!).
So yeah, again, it's that every single situation of grief will be different. What a huge gift you got in your experience to have permission for ALL the children to be present right away at the top of your experience -- to set that tone yourself and see it through, mirrored in the birth of your grandchild. That's so incredibly awesome. And something I so wish all our families could have!!
About the Author
Kara L.C. Jones is Grief & Creativity Coach at MotherHenna.com.
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Summarizing my myriad responses to the court ruling saying it is okay to tell bereaved parents to shut up at work.
by Kara L.C. Jones aka MotherHenna