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Experts! Speak English Podcast

Grief - Supportive Communication for Grieving Team Members #154

Welcome to the Experts! Speak English! Podcast!

Together we’ll discover how to talk yourself into an international career without the bullshit.

And at the end of each episode, I give you an opportunity to try out what you have just learned on the show because I give you Coco’s Communication Challenge which gives you an opportunity to get out there and try out one of the tools, techniques or tips that you will have heard on the show.

I’m Corinne Wilhelm, I’m a corporate communication coach with over 20 years experience of helping leaders to secure the career that they deserve through intentional communication, intercultural awareness, and the confidence to show up as the English-speaking expert.

Corinne - podcast host of the " Experts Speak English Podcast" with her editing headphones on

Let's get cracking should we...

Grief is one of the most heart wrenching things that you can experience and yet no matter how many times you experience it, you can experience grief in so many ways, you may cry, despair, question your religious beliefs, be angry or feel completely helpless. Grief is not a one size fits all. Grief affects us all differently, whether it is you, your colleague, your client or your suppliers, mourning the loss of a loved one – even a former partner can be painful, confusing and distracting.



Woman stressed from work while sitting outdoors, press from colleagues

Grieving Process 101 - Sorry there is none!

The way that grief is embraced or ignored in different cultures can vary significantly. In some cultures, grief is openly acknowledged and discussed, with warmth and understanding whereas in other cultures this might barely be mentioned and seen as a more private or personal matter. There is no way to know and there might be someone on your team who has suffered a loss and never mentioned anything.

At an old age, death might be seen as predictable but it doesn’t make it any less painful.

Cultural Considerations for Dealing with Grief


In Western cultures, we tend to openly express our emotions and will often seek support from others during times of grief. Grief support groups and therapy are common practices, and it is generally accepted to take time off work or other responsibilities to process and cope with the loss. Having said that, in some western cultures the expectation is to suck it up and get on with it. Not exactly supportive or conducive to mental well-being but culture is ingrained in our beliefs and values and cannot be switched on and off like a light switch. Culture evolves over generations.

In contrast, some Eastern cultures may place more emphasis on that ‘stiff upper lip’ and restraint when faced with grief. Showing your emotions in public might well be perceived as being inappropriate or even shameful. Instead, more subtle approaches, such as wearing dark clothing or performing rituals are used to express grief in a more subtle way.

In some Indigenous cultures, grief is a more community, collective experience that is shared by both friends and family. Mourning practices may involve specific rituals or ceremonies, and the bereaved family don’t just get immediate support but ongoing support from their community long after the loss has occurred, because let’s face it, grief is a process and everybody deals with grief in their own unique way and depending on whether you have had ‘closure’ this process can take a lot longer than you feel that you can bare, with waves of grief that are completely unpredictable and unfathomable. The slightest thing can trigger a low point and these can be minutes, hours, days, weeks. 

Grief Stereotypes - Beware

Now within any culture, there are sub-cultures and we are all individuals in our own right and culture does not prescribe our behaviour, it can however help us to categorize reactions to grief, so please forgive these rather broad generalizations, anybody who has experienced my intercultural awareness coaching will know that I have a very strong standpoint on making sweeping generalisations and stereotypes but it provides a basis of understanding from which we can explore further. Likewise people of different generations will deal with grief differently so even within a family there will be different approaches and behaviours, especially in families that are geographically spread and embracing different religions.

Compassionate Leave

Compassionate leave, also referred to as bereavement leave, is something that some employers offer their employees – it gives them the opportunity to take time off work following the death of a loved one.

The availability and duration of compassionate leave varies significantly from country to country and even within different regions or industries. In general, countries required to conform to strict employment laws tend to have more generous compassionate leave policies. 

Some countries such as Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, require employers to offer a certain amount of compassionate leave to employees. For example, in Australia, employees are entitled to two days of compassionate leave per occasion, while in the United Kingdom, employees are entitled to a minimum of two weeks off work following the death of a child. 

In the United States, employers are not legally required to offer compassionate leave. However, some employers may choose to offer it as a benefit to their employees, and some states for example, Oregon requires employers to offer up to two weeks of bereavement leave for the death of a family member.

It’s worth noting that even in countries where compassionate leave is offered, the amount of leave may not be sufficient for some employees or may not be available to all types of employees. Clearly if you are self-employed or working on a contract basis. you will be grateful for flexible, understanding clients and might have to cut yourself some slack to be able to process your grief. It’s tempting as a self employed person to dive into work but this does not help you to process the grief, it just puts it on hold. It’s like trying to stop the flow of a fast running river, you might be able to stop the flow temporarily but nature will run it’s course and the water will break through – often at a very inopportune moment, in a way that is very out of character. If you should ever suffer from grief, pushing it under the carpet is not advisable.

traveler objects on wooden table

Working Internationally - Grief Considerations for Holiday Planning

So if you are given the opportunity to work internationally and you have aging parents, you might want to ask about compassionate leave as you will need additional travel time and you might well have to go twice, to say farewell and again for the funeral and time to take care of property, financial and legal issues etc, as well as your family’s emotional needs. This all takes time and very often you will have to take holiday, so it is advisable not to max out your holiday leave if your parents or parents in law are becoming weaker and more dependent.

In the United Kingdom where I come from employees are entitled to a minimum of 2 weeks of paid leave following the death of a child. There is no set amount of leave for other types of bereavement, but most employers offer a few days of paid leave as a benefit.

You can imagine then, how shocked I was to discover that here in Germany where I have been based for over 20 years, there is no legal requirement at all for compassionate leave, although in recent years more and more employers offer a few days of paid leave as a benefit or as a token of their appreciation and understanding.

In France you can expect 3 days of paid bereavement leave for the death of a spouse, child, parent, or sibling. Interestingly you also get a day of paid leave for the death of a grandparent, parent-in-law, or grandchild, although in reality that would probably be the day of the funeral.

In Spain you get 2 days of paid bereavement leave for the death of a spouse, child, parent, or sibling. 1 day of paid leave is offered for the death of a grandparent, parent-in-law, or grandchild.

Outside Europe, for instance in Canada: you can expect 3 days of paid bereavement leave per year in most provinces, although some provinces offer more. In addition, some employers  offer additional bereavement leave as a benefit

Japanese chinese tea teapot lemon ginger mint

Japanese Culture - Dealing with Grief Privately

Now in Japan where grief is typically expressed in a very reserved and private manner, there is very much an emphasis on maintaining emotional composure so as to avoid others to feel uncomfortable. The traditional Japanese concept of grief is called “mibunsei”, with an emphasis on personal emotional control and social harmony.

When someone passes away, it is customary just for family members to hold a funeral and cremate the body. In the days following the funeral, family members may participate in a period of mourning called “koden”, this is the time in which they receive condolences and gifts from friends and acquaintances. It is also common for a family member to continue to wear black clothing for a period of time as a sign of mourning.

In the Japanese culture, it is considered important to honour the memory of the deceased through practices such as visiting their grave regularly, making offerings of food or incense, and participating in annual memorial services. These practices are seen as a way of maintaining a connection with the deceased and ensuring their continued spiritual well-being.

Overall, Japanese culture places a strong emphasis on respect for the deceased and their family, all the time being careful not to draw attention to themselves or making those around them feel awkward or affected. Due to this ritual Japanese employers would normally offer between 1 and 5 days of paid bereavement leave depending on your family proximity to the deceased.

Managers - Be Aware, grief can trigger depression

As an employer or team lead, you need to be aware of the fact that grief and loss can be a significant trigger for depression and other mental health issues so many individuals experience mental health challenges following the loss of a loved one. The severity of mental health issues during mourning can vary depending on a number of factors, such as the individual’s age, gender, cultural background, and the nature of the loss.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, major depression is common after losing a loved one. They estimate that up to 20% of individuals who experience a significant loss will develop depression. Additionally, some studies have suggested that up to 50% of individuals who experience complicated grief (a more severe and prolonged form of grief) may also experience depression.

Other mental health issues to watch out for in addition to anxiety, are post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance abuse. These are triggered by stress and trauma of the loss, as well as the social and cultural factors that can affect an individual’s grief experience.

Not everyone is at risk from mental health issues, in fact many individuals are able to successfully navigate the grieving process with support from loved ones or mental health professionals. However, if an individual is experiencing significant distress or impairment in their daily functioning following a loss, it may be important for them to speak to you about their issues at work and you in turn as an employer or boss can encourage them to seek professional support to address any mental health concerns. Your understanding and flexibility at this stage will help you to secure the long term loyalty of an employee that in todays employment market would be difficult to replace and costly to train and retain. So demonstrate some compassion and empathy by creating time and space for grieving individuals to open up to you and reach out for support.

Listening patience problems.

Supporting Staff Members who are Grieving

Losing a loved one is a difficult experience, and it’s not uncommon for individuals to struggle with focusing on work or other tasks in the aftermath of a loss. So what can you do if someone is clearly struggling to focus at work during the mourning phase:

  1. Encourage them to take time off:

    Depending on the nature of the loss and the individual’s job, it may be appropriate for them to take some time off work to focus on their grieving process. This could include using vacation days, sick leave, or compassionate leave (if available). This is particularly important if they are working with dangerous machinery or chemicals for example or client facing.

  2. Offer flexibility:

    If your team member is unable to take time off, you can offer them flexibility in their work schedule or workload. This could include allowing them to work from home, reducing their workload temporarily, or offering more flexible deadlines. Giving them the opportunity to get to work before everyone else arrives for example can be a big help. It can be tempting to stay at work longer to avoid going to the silent void at home or the emotional tension but working hours should be monitored.

  3. Provide support:

    Be authentic here, this person is struggling, so let the employee know that you are there to support them, both emotionally and professionally. I suggest checking in with them discretely and regularly, offering counselling services, or giving them information of resources such as support groups or bereavement leave. Of course they could find this out themselves, but by you giving it to them, the stigma around accepting support is reduced or eliminated.

  4. Encourage them to take care of themselves: 

    Don’t just tell them, join them. Get them to join you for lunch to make sure that they actually eat something, if they cannot face the canteen go out to a local restaurant or cafe. It’s not enough to say ‘Hey, are you getting enough you look tired!” instead you can share your tactics when you have struggled with sleep in the past or you can bring them an apple when you come back from a client, you see, it is small gestures that go a long way and say loud and clear, I see you, I am here for you and if you need to talk, I am here. If you jog, encourage them to come with you, if you take a walk round the block for a blast of fresh air, ask them to join you, pick their brains about something from work. You can be there for your staff without moving in with them, just be available and as I discussed in episode ___ about professional distance, you can always start and end the conversation with job related questions to wrap your empathy in professionalism.

  5. Be patient and understanding:

    Remember that grief is a completely normal and natural process, a process that we will all have to experience at some point and everyone experiences it differently. Be approachable, listen and acknowledge their grief. Be patient and understanding with your grieving employee, and be observant so that you can offer them the right support and flexibility as they navigate this challenging period of their life. Their loyalty to you afterwards will be rewarding and it’s the decent thing to do. You never know when you will be in this situation and might well need some flexibility and empathy yourself.


If Grief affects Performance Long Term

If the employee’s grief is having an impact on their ability to function in their job over an extended period of time, it may be necessary to explore other career options, such as a leave of absence or a different role. Encourage the employee to seek professional help if they are struggling with their grief, and provide them with the resources they need to prioritize their mental health and well-being.

Losing a child - How to help?

So what about the millions of parents who need to cope with losing a child in pregnancy or afterwards? Remember that this affects the fathers as much as the mother and of course any siblings or grandparents, especially if the child is a little older.

Losing a child, whether during pregnancy or after birth, is a devastating experience for parents. Coping with such a loss can be a challenging and complex process, and everyone’s experience is different.  It’s important to note that coping with the loss of a child is a complex process that can take time, and there is no “right” way to grieve. 

Parents should be encouraged to take the time they need to process their grief and they should take advantage of support groups and professional advice. Losing a child is often laden with feeling of guilt and these emotions need to be worked through.

Movement and timeline of moon phases, transform of total lunar eclipse at night

Grief Timeline - How long will it take?

There is no set timeline for grief, and the experience of grief is different for everyone. Grief is a normal and natural process that individuals go through after a significant loss, and it can take weeks, months, or even years for an individual to come to terms with their loss and begin to heal. It’s agonisingly slow and you feel as if you have no control over the process, unfortunately there is no fast forward button.

While the intensity of grief may lessen over time, the loss never goes away. One of the last sentences that my grandmother said to me before she died was “It’s time to join my Julia’ who was the daughter that died as a child. The loss becomes less heart wrenching but it kind of follows you like a shadow of consciousness, sometimes darker and sader, othertimes light hearted and warmer. However, with time and support, you learn to cope with your loss and although life is never really the same, you do start to establish a new version or normal.

Please remember that there is no “right” way to grieve, there is nothing you do to speed up the process or put it on hold or make it go away – it is important for your staff to take the time to process their emotions and find ways to cope with their loss. Seeking support from loved ones, support groups, or mental health professionals can be extremely helpful in navigating the grieving process and developing healthy coping strategies.

Time Off - Not disciplinary

Having the opportunity to say goodbye or to make amends can provide a sense of closure that can help with the grieving process. If someone asks to have time off to see a sick parent for example be understanding about that. Not everyone has the opportunity to say goodbye, and some losses may be sudden or unexpected. Don’t be the kind of boss that prevented someone from being able to say goodbye. Be flexible, be compassionate and if they don’t have any holiday left, make an exception or find a workaround.

Professional psychologist taking notes at couple meeting with patients
Portrait of clever young woman thinking alone

Suicide - Even Tougher Due to Stigma & Guilt

Grief after the loss of a loved one to suicide can be a complex and challenging experience. In a suicide case there is a lot of stigma and finger pointing unfortunately and if you want to secure a safe space at work you need to tackle that. There should be zero tolerance for judgement or finger pointing.

  1. There can be a stigma attached to suicide that may make it difficult for those grieving to seek support or talk openly about their loss. They may feel shame, guilt, or blame themselves for not preventing the suicide, even if it was not their fault.

  2. Unanswered questions: Suicide often leaves loved ones with unanswered questions about why their loved one took their own life, which can create a sense of confusion, anger, and sadness.

  3. Trauma: Witnessing or discovering the aftermath of a loved one’s suicide can be a traumatic experience that may further complicate the grieving process.

  4. Feelings of abandonment: Those grieving after a suicide may feel abandoned or rejected by their loved one,.

  5. Social isolation: Suicide can be a taboo subject, and some individuals may distance themselves from those who have experienced a suicide loss, leaving the bereaved feeling isolated and unsupported.

  6. Increased risk for mental health issues: Those who have lost a loved one to suicide may be at increased risk for developing mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Suicide loss can be a complex and difficult experience, and individuals who are grieving after a suicide loss may benefit from specialized support and resources, such as support groups or therapy with a mental health professional who has experience working with suicide loss.

After the funeral - Administration, Legal and Financial Tasks

Be aware that there are many logistical and financial responsibilities and tasks that need to be taken care of before and after a funeral, all of which are time consuming, emotionally draining and might well need to be done during office hours, so be understanding of this and flexible. It doesn’t take more than a couple of weeks but it is kind and considerate to give them this time as it is all part of the closure process.

Tips for Coping with Grief In a Healthy Way

If you find yourself grieving, here are five pieces of advice for you:

  1. Allow yourself to feel your emotions: It’s important to allow yourself to experience and express the full range of emotions that come with grief, including sadness, anger, and frustration. This is not easy, but it’s an integral part of the grieving process.

  2. Practice self-care: Take care of yourself by eating well, getting enough rest, and doing something nice. An aunty of mine stopped going to choir practice after she lost her husband because it was something that they had always done together. Finally she was asked to sing a specific part and went back as a favour only to discover that she had missed the joy of singing terribly, she wished she had never stopped because these were her friends, she had cut herself off from the activity and friends that she loved most because she was trying to endure the grief behind closed doors. So please do something that makes your heart sing – the person that left you behind would want that. It helps to realise that life has much to offer.

  3. Connect with others: It’s tempting to hide from the world, especially if you are prone to crying like I am. Instead, reach out to friends, family, or a support group to talk about your feelings and share your experiences. Connecting with others who have gone through similar experiences can be very helpful in processing grief.

  4. Express yourself creatively: Whether it is writing, drawing, painting or making necklaces, these are all helpful ways to focus on something else and in some cases express and process emotions related to grief. 

  5. Seek professional support: Consider talking to a therapist or grief counselor who can help you navigate the complex emotions that come with grief and provide additional support and guidance.

It’s important to find the techniques that work best for you and allow yourself the time and space you need to heal. Perhaps something that you never really enjoyed is suddenly extremely calming and rewarding, so keep an open mind and be prepared to meet new people, learn something new or go to a new place.

Young woman with painted skull on her face for Mexico's Day of the Dead.
Couple have painted faces, take part in zombie walk, commemorate dead during Day of Death in Mexico,
Two yellow burning candles closeup.
woman with lily flowers and coffin at funeral

Grieving Rituals in Other Cultures

Given that the name of this podcast is “Experts! Speak English!”, there are a lot of listeners from other areas of the globe listening too, so I couldn’t help but explore how different cultures are embracing and supporting each other in the grieving process. 

 There are many intriguing grieving traditions and rituals from around the world that demonstrate an openness towards grief. I would love to share some with you…

  1. Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos): A traditional Mexican holiday that celebrates and remembers loved ones who have died. It is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd, Families and communities come together to celebrate and remember loved ones who have died. Altars are built in homes and cemeteries, decorated with flowers, candles, and offerings of food and drink. Families may also visit graves to clean and decorate them, and participate in parades and festivals. The holiday is a time to honor and celebrate the memory of those who have passed on, and to acknowledge the continued presence of death as a natural part of life.

  2. Tear bottles: A tradition dating back to ancient Roman and Middle Eastern cultures, in which small bottles were used to collect tears shed by mourners as a symbol of their grief and sadness. The bottles were often placed in the grave with the deceased as a symbol of the mourner’s love and sadness.

  3. Kriah: A Jewish mourning ritual that involves tearing a piece of clothing as a symbol of grief and mourning.  It is often done during the funeral service, and can be performed by the immediate family members of the deceased. The act of tearing the clothing is seen as a physical manifestation of the mourner’s pain and grief.

  4. Funeral processions are a common tradition in many cultures, in which mourners follow the casket or body of the deceased in a procession to the burial site or funeral home. The procession is often led by a hearse (the vehicle which transports the dead person in their coffin), and may include family members, friends, and members of the community. The act of following the body to its final resting place is a symbolic way of paying respects and saying goodbye to the deceased. You probably saw that in the UK when the queen died, the tradition of following the hearse is a sign of respect and those vehicles tend to drive very slowly.

  5. Wake or vigil: This tradition is where family and friends gather to keep watch over the body of the deceased before the funeral or burial. The gathering may take place in the family home or at a funeral home, and may include prayers, readings, or other religious or cultural rituals. The wake or vigil provides an opportunity for mourners to pay their respects and offer support to the family.

  6. Grief circles: A grief circle is a more modern tradition in which people come together in a group setting to share their grief and support one another through the grieving process. The circle may be led by a trained facilitator, and may include sharing stories, memories, or feelings about the deceased. The circle provides a safe and supportive space for mourners to express their emotions and find comfort in the company of others who are also grieving.

As you can see these all are traditions and rituals for cultures which want to be open and honest about their feelings and welcome the support of their community.

SUMMARY 10 Communication Tips for Supporting Grieving Team Members

So we have covered a lot so here so I’ll summarize the most important communication skills to remember and practice when supporting someone at work who is grieving:

  1. Active listening: Listen actively and attentively to them. As we say in the UK, a problem heard is a problem halved, now for grief if that were true you would only have to tell two people and grief would be over – wouldn’t that be wonderful but you know what I mean, by talking about your problems, they do feel less daunting and disastrous.

  2. Empathy: By acknowledging and validating their feelings without judgement or criticism, you can express empathy in an authentic and supportive way.

  3. Non-judgmental attitude: It’s important to avoid making assumptions or judgements about the person’s feelings, reactions, or coping mechanisms. Saying things like ‘don’t say that’ or ‘that’s not true’ are actually not respectful. Try not to deny how people feel

  4. Validation: Acknowledge the person’s experience, feelings, and pain, without trying to “fix” or minimize their grief. This is a great exercise in JUST listening attentively.

  5. Respect: Allow the grieving person to express their emotions and grief in their own way and on their own timeline. Don’t push them into talking to you, don’t put them off if at all possible, grief comes in waves and sometimes that wave might come at an inopportune moment but if at all possible try to take advantage of the window of time when it comes.

  6. Open-ended questions: Use open-ended questions to encourage the person to share their feelings, memories, or stories.
    How are you feeling today?
    What’s the last thing that they said to you?
    What was it that they did better than anybody else?

  7. Patience: Grief is a process that takes time, and it’s important to be patient and supportive throughout the journey, regardless of the type of grief. It’s their journey not yours, they decide the route and how long it will take. 

  8. Honesty: Be honest and genuine in your communication, and avoid platitudes or cliches. Especially the ‘time heals’ because in the moment this can be insanely condescending and disrespectful of the grieving process and will only push you away. Be direct so that you can create strategies that allow them to perform within their emotional situation but always be kind and considerate – even if they are finding it difficult to manage their professional obligations, lighten the load, think out of the box.

  9. Observation skills: Look and listen for signs of overwhelm, zone in on nonverbal communication as it is often what is not said that will indicate how someone is doing. Grieving styles vary considerably from person to person and from situation to situation so try to pick up your valued team members where they are at the moment. Pick up on their mood and help them pick up the pieces following a loss at their pace.

Above all,

     10. Be present when you are speaking to them and make yourself available, and let the person know that you are there for them.

Should I (really) attend the funeral?

When it comes to the funeral, it can be difficult to know whether or not you are genuinely welcome to a funeral, as each family and culture may have different norms and expectations around attendance. Here are a tips to help you decide whether to attend or not as a colleague or team leader for instance.

  • Invitation: If you have received an invitation or notification of the funeral, this is a clear indication that the family would like you to attend. However, if you have not received an invitation or notification, you are advised to check with the family before attending if it would be appropriate for you to attend and pay your respects or if that would strike the immediate family as odd or uncomfortable.
  • Relationship: If you had a close relationship with the deceased or their family, it is likely that you are welcome to attend the funeral. However, if your relationship was more distant, you may want to consider whether your presence would be appreciated or if it may be seen as intrusive. If you were their boss and they died of stress related symptoms, you might want to stay away and find another way to pay your respects. Sending a wreath or donation is another way to show up without upsetting the grievers. 
  • Culture: Different cultures have different expectations around funeral attendance. For example, some cultures expect all members of the community to attend funerals as a sign of respect and support, while others may have more strict rules around who can attend. If you are unsure about the cultural expectations, do some research or just ask someone familiar with the culture from the office, ask them to be honest with you.

  • Timing: If you are unsure whether or not you are welcome to attend the funeral, it may be best to wait until after the funeral to reach out to the family and express your condolences. This can give the family time and space to grieve without feeling pressure to accommodate additional guests. This is particularly the case when the death was sudden or situational – suicide for instance.


Could you say a few words?

If you are asked to speak at a funeral, that might feel intimidating and a big favour but it’s actually easier than you might think if you consider the following points:

  1. Keep it powerful but brief: Try to limit your words to 3-5 minutes. This way, if someone else suddenly feels the urge to say a few words, they can do.

  2. Speak from the heart: A tried and tested approach is to share just one personal story or memory that illustrates the unique qualities and characteristics of the deceased in a way that fellow grievers will relate to, it’s ok to make them smile in acknowledgement.

  3. Stay positive: While it’s important to acknowledge the loss and express your condolences, try to focus on positive aspects of the deceased’s life and the legacy they leave behind.
  4. Be prepared: This is the one type of speech where you are perfectly within your rights to refer to your notes, after all you need to get this just right. Write down your points in advance and practice them beforehand. This will help you to feel more confident and prepared when it’s time to speak. You’ll also be less emotional after you have practiced it a couple of times.
  5.  In terms of taboo topics, it’s generally best to avoid discussing controversial or sensitive issues that could be upsetting to others. This includes topics such as politics, religion, or personal conflicts (even ones that were resolved) with the deceased. It’s also important to be mindful of cultural or religious customs and traditions that may dictate certain protocols or customs. If you’re not sure about what to say or how to approach a particular topic, it’s best to err on the side of caution and choose something else to share and if in doubt, seek guidance from others who are familiar with the customs and traditions of the family or community.
Woman speaking the speech

Dress Code for Close Family

Wearing black while grieving is a common tradition in many cultures, but it is not universal. Different countries, different dress codes.

  1. United States: It is common to wear black or dark clothing to funerals and other memorial services. However, there is no specific dress code for mourning, and many people choose to wear other subdued colors as well. There is no set amount of time that a person is expected to wear black or mourn.

  2. United Kingdom: Wearing black or dark clothing to funerals is also a common tradition in the UK. Some people may wear black for several months after a death, while others may only wear it to the funeral and wake. No shame or expectation around this, each person decides themselves.

  3. France: Mourning attire is very formal in France, and it is common to wear black or dark clothing for a period of one year after a death.

  4. Italy: Black is also the traditional mourning color in Italy, and it is common to wear it to funerals and other memorial services. However, mourning attire is not as strictly enforced as it once was.

  5. China: Mourning attire in China is typically white or black. The color white represents mourning in some parts of China, while black is more common in other regions. 

  6. India: Mourning attire in India varies depending on the region and religion. In some parts of the country, white clothing is worn to funerals and other mourning ceremonies. In other regions, traditional colorful clothing may be worn. Check.

Despite there being cultural traditions or expectations around grieving attire, ultimately it is up to the individual to decide what they feel comfortable wearing while they grieve.

If wearing dark colours makes you even more depressed than you already are, you might have to be strong about deciding what you need to survive this emotional journey and wear what gives you strength.


Be Diplomatic! Watch your words.

Refrain from making some stupid quip as to why someone is wearing black. “What’s the matter with you, are you on your way to a funeral?” Be aware that many women who are self conscious about their weight, so they wear black to cover up, others like Steve Jobs wore black for the sake of simplicity but perhaps someone in their family really has just died, can you imagine how embarrassed you would feel if you said that and they were grieving? The chances are that they wouldn’t even put you right, but would feel trapped in their grief in a space which is in that moment at least the polar opposite of a safe space.

Sink the sarcasm

So keep your sarcastic comments to yourself, keep them in your head or try to change your mindset to keep those ‘jokes’ out. You don’t have to say everything on your mind, so be considerate and shut up. Instead try to find out what it is on their mind as not everyone feels that they can open up about their grief.

Likewise when I was growing up there was an awful saying if someone was grumpy and miserable people would say “Cheer up love, worst things could happen!” but if you think about it, what could be worse than your mother or your baby dying? Not much.

Miscarriage, abortion and child loss

I am blessed that I have never had to endure a miscarriage (when a child dies in the womb) or a cot death (when children die as infants, often in their cot during sleep) but as a mother I honestly cannot think of anything worse. Sadly many families do have to endure this loss and actually if someone chooses to have an abortion many of the emotions around that loss are the same with the added guilt factor that is difficult to shrug off and every pram, playground or car seat can trigger a surge of grief. 

You never get over the loss of a child, infact the love of a lost one is always a part of who you are and a part of your past – no doubt that individual has shaped you as an individual, so the aim is not to forget your loved one but to learn to live with your loss and find a way forward. That can feel like an endurance test that you simply don’t have the energy to face, yet alone conquer and being sad and down is a part of the process.

Grief is a Process - Phases of Grief (Kübler Ross)

Grief is the process by which we heal. And staying strong through grief, regardless of which type of grief, isn’t about not crying or not feeling sad. It’s about allowing yourself to work through uncomfortable emotions so you can heal.

Phases of Grief

Kübler-Ross originally developed stages to describe the process that patients with terminal illness go through as they come to terms with their own deaths; it was later applied to grieving friends and family as well, who it was discovered tend to go through a remarkably similar process. The stages, popularly remembered with the acronym DABDA, include:

  1. Denial – If you have ever been one of the closest people to find out about a life threatening diagnosis, you will have experienced this first hand. The first reaction is denial. In this stage, individuals believe the diagnosis is somehow mistaken, and cling to a false, positive alternative. Some may also isolate themselves, this is often to avoid those who have admitted or accepted what is happening. This stage is usually a temporary defence mechanism, assuming that they medical situation gives them the time to move through the stages as they contemplate death.
  2. Anger – When the individual recognizes that they cannot deny the reality any longer, they become frustrated, and as so often in life, tend to take it out on those closest to them. Tragically but naturally, lashing out at their nearest and dearest family members or medical staff and carers. It is typical to ask yourself “Why me? It’s not fair!”; “How could this happen to me?”; “Whose fault it this?”. 
  3. Bargaining – The third stage involves the hope that the individual can avoid the cause of grief. Promising to change the way that they live is a typical approach, sadly it is too late for that. Someone who is terminally ill might for example turn to God to buy some time, begging just to be able to be at an important life event for instance like a wedding or the birth of a grandchild.
  4. Depression – This is a tough phase where acceptance shows up as sadness, it can be soul destroying to hear comments like “I’m going to die soon, so what’s the point?”; or for someone who is grieving, “Life without X is so awful; why go on?”
    In this stage of despair as they finally recognize that their death is imminent, the person or patient may become silent, refuse visitors and need time to process this reality without support, often being mournful and sullen.
  5. Acceptance – Finally the positivity returns, “It’s going to be okay.”; “I am going to beat this; I might as well buckle up and tackle it head on.”
    Fortunately if people make it through to this stage, it typically comes with a calm, retrospective view for the individual, and the emotions are more manageable. Avoid this mistake.


    If you feel uncomfortable talking about grief, it can be tempting to say the wrong thing in a hope to drop or change the subject – which is actually rather cowardly and shallow.

    I would like you to be mindful of minimizing grief with comments like “How old were they?” which implies “Well she has had a good life! Only to be expected really. Whilst it is true, none of us are getting any younger right and yet this question or implied statement is still painful when someone so close to you dies or is incredibly ill and seems to be closer to death than life.



Why is Coco talking about Death and Grief? Is she ok?

So you might be thinking, why on earth is the usually upbeat Coco talking about death?

Well the truth of the matter is this Easter we had a wake up call and as I record this podcast my own parents are fine but someone very dear to me is in intensive care. I feel powerless and I was wondering about the children of this amazing woman and how their employers would help them to cope should she not make it through. It got me thinking about how we cope with grief in other cultures and I felt the urge to share this with you – not on the first Monday of the month as I promised you just a couple of weeks ago but on the second Monday of the month.

Grief takes a toll on your performance, mine too, it affects your ability to get things done because as well as dealing with your own emotions we want to be strong for our children, partners and clients, but we cannot do everything and so my dear and valued listeners I hope that you will be flexible and empathetic with me.

There are lots of resources and tips on the webpage for this show so that you can go back to it should you need it, because death is inevitable but it is also impossible – or seemingly so until you start taking care of yourself, until you start meeting people, until you find someone to talk to and if that person is a professional rather than a friend or family member, someone that you do not feel guilty talking to again and again about your grief, then so be it.

Grief is the toughest emotion of all and I wish that I could bear you all of this misery but ultimately we all lose someone we love in life and as we get older we have to face grief more often. Grief is hard, some people find it difficult to talk about their emotions, I get that, it is not always easy, especially if it stirs up emotions of your own. My request to you as a team member, leader or employer is to be kind and considerate to those who are grappling with their emotions during a phase of grief. Likewise, should you have to face grief yourself, be kind and patient with yourself too, take care of yourself and confront those thoughts and feelings – you don’t need to feel lonely, as you face your new reality of life after losing a loved one, there is no need for embarrassment, this is a difficult journey, so treat this as a life experience, an opportunity to help, to make a difference, to make someone feel able to talk about their true feelings, even if they do breakdown emotionally, that’s natural and if we give each other the freedom to grieve as they wish on their own schedule, the chances are that they will recover faster because they are embracing their grief rather than trying to ignore it.

Coco's Communication Challenge

Coco's Communication Challenge

Coco’s Communication Challenge this week is to think about people that you know who have lost someone – it could be a miscarriage, a parent, a friend, a relative, even a pet or ex husband – these losses are all grief, just reach out to them this week, check in on them and see how they are using the tips that I gave you 

  1. Active listening:

  2. Empathy:

  3. Non-judgmental attitude:

  4. Validation:

  5. Respect:

  6. Open-ended questions:

  7. Patience:

  8. Honesty: 

  9. Observation skills 


Thank you fellow humans, if you know of anybody that is grieving or has a grieving team member, then, it would be a pragmatic act of kindness to share this podcast episode and perhaps you could share it with your HR manager too, It would make my day if they were to put this episode on their intranet site for manager to refer to when grief affects one of their staff members – as grief is a matter of when, not if.

Remember that grief does not last forever, life goes on, so be the kind of manager that makes work life less of a endurance test and instead secure that psychological safety that makes your organisation irresistible to your staff and a place that they feel proud and loyal enough to recommend as an employer because people create culture, starting with you as a compassionate leader.

Best Online Grief Support Groups

(UK Based Call Centre)

Call 116 123

International Grief Institute

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