Grief – you cannot put aside time for it or try to fit inside the time given for bereavement leave. When I researched for material while writing this post, I came across many examples of organisations that didn’t support employees in needed, owing to a binding policy. I also came across some examples of people who did.
This last month has been really rough: first, my bicycle store community and I mourned the loss of a very kind, very loved, very balanced and thought-through 28 year old bright spark of a young man. He passed away while on a trek. We all came together to bid Akul goodbye. Different combinations of people continued to come to the store at different times, sometimes to talk, sometimes to soak in the unsaid support, sometimes to just share space with others who loved this amazing human being.
(Akul, purple t-shirt, taking the picture at a bicycle treasure hunt the last year)
Exactly a week later, I got news that a colleague I’d recruited in my first job back in 2001 had passed away in a motorbike accident. We’d lived in the same neighbourhood, he even stayed in the house opposite mine for a couple of years, and we’d both, along with my brother, taken turns to care for the street dogs on our street. I found myself grieving another kind, gentle and genuine young man’s passing.
(Asif, first person in the front row, left, waving at the camera)
That first week, I did some work, met some family members, planned for a wedding, and went about work in a daze, breaking down when the emotions hit. Towards end of the first week, when it looked like we were getting some closure, the second news hit, and the spiral began again.
The second week saw me back at work a little more, but I’d also make a lot of basic errors, like missing attachments. I missed some deadlines, which I am usually loath to do. I even found myself getting unduly angry when someone asked me for something perfectly valid and fair, and found myself having to repress that anger.
As a freelancer, I managed to take some time off to try and deal with everything. It did mean directly, loss of income. And such is life as a a freelancer. What happens when the impact is longer-term? Say, there is work to be done in closing someone’s estate and to do which, a month or two is needed. What does the average freelancer do when faced with such an issue?
Some of the things that helped me stave off the sense of helplessness, anger and pointlessness of life were words of support (colleagues from Navgati messaged me and sent me loads of hugs over whatsapp. All three of my clients at the time offered to talk about anything that was scheduled a few days later, and said they were sorry. Friends from age 21 to age 60 something checked in ever so often), hugs (We went around hugging each other like it was going out of fashion. Every time we turned around, there was someone who looked like they needed a hug, and one was dispatched PDQ.), silence (Both my parents gave me silence and just sat with me while I cried or sat numbly), time (I went through a phase of daydreaming alternate realities, then went back to grieving, and did some back-and-forth on this pattern. It helped to have the time to do so.)
As a full-time employee, I would not have had the luxury of this time to grieve. I might have been able to take a day or two off and lose some holidays, which really, is no biggie. But the time taken to function as normal, the anger bursts, the weeping episodes – organisations are not geared to handle these. I am wondering if there is a compassionate way, at all. Most organisations have compassion leave or bereavement leave – a certain number of days in a year, typically reserved for family. So, if you were having a year like the one I’m having – losing 10 people in 9 months, 5 of whom were family, the organisation would, frankly, just give up on me. There aren’t too many answers, and what answers are there are not too clear. The best examples I can think of from recent times, is that of one company I had the good fortune to interact with, who said, without drama, “We just let people take the leave they want. And allow them to own and deliver on what they need to do. They know what is riding on the tasks they have to do. They either ask for help, or find a way to bridge the gap” Possible with the 20 odd people organisation that they are. But what about the majority of the rest of the world?
If we had to establish a new world order of business practices that were human, humane and pro-productivity, how do you balance guidelines for time off such that the individual’s wellness is upheld, while still managing to meet business objectives? In India, at least, everything has to be built to scale. How do we build systems that help humans scale and yet give them time for dealing things like the inevitability of life?
At this point, I have more questions than answers. I am happy to talk about this with anyone interested .