Good Grief, Bad Grief: Complex Forms of Bereavement

Posted on September 14, 2019

Cake with picture of me and my dog.

What I’m Watching: Styling Hollywood. Dresses, celebrities, and fabulous living in LA? Yes, please.

What I’m Reading: No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy – highly recommend. I’m still working my way through it because emotions but there has been a lot of buzz about it in the ELGL Twitterverse and it’s actually very relevant to this post, so it’s probably also a sign you should read it. Plus, there are pictures!

Should you go in for a hug comic with a cat, who does not want a hug, and a dog, who does want a hug.
Actual footage of Libby B. and I at our first hug crossroads.

What I’m Listening To: My neighbors playing Lady Gaga songs on a toy piano for their baby. Kind of into it.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks (also, this is basically my local gov diary now, sorry). Our organization takes both Labor Day and Admissions Day (when California was accepted into the Union as the 31st state, duh) off, which means we have two four-day weeks back-to-back. Four-day weeks are a struggle for me because it means I have five days of work to cram into four, especially if I try not to work on the weekend, which is a consistent if unrealistic goal.

On top of that work-centric pressure cooker of a schedule, three families I love lost some long-standing canine family members recently. One was unexpected but slow-moving, so they were able to reach a conclusion that felt right for them and their family. The others were unexpected and fast, meaning they had to drop jobs and lives to address a health crisis that came out of the blue. My heart breaks for all of them because, though my dog has only been with us for six years, she’s as much a part of our family as my partner or I (sometimes more, depending on how annoyed we are with each other).

Me and my dog, Pearl

Losing her seems impossible, but, as writer Megan Daum puts it after losing both her father and her dog: Losing a parent is terrible. Losing a pet is shattering. Both occurrences are more or less inevitable. We all walk around this earth knowing our parents will eventually die, if they haven’t already…Similarly, to have a pet is to know that it will almost certainly die before we do. The prescheduled heartbreak is just part of the deal.”

Everyone’s grief is specific to their own experience and self, regardless of who or what has been lost. In local government, we attempt to streamline everything we can in the name of efficiency, including grief and the loss of loved ones.

Our friends who recently lost their 14-year old dog to a surprising and aggressive bout of something, spent a week of sleepless nights and running from emergency vet to emergency vet to see what, if anything, could be done. One of them works as a lawyer for a private company and was able to take the time he needed to address this, but I wonder if it would have been the same in local government? 

I know my MOU doesn’t say anything about pets, though it does include “personal leave” and other things I could potentially cobble together to make it work. I also know how lucky I am to understand that as an option. Luckily, my position and my team are flexible that if something happened, I don’t think it would be an issue. However, in the event that I join a different team or transition organizations, I don’t know what kind of support or perception there is around alternative grief needs. Even if I did take time to recover from and process the death of my pet, would my team understand that as a real need?

The purpose of this post isn’t to advocate for Pet Bereavement Leave (though to be clear, I am in full favor of this) because the core of this issue isn’t treating pets like humans – it’s treating humans like humans.

Things like grief don’t fit into three paragraphs negotiated every two years by an elected board and HR reps, regardless of how we may or may not choose to accommodate it.

I want all of us, as local government envoys and participants, to keep in mind that our coworkers, supervisors, directors, are all human, and humans process complex emotions (like grief) in different ways. We should all be emotionally competent enough to recognize and respond to complex emotions in the workplace without needing to hide behind a policy or what we consider “normal.” 

Today’s Morning Buzz is by Kendra Davis. Connect with Kendra on LinkedIn and Twitter. She loves dogs, local government, and expressing complex emotions in everyday life. She really did receive a cake with her dog’s face on it from a coworker. Please take this post as an invitation to send her pictures of you and your pets at any time.

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