How to Cope with Bereavement at Work; A WARWICKSHIRE PART-TIME PRIEST HAS PUT HIS COUNSELLING EXPERTISE INTO A HELPFUL BOOK

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Byline: JUDITH COURT

DAVID CHARLES-EDWARDS knows about bereavement. He knows that everyone feels things in their own way and has to cope in their own way. The experience is individual.

But at the same time he feels there is plenty other people can do to help.

Every day 3,500 people die in the UK. Their death will affect not only their immediate family and friends but also people at their place of work.

If an employee dies, or the partner or child of an employee, the manager will have to sort out practical difficulties that arise.

And how should colleagues respond when a bereaved person returns to work?

These are all issues discussed in a new book written by the Rugby-based management consultant and counsellor in the field of death and bereavement at work.

Mr Charles-Edwards has been head of personnel in two health authorities, chief executive of the Rugby-based British Association for Counselling and a Relate counsellor. He lives in Hillmorton Road, Rugby, and is the part-time priest-in-charge of Clifton and Newton.

His own experience of bereavement came when in 1966 he lost his first wife. She was just 26 years old and left him with a three-year-old daughter to bring up.

"Ten years later, having struggled pretty unsuccessfully to come to terms with that, I had an experience of bereavement counselling which was incredibly helpful," he says.

And that was the trigger for his particular interest in bereavement counselling.

But, having said that, as a counsellor he doesn't believe it is necessary to have had experience of something to be helpful to those who have.

"One of the core dimensions of counselling is empathy and I think it is perfectly possible to empathise realistically with someone going through an experience you have not had," David says.

"And there is a danger - and this is why I am quite reticent about my own bereavement experiences. Somebody who has been bereaved mustn't imagine that their experience is the same as somebody else's.

"The last thing I would want to say to somebody I was working with whose wife or partner had died would be 'I know what it's like because I've been there'. The reality is that I haven't been there. This is their journey. That was mine."

Now he advises companies about dealing with bereavement issues at work and he counsels in workplaces where there has been a bereavement.

"Practically everybody killed in the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11 was killed in the course of their work - and the impact of their loss is being felt in very many workplaces.

"I have a strong commitment to helping people in the workplace manage bereavement in a way that is helpful for everybody - both for the organisation and for the people involved."

He has recently worked with a company where one of the staff in an open plan office lost his baby. His seriously depressed partner had drowned the child.

David worked not only with the individual concerned but with the manager and the staff who shared his office, talking to them about their feelings and response.

"If you are at work and you are bereaved what is the appropriate response of the company? …