About a year ago, I spent the day with a design build company in the Dallas area. I enjoy shadowing different remodelers to learn about their business practices.
We went on a sales call for a kitchen remodel—a couple in their 50s—and almost as soon as we walked in, the wife explained that they had lost their son a few years ago in a boating accident. The family was planning a remodel before he died, but had never been able to get to it. Both of them, but especially the woman, were still clearly affected by their grief. It was uncomfortable.
We offered condolences, but my mumbled, “I’m so sorry,” didn’t seem to have an effect. What words could possibly make a difference to the obvious suffering of this family?
On March 22 I lost my own son to an overdose. Aaron struggled valiantly against addiction, and was doing well for a long time. Then he wasn’t.
In the short time since his death, I’ve learned a lot about grieving and about community, including a business community. Knowing what I do now, I wish I’d handled things differently with that homeowner. I wish I had paused, met her eyes, and spoke from my heart, saying, “I am so sorry that you had this terrible loss. Please know that you will be very much in my thoughts.”
The manner in which an executive reacts to a tragedy carries an outsized influence because of their position of authority.
There are two reasons that I regret my inability to be more present with her. First, while condolences have not eased my pain, the outpouring of support I’ve received has greatly helped me endure it. Sure, there were a few people who said insensitive things like,“You’ll get over this,” or, “He’s in a better place.” Yet, I took solace even in their words because the intentions that lay beneath were clearly kind.
Second, I’ve been surprised by how many people ignored what happened, maybe because they felt uncomfortable. Today I believe that if you don’t know the right words, it’s still important to rise above any awkwardness, even just to send a text.
This is true in a business setting as well. If you own a remodeling company and one of your employees suffers a loss, it’s imperative that you send out a personal message of support as well condolences from the company overall. This also holds true for upper management. The manner in which an executive reacts to a tragedy carries an outsized influence because of their position of authority. His or her response impacts not only the person who is grieving but company culture as well.
The same principle is true for colleagues. If someone experiences a death, it’s helpful to let them know that they are in your thoughts. In my case, our editorial team was extremely kind, not only taking on extra work but even flying 2,000 miles to attend Aaron’s memorial.
If a company employee passes away, it may be worthwhile to bring in a grief counselor so staff can talk about the tragedy and receive support and guidance. We are all in this together, and during hard times, community is what matters.