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Gina London: 'How to sensitively support your grieving co-workers'

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GrieveWell estimates 30 work days are lost each year by each employee who experiences grief with no support from co-workers or managers (stock photo)

GrieveWell estimates 30 work days are lost each year by each employee who experiences grief with no support from co-workers or managers (stock photo)

GrieveWell estimates 30 work days are lost each year by each employee who experiences grief with no support from co-workers or managers (stock photo)

I first met international personal stylist Fiona Doyle a few years ago when I led a networking master class and she was teaching and running a modelling agency in Limerick. We kept in touch through LinkedIn, and she updated me on how she had spent the past year training and earning certificates from style academies in Boston, London, Milan and Nice.

We caught up over coffee this past week and I asked her what had propelled her to ambitiously seek her recent additional certifications. She said: "I took a year off work due to illness and I knew I didn't want to be someone who was just watching TV, so I immersed myself in something else."

"What was the illness?" I asked, not anticipating her response.

"I had sepsis following the miscarriage of my twin boys," she replied calmly. Too calmly.

It was just one year ago. She knew they were twins. And she knew they were both male. There was too much beneath the surface of that seemingly simple statement. I asked if she would share more, and not only did Fiona share with me, but she has graciously agreed to share with you too, kind readers.

She recounted: "I have a four-year-old son, Rían, with my husband, Michael. In 2018, we were blessed naturally to find out we were pregnant again and this time with twins. We thought we had struck gold."

Fiona said the pregnancy seemed perfect over the next 12 weeks: "Everything was going fine. I was eating the right foods and putting on the right amount of weight. The consultant said they were really thriving.

"We had only told family at this stage. But when we got the results from a test and found out they were two boys and that they were healthy at about week 13, I told my colleagues at work and posted a photo on a WhatsApp group of Rían holding a sign that said he wasn't going to be an only child any more."

What happened next - just days later - will sadly resonate with too many: "It was a Tuesday night and I had cramps. I woke up early Wednesday morning with chills and told (husband) Michael I felt sick, but I went to work anyway. I felt worse and rang the consultant. He said to come in immediately."

The maternity hospital was a 30-minute drive away. Fiona drove on her own. She began bleeding. The consultant was waiting for her at the door.

"I was taken immediately to the surgery theatre. I was in and out of consciousness and within a couple of hours, I was told that one of the boys had died."

Soon the heartbeat of the other twin stopped as well. Fiona's body was wracked with a sepsis infection. She remained in hospital for five days. Her sister, a GP, feared Fiona would lose her life as well. Fiona survived and was advised by her employer to take a year's leave. She busied herself in training. But she has never forgotten the twins.

While October was World Pregnancy and Infant Loss Month, grief is certainly not limited to a single month.

In fact, statistics from the Michigan-based non-profit group GrieveWell show that one in four employees is grieving at any given time - not necessarily from the loss of a pregnancy or infant, of course.

GrieveWell also estimates 30 work days are lost each year by each employee who experiences grief with no support from co-workers or managers, with 20pc of those same employees continuing to lose work days for more than a year.

Fiona has offered gentle recommendations of an expression or gesture that perhaps you can demonstrate or consider the next time someone you know experiences a loss:

1. Acknowledge

Fiona points out that some colleagues reached out and some didn't. "I am so grateful for every single person who contacted me. Even if I didn't respond at the time, it was important to know that people took time to say or write that they cared," she said.

2. Share

Fiona appreciated the women who came forward and revealed that they, too, had suffered a miscarriage.

I asked if that might feel like the person was shifting focus on to themselves, but that was not how Fiona viewed it: "Miscarriage is still a topic that isn't talked about very much. It was comforting to know I wasn't alone."

3. Be sensitive

Life went on and other women's baby showers were announced. Children's birthday party invitations were extended.

Fiona explained that any event which brings big groups of people together, not only those that spotlight children's milestones, can seem overwhelming.

This doesn't mean you need to hide parties from someone who may be grieving. But, if you're throwing a party, perhaps you can speak privately to the person and enquire how they feel. Give them the freedom to speak and they may become comfortable enough to attend.

4. Understand healing takes time

Appearances can be deceiving. Although Fiona posts positive stylist photos on social media to promote her business, it doesn't mean everything is perfect.

"Just because I'm strong now doesn't mean I'm always happy. The hurt doesn't go away," she said.

That said, styling training has been a sort of therapy for her: "The feeling I get from helping others become the best version of themselves is great. Life is too short. Wear your special outfit now."

Sunday Indo Business