Grief. How many memories arise so easily in the presence of this term. However, it’s a word that could contain uncountable meanings within itself. Grief emerges inside us as a deeply personal loss print so intimate to the ones who live it.
Grief takes the place of what was once a presence. It is the discovery path of all the empty spaces born to fill the absence.
But which empty spaces are those? Katherine Shear (2012) said that our beloved ones exist in our long-term memory, but also in so many other mnesic networks such as episodic, semantic and implicit memories. Breaking this into pieces, it means that our connections are mapped in our own learnings, meanings and rules shaping how we feel the world and even how we navigate it — how and what we do. Within these connections, we find security and protection deeply crucial to our psychological integrity.
In the empty spaces of grief, all of our structural experiences were shaken and, in such times of loss, we crave for restructure. Our foundations collapsed.
At first, we deny these tremors. We get angry with a new world. We negotiate the conditions of such inevitability. We feel depressed when faced with reality. Until we accept it. We, humans as we are, flip ourselves in the midst of the fight. We keep rounding off into the same phases, acknowledging it is still a little less for us to heal until we finally come to terms with our grief.
But where are the remains of our life during this painful moment? What happens to our jobs, and how is our mission taken by our companies?
The answer depends on the type of grief and, on the empathy that societies claims it deserve.
Losing a brother is not, for society, the same as losing an aunt. Losing a relationship with a pet is not, for society, so painful as losing a human relationship. However, isn’t it true that, in our ways back home, a comforting feeling invades us with the idea of cuddling with our companion? And also, even in the first moments of our new connection, we feel a peculiar empathy growing inside us.
The truth is, no matter the side of the opinion coin we are, this connection is real and fulfills an essential protective and security role for us.
Science also nods in agreement with this idea, arguing that our reactions to grief for the loss of humans are no different from the ones when losing pets. Additionally, like it is among people, the experience of loss is intensified when the connection is stronger.
Now, the burning question.
How is it that, in the middle of such tough routines, counter-clock goals, formal postures, and bills to pay, are we going to find a place for these empty spaces in such need?
Choking the space has devastating costs.
Emotional numbness is the price of suppressing painful emotions. Irritability is the body's double of sadness when there is no room for the scene. Lastly, mental illness is the cry for help in the fight for reconquering the right to grief.
The enterprise that doesn’t assume an empathic culture towards grieving will also pay in poorly considered decision-making, fatigued workers, or neglected productivity. Creating the space for grief within the organizational culture means tolerance through communication, flexible working schedules, and leadership that validates vulnerability.
In this moment of loss, whether of a person, a pet, or even something else that structured us psychologically, may there be a place for such empty spaces to grow as they need. May enterprises honor their values and become an ally in mental health, reclaiming emotional vulnerability, and, ultimately, becoming safe spaces for us as our beloved ones once were.