April 3Matt Stajan of the Calgary Flames returned to work two short weeks after his newborn son, Emerson died. Is that too soon? In reading the Sun News online article, I have to say he seems to have given this much thought and he is doing what feels right for him and his wife, Katie. This is no time to criticize him for his decision around work.

Stajan’s son, Emerson was born March 3 and died a short time after birth. A family death is challenging to cope with generally; however, the loss of a baby is heartbreaking. Stajan is 30 years old and he realizes this is going to be a life-altering event for him and his wife. He states, “This is not something we’re done with. This is something we’ll always remember. There will always be moments but my wife is a strong woman and we’ve done a great job to this point and we’re going to keep moving forward.”

I am a supporter of people doing grief in their own way and in their own time. Is two weeks long enough between a death and resuming life activities again? It depends. For this father, he feels ready to get back into a routine, but he is also saying “there will always be moments”. In my experience it is “the moments” that can be quite challenging to get through. So in this situation, I would say that as long as he has a good support system around him and he is aware “those moments” can knock you down and take the wind right out of you when you least expect it, and he allows himself to pause life when needed, it may be okay for him. This may not work for others and that’s what we need to be aware of. It’s different for each individual. The Calgary Flames player has talked of the great support he has received from the organization, fans, teammates and his hockey fraternity. I do not know for sure, but I would suspect he and his wife found comfort and strength in family and friends too. Perhaps more than being concerned about the timing of Stajan returning to work, it is the support system surrounding this family that need to be aware of how to support him and his wife when “the moments” hit. Here are some helpful tips:

  1. Remember that grief is a process not an event. The bereaved person may go along just fine for days or weeks and then when they least expect it, grief overcomes them. Don’t assume because they are going through the motions of daily activities that all is well.
  2. Don’t be afraid to say the name of the deceased. This does not upset a family, in fact, it brings them comfort.
  3. The bereaved are constantly asked, “How are you doing?” Sometimes they really want to respond with, “How do you think? Try to be creative and ask it in a different way such as, “It is nice to see you. I can’t imagine what you are going through but I am here to support you in any way I can. Do you feel up to having a coffee and talking with me about (insert the deceased person’s name)?”
  4. Don’t say, “Oh, don’t cry. It will be okay.” Tears (for men, women and children) are a healthy way to shed stress. Tears help when we cannot adequately express in words how we are feeling. Tears are natural and normal. Instead say something like, “I am okay with tears. It helps to release how you are feeling.”
  5. Don’t impose the myth of “Year One” on the bereaved. People try to say if you just get through the first birthday, first Christmas, first Father’s Day, first Mother’s Day etc. that it will be easier the next year. This is false. Anyone traveling the journey of grief can attest to the fact that any day without his or her loved one is “a first day without them.” Instead, note these days on your calendar, including the birthday of the deceased and the anniversary of their death, as a reminder for you to send an email, card, or make a phone call to the family to let them know YOU REMEMBER and want to send them some love today as THEY REMEMBER (insert the name of their loved one). This is truly a gift to the family and they will appreciate your gesture.

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