As a Royal Marine, losing her husband was always on Emma’s radar. But his death from cancer turned everything upside down…and led her to a new profession.
This is Emma’s #DyingMattersatWork story.
Always on her radar
Emma’s husband Simon was a Royal Marine and she had always been aware that she could get a knock on the door in the middle of the night. The idea of losing her husband was always on her radar.
Then, in 2013 Simon was diagnosed with terminal oesophageal cancer. Just a few years later, he died.
“When I lost my husband, I didn’t realise how much it would affect me and so much in my life.”
Emma had worked up until two weeks before her husband died. She regards the way her colleagues treated her as pivotal to getting through her husband’s diagnosis.
In those last weeks, Emma’s HR department had encouraged her to take compassionate leave and spend time with her family.
After Simon died, Emma says that her firm told her to take the time she needed before coming back to work. This gave her the opportunity to start grieving – a process which she found extremely hard to do whilst also looking after her children.
“It was hard to grieve and look after the kids – but my workplace was amazing, their support and understanding of the changes I needed to make at work to be able to keep moving forward was vital."
Returning to work
Emma eventually returned to work with the support of a carers group at her firm. They supported her with compassion and kindness, listening to how she felt and being perceptive of how she was doing day to day.
But even after a year since his death, she still felt as if she was living her old life – just without the person she loved in it.
The need for change
Such a large shift in her life both at home and at work caused a need for change for Emma and her routine.
To support her, Emma says that her firm allowed her to take more time away from her role, offering the option of taking a sabbatical.
By offering this support, her employers made all the difference to Emma, and helped shape her subsequent career path.
The additional space afforded to Emma made a life-changing impact. She retrained as a counsellor, setting up Rainbow Hunting to support people with the practical and emotional things that need to be done to prepare for death and dying.
Her passion is to support people who are facing a bereavement. She added, “I can’t take away the emotional pain, but if you relieve the admin, it makes a difference.”
Dying Matters at work
Emma stresses the importance of support at work, as many people who have experienced a death in the family become the sole income earner.
The right support, policies and understanding from work is absolutely vital for people facing death, dying and grief.
By talking to those around you, you can help us make sure that workplaces are properly set up to support people who are ill, who are caring for those around them, or who have lost someone close to them.
“My passion is now helping people with the admin side of bereavement and illness, so we can all be better prepared for death.”
Why Dying Matters in the workplace
The support Emma received led her to a new profession and a passion to help and support people facing bereavements. But not all experiences of death in the workplace are like this.
Stigma around grieving, and a lack of understanding about what it means to be ill and what happens when you’re dying, mean that too many of us are struggling to cope when faced with life’s inevitable challenges. The workplace is no exception.
Research by Hospice UK has shown that 57% of employees have experienced a bereavement in the last five years. Every day, more than 600 people quit their jobs to look after older and disabled relatives.
Shockingly, fewer than one in five managers feel very confident supporting someone they manage with a bereavement.
Could your workplace benefit?
Could you and your colleagues benefit from dedicated wellbeing support for staff and employers? Then we can help.
Get in touch with our wellbeing support programme to see how your organisation can be well set up to look after employees through grief, illness and caring.
What you can do now
By talking with those around you, you can help your workplace support colleagues who are ill, caring for those around them, or who have lost someone close to them.
Discover how you can have meaningful and compassionate conversations with other people at work, in the community or at home. Our short quiz will show you where you stand on the compassionate superhero scale and offer some tips to improve on each of the six superpower skills.
About Dying Matters Awareness Week
We’ve shared Emma's story as part of Dying Matters Awareness Week 2023, which focuses on Dying Matters at work.
We spend so much of our lives at work – and we shouldn’t have to hide our experiences of death and dying from our colleagues, our peers, or our bosses.
With your help, we can create open and compassionate society where we are comfortable facing the realities of dying, death and grief.
Thank you to Emma for sharing her story.
Dying Matters at Work stories
Read these powerful and moving stories of people's varying experiences of caring and grief in the workplace.
'Someone has died…I can’t come to my interview'
Carolynne’s story: Caring to make a difference