Losing one parent is hard enough. But losing both parents, with mixed support experiences at her workplace, prompted Rubina to change both her mindset and conditions for her colleagues.
This is her #DyingMattersAtWork story.
A mixed experience
“Their deaths have rewritten my understanding of death… it has reconnected us. It has reconnected me to myself.”
This deep appreciation of death and its emotional and spiritual impact comes from Rubina, co-CEO of WomenZone in Bradford, who took part in our 2022 #IRemember photo series.
Rubina’s understanding of the meaning of death stems from the loss of her parents. First, her ‘abba’ (father) died suddenly in 2008, after a spell of illness. Her ‘amma’ (mother) lived for another six years, until she too passed away in 2014.
But Rubina’s experience at work differed greatly between both of her parents' deaths.
Below: Rubina pictured for #IRemember 2022 by Rankin.
No support whatsoever
“Death always scared me to my core. Watching burials as a Pakistani girl, I witnessed the rituals.”
The death of her father was Rubina’s first experience of losing someone who was very close to her. She says that this was “an eye-opening kind of experience, how important it is to not suppress your emotions.”
But Rubina says that in the days and weeks that followed, she wasn’t able to take any time off.
It was only thanks to a colleague’s intervention that she eventually took two weeks off to allow herself time to grieve. The colleague, who had experienced a bereavement the year before, advised her to take self-imposed compassionate leave – and then took the outspoken step of informing the company’s board for her.
A better experience of workplace support
In 2014, Rubina’s mother died. But this time, her experience at work was so much better. She said, “WomenZone was in a better place and had greatly improved policies and processes… they were able to support me in a much better and flexible way.”
This, in turn, led to a much more positive bereavement policy for Rubina’s colleagues. As co-CEO, she has been determined to give them the kind of experience that she would have wanted for herself back in 2008 – including flexible time off, working from home and the opportunity to receive grief counselling.
According to Rubina, by investing in your people, you are creating lasting bonds: you keep the people working for you happy, and your company is a truly compassionate employer.
“I made sure that my colleagues, when they go through similar experiences, they feel supported. When my staff members go home after work, they look forward to coming back.”
“It’s impacted my ways of supporting people who work for me who have a death while at work…I’m able to empathise and understand what they are going through.”
Why Dying Matters in the workplace
Rubina’s mixed experiences have led her to make positive and impactful change for her colleagues. But this is an all too familiar story for many in the workplace.
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 Rubina's story as part of Dying Matters Awareness Week 2023, which focused 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 Rubina 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.
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