At Element, we're proud to be partnering with Nicola Rich and St. John (Singe) Greene on Thursday 12th October. We’ll be talking about dealing with grief and sickness. Whilst sickness in the workplace is at its lowest since 1993, mental health issues are still the 4th most common reason for sickness absence, accounting for 15.8 million days (11.5%).
Yet, whilst mental sickness is a leading cause of absenteeism in the workplace it’s still a taboo topic of conversation. As you know, the CIPD have been working to raise awareness of mental wellbeing and sickness. They've created a number of articles, fact sheets and guides for their community. This year saw the the London Marathon chose mental health as a cause for the first time. Even the Royal Family took up the mantel this April spearheading the Heads Together Campaign.
As a CIPD Associate and active member of the CIPD South West community I'm keen to raise awareness of this cause. I met Singe in May this year through a family acquaintance and was moved by the journey he has been on since his losing his wife, Kate in January 2010. For those of you who haven’t read Singe’s book, I want to share part of his story with you and why his journey is so relevant and personal to what we’ll be discussing at the event.
Singe, what inspired you to write mums list?
My boys to be honest, and the fact that they would never have the chance to talk to Kate directly and understand our relationship and love story.
I didn’t want the boys to forget their roots and I wanted to help them in the future to come to terms with the loss of their mum. I also hoped it would encourage them to participate in some of the activities that Kate and I shared together.
I already had the ingredients to make the make the book; I just didn’t know where to start… I had the photos, the letters, the video recordings and the list. This was a bit like having the ingredients for a firework but not knowing how to put it together or how to ignite it. With the help and guidance of Rachel Murphy, I managed to put the firework together and create something that was beautiful. Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield on ITV’s ‘This morning’, lit the blue touch paper for the world to see. The firework had a lot more power than I had ever dreamed, as the story exploded around the world and touched many people’s hearts.
You have been through so much…where did you find the strength to carry on?
I guess to start with it was from the support of family and friends. If I am truly honest I did struggle at the beginning. But looking into the boy’s eyes and looking in the mirror, I knew I had to pull myself together and take a ‘man up’ pill…. as life goes on. My biggest fear was to let Kate and the boys down.
Having realised that we had shared such an amazing life together, I guess that was where the strength came from… our memories. You are always looking over your shoulder to start with, looking back at the past and what you have achieved, your memories and your experiences. As time goes by your head starts to revolve around and look forward to the future, it doesn’t mean you can’t look back at the past occasionally because you learn from your mistakes. Kate and I were worldly-wise, we had done a lot more in our lifetime then even our parents had achieved. Those experiences can blow your mind and your experiences of life can show you how many shades and colours of life there really is.
We all need to remember that just because one door closes, others will often open in front of you. You just have to have the bravery to see what is on the other side and if you don’t like what you see, move on and open another door.
I think our event with Nicola Rich is going to be very emotional. Sickness and especially grief is a hard topic to talk about, why do you want to share your story?
In this country, we tend to brush death and illness under the carpet, nobody likes to talk about difficult subjects. But if you are going through it, it is nice to be able to talk to somebody who has been there and survived or someone who is just willing to listen and offer advice and guidance.
I wanted to show people that you can get through it and come out the other side, time is a great healer but when it first happens to you… you feel obliterated and you don’t know how you are going to survive. It’s like walking along the beach on a sunny day, feeling happy and everything is right with the world. Then from nowhere the skies darken and a wave crashes down on you, sweeping you of your feet. The turbulent waters role you around on the seafloor and you can’t breathe. The rocks and debris hit you like memory flash blacks, emphasising your loss. You struggle to catch your breath and reach the surface. You are wondering if the current is too strong and you suddenly find yourself questioning whether you are going to make it or not. You may receive help and support from a hand from the surface, but sometimes those hands get withdrawn or they are not strong enough to hold you. You then plant your feet and grip with your toes, stiffening your whole body and stand up and walk back up the beach out of the surf, wondering what the hell happened. As you carry on up the beach the sun comes out and dries you. You might have survived this time but that doesn’t mean there isn’t another wave on the horizon, so make sure that you have got yourself a surfboard so you can ride the next one out.
We all need a helping hand at times, that's why everyone around you is so important. I know my story has helped others in similar circumstances as hundreds of people have contacted me directly and thanked me for writing the book. From reading their stories and listening to their experiences, they have told me how my story has helped them through their own loss and grief. This has been a very humbling experience but has given me more confidence to share my story.
I’ve noticed the phrase Acres and Acres keep coming up in Mums list. What does this mean? Do you still use it today?
When Kate and I first became a couple, Kate’s parents were not happy about us becoming so serious and at one point they banned us from seeing each other. We didn’t have mobiles in those days, so communication was limited and was through landlines, call boxes or letters. We often arranged for Kate’s school friends to call Kate instead of me, just in case her mum or dad answered. Obviously, Kate’s parents weren’t stupid and often tried to listen in on our calls, so we decided to come up with a code which meant ‘I love you’ without them knowing. We started by saying... loads and loads, then yards and yards, then miles and miles and finally ‘acres and acres’ just stuck. It meant we could still explain how much we loved each other and it was something that we carried on throughout our lives together.
The boys and I still use the phrase together today, we want to keep that memory alive and to help Kate to still be a part of their lives.
The Head v Heart Event is taking place on Thursday 12th October from 8am - 11am at Hotel du Vin, Bristol. To book your place today email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Employment stats sourced from ONS.
The Taboo Subject of Grief & Sickness In The Workplace With St. John (Singe) Greene