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Woman whose life has been shaped by grief takes support into the workplace

A Balsall Common woman is taking her own experience with grief into the workplace following an increased demand for fostering mental wellbeing among employees.

Tracey McAtamney, who was herself widowed at a young age, runs the Surviving Bereavement Foundation as well as a growing number of bereavement cafes across south Warwickshire and the West Midlands.

A qualified grief recovery specialist, her new Let’s Talk Bereavement series of presentations are tailored to the requirements of businesses and include question and answer sessions and signposting packs to take away.

Tracey established Surviving Bereavement in 2019 in memory of her late husband Tony. She was left widowed with two sons at just 38, when he suddenly collapsed and died in his hotel room while on a golfing holiday in Spain.

Surviving Bereavement, grief counsellor
Tracey delivering her presentation of grief recovery at Denso in Coventry

She was no stranger to grief even at an early age, after losing her father in an accident when she was just seven – the same age at which her youngest son Oliver lost his father.

She said: “I always begin my presentations with ‘nobody just decides to make their life all about bereavement.’ My life plan changed forever on 28th June 2004, one telephone call in the middle of the night to tell me my husband was dead – and that is really where my grief journey begins!

Surviving Bereavement, Tracey McAtamney
Photo by Karen Massey Photography

“The impact of bereavement in the workplace is huge and, actually, as a Grief Recovery Specialist we are taught that grief is not just linked to death, it can be any major change or loss of control in a person’s life. One in two people in employment experience a significant loss; this could be death of a loved one, death of a pet, divorce, loss of a job, loss of home or health and can subsequently experience grief of an intensity which impairs their ability to work and puts them at risk of related physical and mental health conditions.

“Many managers and employers would welcome help on how to support bereaved employees thus maintaining staff morale, making staff feel valued and reducing absenteeism. Creating a companionate culture within the workplace is needed more than ever for mental health support with waiting lists for counselling at an all-time high.”

The Surviving Bereavement Foundation exists to offer legal and financial advice as well as practical help, all the things, says Tracey, that were not available to her. The charity also provides bespoke Memory Boxes – hand-delivered by Tracey – which are available for grieving children and young adults, and typically contain items such as forget-me-not seeds, a personalised book and letter, journal, cuddle bears and other age-relevant items.

Michelle Evans, from DENSO, an automotive engineering centre in Coventry, said of Tracey’s recent presentation: “Her unique perspective and heartbreaking story made Tracey the ideal person to discuss coping strategies with our teams.

“Many of our colleagues are professional engineers with a very pragmatic and highly technical outlook on life. But, almost to a person, Tracey’s presentation really struck a chord with them. Some experienced bereavement recently, others a long time ago, but her experience and stoicism makes that journey a little more bearable.”

She added: “We recognise that bereavement and loss can occur to any one of us, at any time, and can manifest itself in many different ways.

“As part of our monthly initiatives, we introduce colleagues to multiple avenues of support and invite guest speakers, motivational coaches or trainers to talk to our teams. We feel that having this programme in place offers an important lever for our colleagues to have the support they need within the Company and more broadly in their outside lives.”

Surviving Bereavement, Tracey McAtamney

Tracey has published a book about her own journey called Hidden Strength and was last year named a Platinum Champion as part of the national Jubilee Awards to celebrate her dedication to volunteering.

She added: “People must think why do this now, talk about bereavement and loss, the answer is simple, I can now tell people from my own experience that there is ALWAYS light at the end of what seems like the darkest tunnel. When your whole life has been turned upside down and for me, the lives of my children.

“Loss of their dad wasn’t something I could protect them from. The realisation that I had lost my husband, best friend, father of my children and our business, our way of life, had gone forever.

“The physical pain at that time was indescribable, the constant feeling of sickness, disbelief and, for a time, a struggle to even breath. But this physical pain does ease and you are able to smile again and enjoy life with the knowledge that you will never forget that special person.”

Visit Surviving Bereavement here

For further information about the Let’s Talk Bereavement or the Foundation, contact Tracey McAtamney at: