Coming from a theatre background, I learned early on that ‘the show must go on’. Once I had a severe allergic reaction a few hours before going onstage. I made it through the show, though I couldn’t sing worth a damn.
If you watched the amazing live production of Grease that aired Sunday night, you probably heard about Vanessa Hudgens, who played Rizzo: her father died less than 24 hours before the broadcast. She went on as scheduled and the whole show was dedicated to him.
Less than a week after my father died, I was 400 miles away making a presentation at a national conference. I didn’t want to be there. The organizers assured me I didn’t have to be there. But there I was. It wasn’t easy, not at all, so I understand a little of how Vanessa felt Sunday night.
But you don’t have to be a celebrity to understand the meaning of ‘the show must go on’. If you work for a corporation, check out their bereavement policy. How much paid time off are you allowed after a death? A week for a spouse? Three days for a sibling? When my uncle died, I was granted one paid day off, but had to take more because I was 300 miles away from my family. When my grandmother died, I hadn’t been at that job long enough to be entitled to paid bereavement leave, so I lost a couple days’ pay.
Scroll down the list in the bereavement section of your employee handbook and look for ‘friend’. Chances are, you’ll find no such category. Is it fair? Of course not. Is it understandable? I suppose the line has to be drawn somewhere. The workplace can’t shut down because your friend died.
Maybe you work for a generous company that gives you a day off to attend your best friend’s funeral. But the next day, it’s back to work, business as usual.
Our society as a whole is in deep denial about grief. We sweep it under the rug, assign degrees of value to it (like the number of days of bereavement leave) and then expect everyone to go back to normal.
One of the reasons I went ahead with that conference after my father died was because I felt I had to ‘get back to normal’, even though I now had a new definition of ‘normal’. Nothing wrong with that; some people need to reclaim the structure of their lives as soon as possible.
But maybe it would be more productive, more reasonable and more respectful to give people options. Set a policy that allows a certain number of days for personal use, allowing the employee to determine the best way to use them. Give your employees permission to grieve, to show their respects, to begin to heal.
Yes, of course, ‘the show must go on’. But it will be a much better show if the performers are able to give it their best.