When Bereavement Leave Runs Out: going back to work after a death

Here at WYG topics seem to come up in waves.  We see trends in comments on the blog, social media, and in emails.  Lately the trend has been going back to work after a death.  Let’s just get the obvious out of the way:  it sucks.  But beyond that there are so many questions.  When should I go back to work?  When do I have to go back to work?  Are there ways I can make it suck less?

So many questions, so few clear and universal answers.  Lucky for you that has never stopped us from tackling a topic before and it won’t today.   Let’s start with a (sort of) simple question:

When do I have to go back to work after a death?

Well, that depends on your job, unfortunately.  There have been multiple attempts to require companies to provide bereavement leave, but at this point, unless you are lucky enough to live in the state of Oregon, it is not required that a job provide you time off after a death.  The good news: many companies do offer some type of bereavement leave.  The bad news: not all companies to, it may not be paid leave, and it may only be a few days.

Except for Oregon – let’s give them one more shout out.  Any employee eligible for FMLA can take up to two weeks off after the death of a family member.  Though that still may not sound like long enough, it is a lot better than the 3 days many of us get!  Thanks Oregon, we at WYG appreciate your efforts.

When should I go back to work after a death?

This question is more complicated.  Perhaps you are one of those lucky people in Oregon, or your job is super spectacular and they have granted you plenty of leave, or you have a zillion hours of vacation stored up that you can use.  If you have the luxury of time, should you take it and for how long?  The COO at Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg recently lost her husband in an unexpected accident.  Two weeks later she headed back to the office, citing the advice given to children returning to school – it is good to get back into a routine.

She wasn’t totally off base.  For some people, getting back to work is helpful and there is a place for routine.  Though I personally think three days for bereavement leave is grossly insufficient, I have had others tell me that getting back to work was the only thing that stabilized them, gave them a reason to get up in the morning, and kept them moving forward.  What is complicated is that others feel totally differently.  Focusing feels impossible, the work environment is totally overwhelming, and going back so soon just feels downright brutal.

If it is possible, you may want to consider easing back in.  If you are able to transition back by doing some half days this can make things a little less overwhelming and feel a bit more manageable.   Talk to your HR department and your supervisor to see if that is a possibility.  Another option is going back 2 or 3 days/week, giving yourself down days in between to recuperate as you transition back.

Are there ways I can make the transition back easier?

This question is a doozy.  There are things that can make it easier but that doesn’t change the fact that it will still, undoubtedly, suck.  But there are some things to consider that can help.

  • Seeing your coworkers again will be tough.  You probably know the drill.  After a death every person you see for the first time requires an “I’m sorry, how are you doing?” conversation.  Now, this is of course better than no acknowledgement of you loss, but at work it can get overwhelming to have that conversation over and over.  What can you do?
    1. Make sure your coworkers already know what happened, so you don’t have to tell people over and over if you don’t want to. Talk to HR and they can assist with notifying people before you return.
    2. Consider going into work or have lunch/dinner with co-workers before you officially return to work. That allows you to get all those “I’m sorry, how are you?” convos out of the way before you are there to actually work.
    3. If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s okay. Just let people know.  Again, HR can help with this.  If you would rather not have other people bring up the death, you can share this with HR and they can share with your colleagues.  Keep in mind that having support and talking with co-workers can be a very good thing, but it is absolutely fine if you want to do that in your own way and time.
    4. Help your coworkers to understand grief. Don’t worry, this doesn’t have to be your job!  But when you talk to HR it may be helpful to ask if they could share some information about grief with your colleagues, so they might know what to expect.  It can also dispel some of those myths about grief and maybe even help people know what NOT to say to you.
  • Focusing can be a nightmare. When you get back to work you may quickly feel like you are a 9 year old boy with ADD, that dementia is setting in, or that you are straight-up losing it. Don’t panic, this is one of the most common symptoms of grief – you can’t focus and you can’t retain information. What can you do?
    1. Talk to your supervisor and HR. Be upfront that you know focus is going to be a struggle and ask for understanding and support.
    2. Double check your work, and ask a coworker or your supervisor to do the same. The quality of your work may suffer at first and that is totally normal.  Identifying someone trusted who can look complex assignments and projects over for you can be a huge help.
    3. If you weren’t a to-do list person before, become one now. When we are grieving, having multiple things to accomplish can feel total overwhelming – from knowing where to start to forgetting things to struggling to care, challenges abound.  Starting each day with a to-do list and then numbering what you need to accomplish in order of priority can serve as a good roadmap for the day.
    4. Take breaks. Short breaks during the day can recharge you when you are getting overwhelmed.  Take a short walk, do some deep breathing or meditation, or even do some writing.  Just something to refocus you.
    5. Your thoughts will wander, accept it! It will happen, it will be hard, it might be painful, and it will happen.  Trying to avoid the thoughts that are creeping in can actually make things worse.  When we avoid thoughts they often just keep trying to force their way in.  If intrusive thoughts about your loss are popping up while you are trying to work, spend a minute with the thought, write it down in a journal, and spend some time with that thought after work.
  • It won’t get easier overnight. Going back is a long transition.  You may be waiting to feel “normal” again, sadly, that is just not how grief works! There are a few other things you can do to get you through the long haul after you return to work.
    1. Be ready to cry. Yes, it sucks, but grief triggers are everywhere.  There is a good chance you will cry at work.  Be prepared for it.  Check out our post on crying in public for some tips and tricks.  If you don’t have an office where you can shut your door, find your safe space where you can go if you need to shed some tears – even if it is the bathroom, your car, or under your desk (ideally without a bottle of wine!).
      crying GIF
    2. Keep talking with your boss and HR. Communicate how things are going.  If you are struggling, let them know and ask for support.
    3. Be prepared that you may feel a total apathy about your job or want to quit. Grief changes our priorities completely.  Suddenly the job you loved might feel totally meaningless.  Everyone around you still cares about deadlines and TPS reports and you feel like none of that matters anymore.    Don’t make any hasty decisions.  Read our post about grief changing our priorities and give yourself some time before writing that resignation letter or screaming at your coworkers that they don’t understand what is important in life.

One last word of caution for those people who have jumped back in to work and are working all the time.  It can be easy to think that keeping busy means you are coping and adjusting to grief in a healthy way.  This can be a dangerous trap that catches up with us later.  Check out our post on the myth of keeping busy.

There are no easy answers for going back to work, but we are sure some of you have some tips and tricks we have missed.  Leave a comment to share the good and the bad of your experience going back to work.  Your words may help another griever!

To get helpful articles to get you through your grief right to your email, subscribe to What’s Your Grief! You can do that by entering your email over on the sidebar.

April 25, 2017

60 responses on "When Bereavement Leave Runs Out: going back to work after a death"

  1. I lost my life my best friend and the love of my life July 3rd 2017. He was 47. The past 10 months I was his nurse and worked and took care of him. We would have been married 25 years in September 17th. My birthday was the 22nd. He spoiled me. He loved Halloween. And the holidays are coming and his and our youngest daughter’s birthday same week as Christmas. I am struggling to get through this every day. We did everything together. Half of me died that day. My job I used to love it. I cannot concentrate and wish I was retired. I miss him so much it hurts. I’m so broken.

  2. I lost my son July 24, 2016, just 2 weeks after his 21st birthday; he was my only child! I went back to work about 2 months after for only 2 days and then i took off on disability. I also needed a major surgery so I took time to recover from that as well. I have been a temporary employee for the past 3 years with the exception of last year and they have been really understanding. They recently offered me a new assignment which I thought I was ready for, but it hasn’t even been a month since i’ve been back and already I have taken a day off, half a day last week, and I left after only an hour & 1/2 today. I keep asking myself what am I doing. It doesn’t feel right, I don’t want to be watched, monitored, nor supervised at this point but my finances are low and the job pays pretty good! Bottom line…i’m ready to risk it all and just live on a whim and a prayer. I feel confined in that space for 8 hours, I have to get up and get ready to be there and fight traffic. I’m so screwed up in the head behind this. What am I going to do? Not to mention, I don’t have any boyfriend, fiancee, or husband so it’s me and the dog which i’ve thought about giving away because I can’t love her right anymore. I can’t think at work and I don’t have any focus but I sit there and pretend. This is a new location with new people, and a new task which they don’t properly train you to do. Let me stop, because I could go on for hours about how my life is a wreck and I just want to be able to break down when and where ever without being embarrased. I just want to be a little happy but that job is not going to make me happy…nothing , idk

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  4. My Dad died in May of 2014 and my Mom in March of 2015. I was pretty lucky that my bosses were so understanding and gave me quite a bit of time off, but it wasn’t paid and it put a lot of financial pressure on me. It’s been almost 3 and 2 years respectively, and I’m still struggling to keep my attention on point. I’m still having a hard time working up enthusiasm for work and school. WYG has helped me quite a bit just in accepting that this time is hard. Thanks.

  5. My fiancee just passed suddenly on Jan 07 2017. I have gone back to work and it has been helpful because of the structure of my job. I still have a hard time focusing at times and feel apathy towards the job.
    I had gone back to university last semester and did extremely well. I have tried to continue this semester which started Jan 09. I have found I can’t focus on the assignments and don’t really care at this point. I have anger at the school work and myself and feel like I’m failing myself and my fiancee who was my biggest cheerleader of my going back to school and finishing my degree.
    Maybe it was a mistake to go back this semester as I’m also trying to get guardianship of her/ our daughter leading to adoption.

  6. Exact feelings that I am going through. Lost my wife recently (Aug 2016) at a tender age of 34 due to GBM Type IV cancer. We were married in Sept 2014, she was diagnosed in July 2015. We went through surgeries, theraphy, chemo together, and God bless, managed to take a short holiday in Dec 2015 to spend some time together. My bosses/colleagues were/are very supportive and i had a flexible schedule at work.
    But now roughly 5 months after her death, when the normal reality of deadlines, schedules etc from work creep up, all i feel like doing is quitting. Combined with grief triggers (oh yes they happen anytime anywhere) it just doesn’t seem to make sense anymore and i often question why/what am i working for. If it wasn’t for the money (pay bills, the house etc) I’d probably quit in a heartbeat. My priorities definitely have changed from “making it” to just getting by and retiring as early as possible.

    • Hey, I would really like to make a contact with you to know how you are coping with grieving. I lost my wife in the battle with GBM IV too, she was only 26. I’m almost 1 month after funeral and can’t get out. We where fighting for whole 4 years. Like your wife she had a lot of surgeries, chemo, and radiotherapy.

      • Hi Jacbog, and so sorry for your loss.
        If like me, you can take some time off from work, do so. Give yourself some time to just grieve and be alone in your thoughts (for me, at least). If you prefer the company of parents or friends, do so as well.
        There is really no magic trick or guide i can give you unfortunately, as everyone has different methods of coping. I didn’t force myself to do anything or confront the issue so to speak, so I just took it in naturally and how best i could. My prayers and thoughts with you, and all other who commented on this site.

  7. My mom passed away last Saturday at the age of 68. She had been sick, but her death this soon was very unexpected. I am a hospice nurse, and she had been admitted to hospice services just 3 days prior to her passing. Friday morning she fell at her apartment. I went to be with her and ended up staying all day and all night with her because she also had a medication change the day prior and I wanted to make sure she didn’t have any serious side effects, especially since her gait was so unsteady since her fall. I put her bed at midnight last Friday. We had a wonderful evening together; she was so feisty and we shared lots of laughs and stories. Saturday morning I woke up at 0900 and she was unresponsive, actively dying. She passed away at 130 that afternoon. Since I am a hospice nurse, I cared for her until the end, even performing her post Mortem care and helping the funeral home load her onto the gurney and into the van. I am supposed to go back to work Monday but I am unsure at this point if I will be able to, because of the nature of my work. I think any other job would be a welcome distraction from my grief. But not this job. Also be because I was so close with my mom, she was so young, and her death was unexpected at this time. I feel guilty for asking for more time off but I feel anxious about returning. I can’t eat. I’m nauseous. I can sleep. I’m angry. I’m sad. I deal with death almost every day but this is so different and I have never felt such emotional and physical pain. I did message my boss and she was extremely understanding and receptive to my needs and feelings. So I feel better about that, but I still dread when I actually do have to return and worry that I won’t be able to provide as good emotional/supportive care to my patients and their families because I also will still be so vulnerable.

  8. I’m very glad I found this thread. I am in such a scary place right now that I really don’t know what to do honestly. 8 days ago my younger brother passed away. He was 30, and I’m 34. He struggled with addiction for many years, as did I. Sadly, he was unable to stop using and my mother found him last week. I have been able to maintain my sobriety and really that is as much as i feel like I can handel right now. We were beat best friends and so close, I tried so hard to help him. He tried too, he just couldn’t do it.
    I am scheduled to start a new job in 3 days and I have no idea how I’m going to be able to do this. The pain has been crushing and I feel lucky if I can even find something on TV to concentrate on for more than 20 minutes. The few times I’ve gone into public, it’s been so hard.
    Maybe just writing this will help in some way, but I will gladly take any advise.
    I have people that I can talk to but this deadline fast approaching is adding so much anxiety to the hardest thing I can even imagine I could personally go through..
    Thank you for reading
    Bryan

    • Bryan, I’m just reading your post and you already had to make a decision about your new job I realize. But no one knows your heart and the grief you feel except you. Nothing anyone will say or do will make you feel better. If you are struggling so badly still, I think you need to be honest with your new employer and let them know what happened and how you are feeling and that you are struggling. No one deals with grief the same. I just lost my mom last Saturday and the grief is suffocating me. I feel so overwhelmed. I did make a post about it if you would like to read. I looked
      Online for ways to verbalize my grief with ppl who understand what I’m going thru. Just like I, somewhat, understand your pain. Be honest with your new boss. If they are not understanding and give you a hard time, I would say it’s not the job for you! Good luck, and thinking of you- Misty

  9. This’s my first week back at the office after a 2-week bereavement leave (well, technically only 4 days had passed since the funeral). My mom passed away on Oct. 30.

    I woke up Monday morning, tired. I eventually ended up bailing out and not even bothering to call in to let the powers that be know (yes, totally irresponsible). My boss ended up calling to see when exactly I was coming back in.

    I’m not in the mood really to do any work, though I did try to close on a few things that need to get done. I’m having some thoughts about just outright quitting right now (I’ve been wanting to for years). It’s just that everything feels so meaningless, and nobody seems to want me there anyhow save for a few that I get along with. The others deserve a big middle finger.

  10. My Mum died suddenly at the end of July. Three weeks later I was due to move to Spain and start a new job. Not knowing what else to do I followed my plans but am now finding it difficult to cope at work. My work have tried to be supportive but I have had to start a whole new life out here and it is overwhelming. I find work particularly difficult some days as I am a teacher and need to spend my days talking enthusiastically. I find that any additional stress on top of my normal workload very difficult to cope with. Because this is a new job I feel like I can’t ask for time off or for a reduced workload like I would have been able to at home.

  11. I lost my best friend of thirty years three weeks ago, last week I lost my father. I’ve lost two of my best friends in the whole world.
    I took two days off last week for bereavement and tried to go back to work on the weekend, (I work in retail, two part time jobs). But I ended up having panic attacks due to being unable to concentrate and having to deal with being short staffed and new at one of my jobs. They’ve been very supportive, but I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself to get back to it. I need to get back to it for financial reasons and find it hard reaching out to my new job, which I am in my third week of, to explain my emotional difficulties. My attacks have undermined my confidence in myself and my ability to perform my tasks satisfactorily. I have no support system at the moment as my family is a mess, inconsolable grief and in fighting amongst my mother and my sisters and their siblings. I made an appointment to see my doctor, but he can’t see me till next week. I’m trying to go back to work for the rest of the week, but I’m gonna try to come clean with my employers to let them know what I’m dealing with. I’m hoping for the best in people in a very difficult situation. Although no one has outright said it, I sense a slight, what’s the word..”impatience” as though I had last week to grieve and I should be better by the second week. The problem is, everything’s happened in stages, we only just got my father’s ashes back today, over a week after his passing and there is so much to do for my mother, like getting a lawyer for the will, talking to social security about benefits ect. ect. ect. and it takes a toll on her, she needs me and I need to recover from each emotional event. Am I being too self indulgent? Should I be back to normal by now? I’m just not feeling up to the demands that work places on me at the moment as they don’t seems as important as being there for my family is in their time of need. I’m trying to ease back, but I’m getting a feeling that I’m pushing my luck and it’s only been a week and a day, everything’s still very raw. I just don’t know.

  12. A year….A whole year has passed and I can not get myself out of this funk. It started September 13th with me having to put my beloved cat to sleep–which may not seem like a big deal to people but he was my therapy cat that I had since he was 4 weeks old (he died 15.5 years old). After holding him in my arms, a little over two weeks later, October 5th, I would do the same for my dad. He was put on a ventilator and I flew across the country to take him off the machines. I had to handle everything by myself (including the house he was hoarding in) in the matter of a week. Including the discovery of siblings/family I never knew about. I literally only took one week off. However, I feel my brain has been off since that week.
    I get things done and it goes pretty unnoticed somehow but if there is something that doesnt absolutely need to get done, I sit staring at my computer all day waiting for the clock to strike 5.
    I use to work 7 days a week, 60 hours, always on top of things. However, the amount of anger and sadness I have in me has taken up all of me. There are boxes of things I still have not gone through, they sit in my closet. I am angry at myself and deal with so much guilt.
    I am sure I should not be grieving this long, but I find myself still. Maybe its the season or maybe it is the dates coming up…but I literally just want to crawl in a ball and be left alone. But I can’t, I have to work. Two meetings tomorrow, and I know I am just not in the mood to be around this place at all. I rather be fishing with his pole and living life outside of this computer space.
    Worse thing is, I don’t even know how to approach asking for leave to deal with this. I mean I took vacations afterwards, and spread his ashes…I should be at peace right? I am sure if I was my boss I would question why I need more time to talk to a therapist. However, I then tell myself–L out of those who lose their parents how many have to take them off life support, deal with financial issues, deal with family secrets, deal with the loss of a beloved animal, and deal with their parents belongings?
    I am frustrated with myself…I want to move forward but I feel stuck.
    I guess my reason for my post: if you don’t feel ready, don’t go back. Cause everyone at work will think you are ready not understanding you are just putting a face on.
    I tried to explain some reasons why I need to work from home and was told that “to be part of the team I need to be here”….So my body is here, but my mind is not. And I feel hopeless.

    • Lu, I am so sorry for what you are going through. It sounds like there was a LOT to process when you lost your dad, beyond just his death. It is a common myth that grief resolves after year, so please do not feel like you’re not grieving right or well. That said, if your loss is still making it hard to function day to day it may be helpful to get some professional support. Have you talked to a therapist or attended a support group? There are a number of other articles on our site that may be of some support as well. This might be a good place to start: http://www.whatsyourgrief.com/whats-your-grief-101/

  13. Hello all…
    I just lost my Father on Wednesday 8/31/16. For the last few weeks we knew he was on his way. He was in a nursing home for the last 8 1/2 yrs due to stroke. He was paralyzed on his left side. In the last few weeks he stopped eating, drinking and talking. It was heartbreaking and there were times I just wanted him to be at peace. I am usually the type of person who sleeps a lot. Since he passed I feel like an insomniac. It is all surreal. For a few minutes I’m fine & then I’ll see a picture or old letter or a sweet memory will pop up and I’ll just cry. The day my Dad passed, my mom ended up falling at home, face first. We had to call an ambulance so I spent the evening in the hospital with her…and she missed the wake and the funeral. I don’t think it has hit her, what has happened and I’m worried and terrified of how she will feel once/if it sinks in. My parents were married for 51 yrs & the most loving people I will ever know. I told my Dad before he passed that we will take care of mom. He was always worrying and concerned about everyone around him. My Dad was the most genuine man I’ve ever known. He was 82 years young. I truly hope he is at peace and watching over me.
    Tomorrow I have to go back to work. I have no PTO left because I was sick earlier this year and needed my gallbladder out so I called in sick an awful lot. They have been understanding throughout everything but I’m afraid I’ll be a basket case at work and will need to leave. I don’t know how I can take more time, as it would be unpaid and I don’t know how long my job would go along with this. I seriously hate the thought of going on with life, everyday things without Dad here. The 3 days after he passed went at 100 mph. I was afraid of how I would feel once it was over and you just have to “go on.” My heart is broken.

  14. So glad I found this site. My grandpa passed away 3 days ago, suddenly from a heart attack. I live overseas so I couldn’t even make it back for the funeral, there was not enough time. We were very close as he was a huge part of my life growing up, and he was healthy, so I didn’t see it coming. I didn’t get to say goodbye to him and this has made it all so much harder. I’ve cried several times since it happened, and am having such a hard time dealing with the fact that I’ll never see him or hear his voice again. I came back to work today but I have not been productive at all. I cannot focus no matter how hard I try and my chest feels so heavy. I’m also likely going to be transitioning to a new role in the company soon and I really hope that by the time it happens, I’m able to be fully functional again. Hugs to you all, we are all together in our pain.

  15. This was a helpful article. Any advice or articles for people who are still struggling with grief years after a loss? I lost my daughter in 2014 & I still have moments at work where I just want to collapse into grief. I had to leave work tonight because of it actually. It was very hard to focus & the pain felt so fresh. Those moments are hit & miss but it seems like they always happen while at work 🙁

  16. I started a new job 2 weeks after my mothers death as I thought it would be a distraction & would help my frame of mind. How wrong was I….. After working there for 3 months with zero sympathy or empathy from my new work colleagues, non of which I knew prior to my Mums death as I’d moved country & home to look after my ill Mum, I have now found myself not fit for work for the past 2 months.
    There is no time limit as 3 months after my Mums death it knocked me for 6.
    I’m still out of work & honestly don’t know if I’ll be ever fit to go back ?

  17. I just lost my mom this week, and feel a lot of things, sadness, numb, sometimes just nothing. And relief. She had been living with a lot of emotional pain for the past 6 years since my Dad died, and a nervous breakdown changed her, though her health held out (for the most part). However, it was hell trying to manage her, finances, and her stubborn will. She refused to go to the doctor often, but I forgive her. The love she shared with my Dad was once in a lifetime. I did resent her for not carrying on, especially since I and my daughter lived with her, figured she would care because of that. But I don’t blame her, especially seeing how I feel. My company let me off the week, but I want back. I now have to face probate and moving, but I’m accepting it. I cry everyday. I also have a front desk job so I feel this need to be always on, but I am deciding to be realistic. If it’s too much, I will let them know. I’m so glad I found this website. Makes me not feel alone.

  18. I found out on Saturday my grandma was dying so in ten minutes I was at the nursing home and she was gone. I had about 8 hours before I went to work. I sent a message to let everyone know what happened. A hour or later when I got home I got a call asking if I could come in early. I said I just lost my grandma and haven’t slept. We just fired one of coworkers so we are very short. I went to work. Then on Sunday was frathers day and lot todo. Monday had cloths to pick out, and things to do. Got a call that someon wanted to switch with for a different shift on Thursday I sad no because after tuseday I work four. Tuseday was the funeral. Busy all day. This morning went to see grandpa, then spent time with uncle who’s out of town. Home hurry off to work for second.

    We’re I work I mostly work third but because we fired someone I’m all over the place for the next month. I went to work today and was asked by my manager if I switch Thursday from third to second I had to say no. I explained why and the look I got was evil.

    Remember tuseday was funeral, worked second today, third Thursday and Friday, then second in Saturday. Then busy all Sunday before I get a day to do nothing before I’m at it again. Tried to asked for second off today Monday and hit we got no one else.

    • I meant asked for second off for today on Monday. Not in Monday.

    • Ah Cassandra, I am so sorry your job has not been more sympathetic to what you are going through. I wish I had something constructive to offer, but my best suggestion is to try to get rest and take advantage of the time you do have off. You are in our thoughts and I hope you find support on our site as you go through the weeks and months to come.

  19. I experienced the inability to focus after my Mom, & Dad dies about a year apart of Alzheimers or other dementias and then my sister was diagnosed with Pancreatic NeuroEndocrine Cancer, and died within 5 months. I thought I had dementia too, I went to a neurologist. I tested out ok. I went for psychiatric testing, which found some impulsivity (ie adult AD) and inattentiveness and major depressive disorder, but not dementia! I don’t think psych testing can determine grief. And I didn’t think of it because I was an RN and used to dealing with death of patients. I went to my FMD and got on additional antidepressants to help with focus. It helped but only a little. I was still making omission errors and I took a leave of absence for 6 months. AT the end of that I had a trial period with my performance but it was still unsafe for the accuracy required in health care. I was fired from my job. But I was allowed to collect unemployment while I sought another line of work, the HR gave me that. I did find other work, that I love and most places are pretty supportive in general, its kindof a work culture. Its retail, but its a specific retail. It did take a while to get used to, and in retail is running a register, and being accurate. I was far from accurate at first, but it came with time and I am grateful others were patient with me. I am mush better now, I am happy and I am looking at grief articles and work that I may have yet to do. Thankyou for this site.

  20. I lost my boyfriend in a car crash about a month ago. He was only 25. Of course since he isnt a relative, i cant take bereavement leave. But i feel the loss pretty strongly. I went back to work with no time off and personally i think it was good for me in a way… i felt very lost when i first heard the news and work gave me a direction and something to do with my time. But anyway, it hasnt really been easy still… somedays i find myself just staring at the screen for about an hour and my mind is blank. And concentrating has become more difficult… and i sometimes beat myself over it but i realise now that it’s better to be kind to myself and accept that this is grief and how it’s sometimes going to be… the comments on here are really helpful, especially the ones by Eleanor and Litsa about appreciating all the sadness and anger and bitterness as a beautiful part of life. Ive been struggling with trying to be mindful and i kept thinking it meant non-attachment as MeditativeWriter was talking about. But reading the replies has made me realise that i shouldnt fight these negative feelings but embrace them instead. They are a testament of the love we shared and naturally im going to be sad that he’s gone… it’s all such a struggle,trying to find the balance between expressing these emotions and spiralling down into self pity… perhaps i should cut myself some slack and just let it be for a while?

  21. I was lucky and could take a full 3 months off… maybe it’s to long. But my job requires alot of mental focus and while grieving I just can’t focus.

  22. Its not easy going back to work. my son died on march 26th 2016, and i have had a weeks annual leave as well as 3 days compassionate leave (ironic its called compassionate when they can’t even give you a week to grieve and come to some understanding/acceptance of your recent loss) anyways… I’ve returned to the office and feel so disjointed. find my self day dreaming, losing focus, highly irritable, lack of interest as well as compounded and inundated with “so sorry about your son” or even worse “Oh how is your son?” he was born the previous month so people think I’m returning from paternity leave, so having to explain is really a nuisance. I will come across very cold and maybe even bitter (not that I care) to readers as that is how i generally feel. I know that 6 months away from here or 2 days wont change the way I feel.

    The sad thing is that human nature suggests we mourn for our loss and you’d think in this day and age we respect the ones we’ve lost and work just expects you to cry and be like “oh well ive cried its ok now”, that attitude is not correct by any means. Ive returned to work and still have to consider burying my son at a later date. I can not AFFORD to take time off work as bills need to be paid. It’s just so sad. I have had the urge to slap my boss in the face, tell him and a good few others what I think about them then resign whilst damaging as much expensive equipment as possible as I go before the police are inevitably called and I’m reprimanded. OK, a bit over the top but my level of frustration is so high.

    Just be prepared, its really difficult!

    P.s go to your G.P and and your HR Department and declare “DEPRESSION and STRESS” they can’t disprove it, they may give you medication well don’t take it, take the necessary time to grieve properly! When YOU are ready to get back, do so. Bloody society this is? 3 days for the loss of a family member, makes me sick to my stomach!

    I’m booking my appointment to see my GP this week and I WILL take as LONG AS I WANT! Work can NOT do ANYTHING about it!!!!

    • Michelle MccreightApril 13, 2016 at 4:40 amReply

      Hi thanks for reply I have bee n back at work a few weeks and doing OK still having down days hope things work out for you only time can healx

      • Hi Anthony, my heart goes out to you over the loss of your son. My 25 year old son died earlier in March too (a car crash). I came to this site because I am a teacher and dreading going back to work…mostly because I am an art teacher and you kind of expected to be this inspiring energetic enthusiastic person….and I find it hard to get out of bed in the mornings at the moment. I feel for you, my hubby had to return to work, and it’s been very stressful, although, his work was way way more compassionate than yours by the sounds of it….The way I look at it now is, after such a huge shattering of your life, all these pressures act as needles going into an open wound. Thinking of you and your wife in what can only be described as a nightmare. I hope you find comfort in the people around you who love you.

      • in canada you can go to your doctor and get a note stating that you need ____ so many weeks or months off due to health reasons and then you can apply for a medical leave through employment insurance for up to 15 weeks max – it pays the same as E.I. which is about 65 or 70% of your take home work wage or salery or paycheque.several people at my work have done this.

  23. Hi my dad passed away on the 9th January 2016 I haven’t been back to work yet I’m due to go back Monday but don’t feel ready I’m due to have councilling.And have been advised by the berveament lady to only go back if I myself feel ready.I miss my dad so much cared for him for a year everyday.then in the end after a 11hr operation to remove a tumor that we were told WS completely removed and given the all clear the hospital let him down with aftercare

    • Hey Michelle,

      I’m so sorry about your father’s death and about the grief and pain you are now dealing with. I think it’s great if you can go back to work when you truly feel ready. Although this may not be you, I think it’s important to mention that sometimes it never feels like a right time to return to work after a death. In these instances (and when the job needs to be kept) we do find ourselves in a position where we have to push ourselves a little.
      Stepping back into life often feels uncomfortable at first and sometimes it is only by doing that we learn how to best handle something.

      If you can continue to wait before returning to work, then absolutely pace yourself. But if you find that you end up going back a little before your ready, then I would encourage you to work with your counselor (or on your own) on strategies for handling some of the more difficult/anxiety producing aspects of going back and being there.

      Eleanor

  24. I love the tip about getting all the questions out of the way beforehand: “Consider going into work or have lunch/dinner with co-workers before you officially return to work. That allows you to get all those “I’m sorry, how are you?” convos out of the way before you are there to actually work.” – When my sister died, I was absolutely destroyed, and the smallest thing would trigger inconsolable crying. Texting the people I worked closely with about her death, so they didn’t press for details when I saw them in person, was a great way for me to avoid that conversation as much as possible. Of course, there were a few people who noticed my absence, and mentioned it when I returned, who I was not “close” enough to know their numbers and text them about her death. Thankfully, most questions were answered by coworkers I was close to, when people asked why I wasn’t coming in to work. It was a really rough time. Be honest with your employer and HR about your emotional stability. If you’re just going to be sobbing at your desk all day, bumming out the people who sit around you, not getting any work done… they probably would rather you stay home anyway. Why pay you to cry at your desk and get no work done, when you could be home NOT getting paid, also getting no work done? It makes more sense for both parties.

  25. I’m terrified of going back to work and facing everyone. It’s been 7 weeks since my dad died suddenly. I tried to go back to work a couple of weeks ago (I’m a nurse in a busy dept), but I cried everytime I seen anyone I knew. I lasted an hour that day. So took another 2 weeks off. Need to go back soon but worried I’ll be the same x

  26. Something like this did happen to a few friends and I. When we lost our friend all three of us were least expecting to hear something about his will. Mainly to see if he wrote something about us. Luckily for us, he did mention us and also mentioned about hiring a family lawyer to write his will before his death. http://www.dmillstonelaw.com

    • Wriite a poem or draw a PIC in m I was reading on no a rguments taking tivme up SORRY about both your sons….I’m on this page because I MITE have to deal with a very close persons death…I’m already depressed because it in volves CIRROSSIS thanks for the input and Alysia maybe a piece of art in memory and FELLOW a poem…. If this helps Great! Beverage p.s. middle name of a non drinker..except agua

  27. Hello Litsa and thank you for the detailed answer.. fortunately I wasn’t close to you so i’ve escaped the punch on the face! I didn’t mean neither to offend anybody nor to be rude. I would like to answer some of the topics you’ve raised!

    If you are not attached to somebody how would you be hurt by his/her loss? You don’t need him/her, there is no image of him/her being necessary to you, being necessary for you to be happy, so there is no image to be destroyed.. the mechanism of hurt necessary involves an image that is destroyed.. let’s say someone says “you are such a cruel woman” and if you’ve created an image of being “sensitive”..now this image is broken and you feel sorrow, there is so much energy invested on this image and now this is broken and sorrow is invited. So inevitably the absence of images (which is actually another thought – thoughts constructs images) makes it impossible to get hurt.

    I’ve not specific knowledge on buddhist philosophies, Plato, Socrates, Heidegger etc. but I would say non attachment is necessary for a true relationship, or either it’s an imaginary one. Also grief is not an inevitable side effect of relationship.. thought I should say we are mostly experiencing such kind of relationships (which involve grief). Having said that I would say grief has nothing to do with deep relationships, grief takes place because our relationships are quite emotional (but these emotions are born of thought, it’s a reaction to thought, they have nothing to do with truth, they are not authentic emotions, like the joy of connecting with “what is”) and rather superficial, based on psychological needs (like a market place where I buy and sell safety, pleasure etc) and not on actual love.

    I don’t imply an ultimate goal at all (let’s say to avoid grief)! On the contrary! To avoid grief is another expectation, another hope, another goal, and it would be silly to do that. I mean it’s silly to try to avoid expectations (I mentioned earlier that expectations, hopes etc are responsible of grief) by creating a new expectation (to avoid grief). Nothing of thought can actually help.. so I don’t struggle, I don’t move at all, I stay still, remain with my grief, silently observe it, non judgementally (this answers another topic you raised in your answer), choicelessly, passively.. and then strange things happen! So I don’t imply one should feel no grief! On the contrary, I say observe it, don’t analyze it, don’t hide it, don’t try to find explanations, don’t feel bad about it.. just to see what is.. there is ONLY grief – actually I AM GRIEF – and once I don’t escape by means of conceptual creations (I will meet my loved one in heaven etc), intellectual tricks etc, a new passion is revealed. I don’t speak only of grief due to loss of loved ones, I speak generally about sorrow.

    Sorry for my poor english, and again, it wasn’t my intention to make anybody angry, or sad or anything like that. I am sorry if this happened.
    If allowed I would like to add a link to what I feel this passive observation is about – if you give me permission for that-.

    • MeditativeWriter,

      Thank you for your response. If anyone has been offended, I’m sure they will appreciate your apology. However I can almost guarantee your clarifications will resonate with very few. I’m not sure if you’ve ever experienced a loss, and if you have and this is what resonates with you then great; but personally it seems like your perspective screams of having no grasp on what it means to experience the death of someone you love, it is minimizing, preachy, and completely unrealistic. I have to say, lack of attachment to the point where you don’t feel sorrow at losing someone you love sounds horrible. Like Litsa says, I appreciate a healthy range of emotions around life, love and death – there is immense beauty in all of these things and there is immense bravery in allowing yourself to feel a range of emotions both good and bad.

      I think the bottom line here is this. Your initial comment was clearly made in an effort to leave a link to your site and to drive traffic, but I think it would be wise of you to understand that grief websites (and I guess technically I can only speak for mine) are maybe not the right place for you. There isn’t nearly as much synergy between grief and your views as you believe there is.

      Eleanor

      • Hello Eleanor. If getting link to my site was the reason for these comments i wouldn’t spend so much time to give such detailed description of my point of view (if you wish you can remove the link to my article, obviously). The matter of sorrow is very interesting for me, this is why i wrote to this blog! Saying something sounds unrealistic, saying that non-attachment is horrible puts an obstacle in inquiring.. why you say complete non-attachment sounds horrible? why is it impossible to not attach? Why is it necessary to attach to others? Probably you’ve never thought of these questions – as for me, i’ve never thought of all these things for 32 years (only during the last 2 years i am questioning everything).. i was in a state similar to what you or Litsa describe. I just want to make a statement which is “observe what is”.. that’s all. All i’ve written in the previous lines is outcome of that.. i am not judging people for feeling grief, i am not implying a sense of being higher, sorrow and grief is in my life, but i am just observing.. how can be possibly anything wrong on being mindful, on being attentive, on observing?

        • We are happy to leave your link. We do not wish to exclude people’s points of view, but when a point of view seems to minimize the experience of many of our readers we will respond and ask for further clarification.

          Regarding non-attachment, it sounds unrealistic and horrible to me – for others maybe it is ideal and that’s fine. There is no obstacle in inquiring, I just don’t see a need to. You have yet to say why living in this way is good or why someone would want to seek it. To not feel attachment, fear death, or feel sorrow? Frankly, I’m perfectly comfortable and okay with these things.

          Please believe me, we understand the concepts of mindfulness and acceptance, but these concepts are what allow you to look at things like sorrow, sadness, grief, and fear and accept that they can exist and not harm you. Mindfulness and acceptance strive towards co-existence, not extinction. I appreciate your input and your perspective, thank you for sharing them and we wish you luck with your website.

          • MeditativeWriterJuly 23, 2015 at 12:31 pm

            Thanks again for answering and spending moments for participating at this conversation. What i would like to add is that the ideal of non attachment is quite different of actual non attachment, the concept of mindfulness is not mindfulness. The word is not the thing.. i am not talking of a concept here, a concept i should follow to achieve an ideal.. so a concept of mindfulness puts you in a position to try to be mindful, which is completely different to just being mindful.

            I don’t imply that a specific way of living (based on ideals of mindfulness or non attachment) is what we should seek (to answer your question of your last message’s second paragraph).. on the contrary i say, get rid of all ideals/concepts etc and just observe what is. This is a simple statement, if you wish you may inquire on it and see if it’s true or not, if it makes sense or not. If now your question is “why someone would want to seek -what is-” i don’t say that, you don’t need to seek anything.

            Thanks for giving me the opportunity to express my perception.
            George

            I don’t know if this convey anything

  28. I would doubt that a better and smoother coming back to work after a death is a matter of tips and hints.. i would say to live your life fully leaves no space for fear of death and sorrow for losses.. someone should delve into what death is, not to imagine what death is, not to create concepts and ideas (of an afterlife etc).. just remain with the fact of death and realize that once you live your life fully, living every moment, there is no space for death.. if allowed i would like to link to my latest diary related to death, probably it may give some interesting ideas: http://www.meditativediaries.com/to-live-is-to-die/

    • Meditative Writer, I have to say, your comment is really concerning to me for two important reasons. First, I think you fundamentally misunderstand the relationship between life, death, and grief. Fear of death (or lack there of) and grief are fundamentally distinct. Just as one’s belief in an afterlife or a belief that one will see their loved ones again does not diminish the deep and bottomless pain of losing someone we love, living a mindful life of non-attachment with “no fears, no thoughts, no expectations, no hopes” also does not (and should not!) diminish the pain we feel when we lose someone we love. Your post pulls from many Buddhist concepts but you fail to acknowledge in your comment that Buddhists specifically acknowledge that non-attachment does not mean lack of relationships and lack of grief after a loss. You seem to imply that grief, sorrow and pain are to be avoided and I am not sure why. Grief is our natural response to loss. It exists because of deep, meaningful and important relationships we hold with people and the void we experience when they are gone. It allows us to know ourselves better, understand our relationship with the person who died in a new and deeper way, and it can be transformational in some situations. I see no reason, in my experience or what you have said in your post, that it is something we should busy our way out of. Feeling grief, experiencing the depths of those emotions, is (in my opinion) part of the definition of living life fully. As we grieve, the emotions change shape as days, months, and years pass. We continue our relationship with our loved one through the things they taught us, our memories of them, the way they inspire us. Yes, sometimes that is painful, but it is also beautiful and authentic.

      Concern two: your comment really really minimizes the grief of others. There are many people who have suffered deep and unimaginable traumas and losses that make it difficult to even get out of bed in the morning. There were moments in my own grief where, had you been in front of me and made the comment you make above, I would have strongly considered punching you in the face :). Over the many years I have worked supporting grieving individuals after devastating losses, their main concerns often begin with how to get through the day. Many feel totally stigmatized by friends, family and society because of our collective fear of difficult feelings, like grief. We want people to “get over it”, “find closure”, “move on”, or “live your life fully leav[ing] no space for sorry for losses”. Why do we want that? In my opinion because we are uncomfortable with letting people express and experience pain because it scares the shit out of us. People stop opening up to others because they are so tired of hearing comments like that, that minimize what they are going through. As human beings part of a full life, one of the most important parts, is the incredible relationships, connections, and community we build. We are allowed to grieve when we lose that and, ideally, we should be able to do that without judgement from others. Instead we would hope for acknowledgement, understanding and support from others. We understand each other more deeply when we are open to each other’s pain and learn to support one another, not shut each other down.

      Last thing, I am really curious about why you think fear of death is a problem. Obviously I think you convoluted two issues, as fear of death and grief are not fundamentally connected. But I am interested in the fear of death discussion for other reasons. As human beings, especially in our culture, we avoid anything that may be hard or uncomfortable and we have this tendency to assume that discomfort is a problem or should be avoided. But why? I have a fear of death and I feel pretty good about that. We all know the arguments of Epicurus and Socrates, but in my mind that is just avoidance for the sake of avoidance. I have a fear of death and I don’t find that problematic in any way, I don’t want to eliminate the space for that. I am no Heideggarian, but I certainly embrace the value as being-towards-death. Embracing the fear of death isn’t inherently bad just because it can be uncomfortable, rather it pushes us to have authentic experiences, to embrace every moment, feeling, relationship, etc knowing that death is a constant inevitability. I feel pretty darn good about my fear of death -I accept it as part of me, part of life, and part of what helps me live in a deeply inspired way. If you have written any posts on this, or have any thoughts, I would love to know!

      Also, you may be interested in this post I wrote here on how I think the concept of impermanence can be useful in grief: http://www.whatsyourgrief.com/grief-and-buddhism-comfort-in-impermanence/ and this one on how getting a BA and then an MA in philosophy (before I went on to get an MSW and do this whole mental health/grief thing) is what replaced a grief support group for me after I lost my dad when I was 18: http://www.whatsyourgrief.com/college-grief-finding-a-support-group-of-dead-white-men/

  29. Thankyou for all the helpful advice!

  30. Thank you for addressing this often-awkward adjustment back to the workplace. As the Clinical Director of Adult Programs at OUR HOUSE Grief Support Center in Los Angeles, we often get calls from grievers and from HR departments with questions about the very topics you have raised. Sometimes we forget how much impact the death of a colleague or their family member can have on the workplace. Thank you for recommending the preparation for everyone BEFORE the griever returns to work.

  31. After my brother’s recent passing, I thought that going back to work would make me feel normal again. I’ve lost both my parents within the last 8 years and I guess I thought I knew what to expect in my grief. No loss is the same and no grief is the same. I have really struggled with my brother’s loss. While going back to work has helped in easing back into life, it was easier because I did it gradually. Thank goodness I work with amazing people who talked me into staying home longer than I originally thought I would. I am so glad I had the opportunity to spend time with my family and to spend time by myself. It has also started a conversation with my company on revising a bereavement policy. I was fortunate to have had PTO available to use but not everyone has that luxury saved up.

  32. When my best friend died, we were both children, school was our job… still that didn’t make starting 4th grade less than a week later any easier. I still felt like the world I knew had shattered and I was still picking up the pieces with no clue which ones went where. There was nothing about that time that felt normal, it was a long and very dark time and it was just getting started. All my other friends and classmates were focused on homework and the field trip to the county fair… all I wanted was my friend back…

  33. I am a hospice nurse and our organization give a week (5 days) of bereavement leave. I took an extra week off when my mother died and now, 6 months later, I am still having trouble working. I get lots of support from my colleagues but if I didn’t love my work and my coworkers so much, I would probably look for a new job. It’s REALLY hard.

    • Oh Stephanie, I am so sorry. Being a hospice nurse is such important, but difficult work. Thanks for all you do! Though I can’t imagine that circumstance exactly, I know from working in a hospital with families at end of life that is it so hard because it brings up our own “stuff”. We are often more vulnerable than we have ever been, making it so much harder to be there for others. “Compassion Fatigue” or “Vicarious Trauma” are very real and when we have our own losses that can make it even harder to support others. That is great that you are getting lots of support at work. Keeping communication up when things are especially hard is important. Have you considered talking to your EAP, a counselor, or joining a group? They can also be great sources of support.

  34. Thank you so much for writing about this! I am so grateful that you guys responded to my emails as well. Your response and this article has made me feel much better. I am still feel like a, “9 year old boy with ADD” but it has gotten batter. Haha, I think now maybe I am like a 14 year old boy with ADD, but forgets to take meds some days. The end of this week has been very productive and I am not as worried or guilty about my work responsibilities. I also found out this morning that in addition to my younger sister’s passing, my grandmother passed away. She had been in a hospice situation for a few months (and really has not been herself for a few years) so it is actually more of a blessing. I am mostly relieved for my dad who had been by my grandma’s side for a visit each day and now I don’t have to worry about him as much. Thank you again! I am so grateful for your website and podcast!!!

  35. OMG – is that video of the gal with booze under her desk meant as a JOKE!?!??! Shame on you!! That’s an insult to everyone who’s lost a loved one..shame on you.

    • Hi Luv – that photo is of course meant as a joke, as is the other image in this post. As I say above it, we hope if you need to cry at work it is without wine! We run this site because we ARE people who have lost loved ones (who just happen to be mental health professionals), and humor has been an important part of what has helped us cope. If you have spent time on our blog, you probably know humor is an ongoing part of our writing. We know our style isn’t for everyone, but we certainly never want to offend. My apologies if this didn’t sit well with you. This image looked a lot like what I wanted to do when I went back to work after losing someone very close to me, though it certainly isn’t what I would recommend 🙂

      For you, or anyone else, who may be struggling with alcohol or wanting to learn more about how alcohol can become a problem as we grieve, we have several articles here addressing that. Here are two to start with:

      http://www.whatsyourgrief.com/grief-mindfulness-and-alcohol/
      http://www.whatsyourgrief.com/understanding-grief-alcohol-brain/

      Take care,
      Litsa

  36. My mother passed away in June after suffering from leukemia, (AML). She was diagnosed in feb and died in June. I took 7 days off over two weeks. My employer only paid for 2 days compassionate leave. And I work in a NHS medical centre.
    These GPs in these centres are so callous and greedy. Only one of the Gps asked how I was, one of them even had a go at me on my first day back for an error I had made. No compassion from them what so ever. Truly shocking.

    • I am so sorry to hear that! Shame on them. Losing your mother has such impacts on your life. The system makes no sense at all.

  37. Thanks again for realistic and heartfelt suggestions and guidance. When my 31 year old brother passed suddenly on 12/17/13 – my amazing job, said please don’t return until after the holidays (with full pay).This was truly wonderful – mainly because our on the record time is only 3 days!!!! I returned right before NYE. The other things I did (thanks to WYG) is that on the job, I wrote intense emotions on a post it and put them in a sash…. Every time, approx one year later – I read don’t get on the grief train post and I read a few of the things I wrote down and tossed the rest. Nowadays it’s not easier it’s just different. Leon’s Sister, Marcheta

  38. This is a HUGE issue. When my husband passed from cancer after being ill for 17 months and on hospice one of my bosses insisted I come back after 2 days! (I have up to 5 days for immediate family.) She thought “After 17 months I’d WANT to “get back to work.”……..HELLLLLLOOOOO!!!!! My reply to her was that my counselor felt it was best for me to take the entire 5 days I was allowed. HONESTLY????!!!!

  39. Thank goodness I live in England, a country with a much more compassionate view about having a life and needing time off work. I had three weeks off, after my husband died suddenly, no questions asked. I was told to take whatever time I needed. I went back to work on a phased return and did that for a few months, but was still so exhausted that I talked with my manager and HR and took two more months off, paid, returning to work at the first of the year, again on a phased return. Recently, I have gone to half time, all with the support of my manager, who understood, somehow, the exhaustion that comes with grief and my need to pursue some kind of life beyond work. I am 58, so not in ‘career building’ mode. I would retire completely if I could afford it. But the sick leave policy (and bereavement leave) is so much more realistic and supportive here in England, and I am so glad. I would have had to have quit my job, entirely, if it was like America. (I am an ex-pat).

  40. thank goodness i wasnt working when my fiance died. i drove a taxi on weekends so did he at the same company. it was VERY hard to go back there. not hearing his voice over the radio was VERY hard to take. at first i could only do an hour here and there, so many times i had to sign out early and go home and cry myself to sleep. luckily my coworkers understood cause they were grieving right along with me. took me a long time to be able to do a full shift. i hope everyone takes their time and gives them selves a break when they need it. i know its not easy to be at work when your mind is elsewhere. so sorry for everyones loss.

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