Working and Living With Grief


Just a heads up that this blog deals with experiencing the personal loss of having a loved one pass and finding your way as you reconcile choosing to / needing to work.

The next time you find yourself in a bookstore, if you take the time to look for it, you’ll find a section dedicated to the subject of dealing with grief and personal loss. The same is true if you search for the subject online; lot’s of resource material. In your community, you’ll also likely discover there are support groups made up largely, if not exclusively, by people who have lost a loved one. While all these resources are in place and meant to be of great support, they are typically only accessed by people after a loss.

How this article ties in with my regular subject matter of finding and keeping employment is the connection between having lost someone important in your life and finding a way to return to work and contributing in the way you formerly did.

When someone close to you dies, it is often a shocking event. Whether somewhat expected in the case of a terminal illness, or entirely unexpected in the case of an accident, you’re entitled to feel exactly what you feel and nothing less. So you may feel in a state of denial, unsure that what you’ve learned is in fact true. You might feel anger, guilt, intense sorrow, an inability to function, paralyzed and frozen. We aren’t typically prepared for the moment it happens, and neither have we had the training to deal with this event. It can be devastating.

When this happens, showing up for work as usual is the last thing on our minds. Our employer’s have a right to be notified however, as business continues on. It may be that your employer has experience having had other employee’s experience loss. They’ll be prepared as a result to inform you of the length of the bereavement leave and perhaps they’ll have counselling resources to offer you or assist in some way with the funds to see someone on your own. I hope they express their condolences, tell you take the time you need and also share the news with you colleagues so that when you do return, you benefit from their empathy.

It’s an awkward thing of course for many; not knowing what to say to you when they see you except their sorry for your loss. And you yourself may or may not actually want to hear much from your co-workers when you do return. You might want an acknowledgement from them but then some privacy. On the other hand, talking through things with the people you work closest to 7 or 8 hours a day for years might be very comforting to you. There’s no single way to cope and carry on.

How much time you take before returning to work is an individual thing. If you check with your employer, you may find it’s anything from a few days to a week; possibly two. If you need more time, you might be eligible for a leave of absence. While you might not care at this time too much about your employer’s needs vs. your own, your employer does have a need for you or someone to replace you temporarily until you feel prepared to return.

And here’s the thing about returning to work; it’s normal and only natural to return and perform at a lower rate of performance than you formerly worked at. You’re likely to be distracted and unable to focus 100% on your job all day long because of the intensity and close personal nature of this event. Your relationship with the person who passed and the circumstances surrounding their passing are key factors in determining exactly how intense your feelings range and how you’re affected back on the job.

Give yourself the benefit of time. Forgive yourself (though you really don’t need forgiving) if you don’t perform up to your own standards and high expectations. You’ve been through a personal tragedy and you may have no previous experience to deal with this particular loss. You’re just trying to get through the days, one day at a time. You can have a string of a few days where things aren’t too bad and then when you least expect it, you find yourself consumed with grief, intense regret and anger. This isn’t something you sequential work through in a very orderly way. These stages of grief you’ll hear about can have loops in the journey that take you back to what you thought you’ve already dealt with. There’s no one way we all get through it.

Recognize you may want normality and to return to work asap. You may also be more sensitive, less able to make good decisions, less than at your best and mentally fragile. That’s okay.

And a word to you who work with someone returning to work after a loss. Whether young or old, from this part of the world or from somewhere around the world, we all experience losses in our lives at some point. One benefit of this is that we can empathize when others lose someone. Still, we don’t know exactly how someone else feels, nor do we need to. What is helpful is just to be there in a supportive way when a co-worker returns to work.

Thanks for the read.