Contributed by Julie Morris
Whether you have three bereavement days or an extended bereavement leave, you never quite feel prepared to return to work after the loss of a loved one. On the one hand, getting back into a routine is good because it provides you with much-needed distractions and other things to focus on throughout the day; on the other hand, it can feel as though getting out of bed and focusing at work are impossible tasks. You might wonder how you can possibly get anything done when your mind is consumed with thoughts of your loved one and tears are ready to flow at any moment. When the time comes to get back to work, there are a few steps you can take to manage your grief and make the transition a little easier on yourself.
1. Be Kind to Yourself
When Dr. Gail Gross lost her daughter, she was not sure how to carry on with her doctorate work and carry on with her life. For a while, simply getting dressed in the morning was a huge accomplishment, and obtaining her degree felt like an unattainable feat. She shares the lessons she learned about grief in her book, The Only Way out Is Through, and in a HuffPost article that suggests you allow yourself to grieve so that you can get relief and move forward.
However, she also recommends that you be gentle and treat yourself like a child, allowing yourself to take baby steps until you find the balance you need. If necessary, find a quiet place to step away to each day to grieve in private and feel the emotion so that it doesn’t all come rushing out during a meeting or at lunch. Giving yourself this time each day will aid in your healing. In fact, you may find that work is the only location that offers you the peace and comfort of a quiet space, as home obligations and family may make it difficult.
Another way to be kind to yourself when managing grief when going back to work is to take on only what you can handle when you return. You may use some vacation time to work half-days or only a few days a week as you begin to transition back to a routine. Or, you may request to work from home a couple of days a week and spend the rest of the work week in the office. Data shows that 85 percent of companies offer bereavement leave as a benefit, and the typical amount of time is three to five days. Oregon is the only state requiring employers to provide bereavement leave, and companies in the rest of the country set their own bereavement time policies. That means that your company or manager may be flexible with your leave if you reach out and explain what you need. Let your boss or manager know what is going on, and more than likely they will be more than happy to help you ease back in, and possibly offer tips as well.
2. Use the Appropriate Resources When You Need Help
The first few days back to work will bring condolences and well wishes from your colleagues. Some will go out of their way to make you feel comfortable and help you out whenever possible, while others will simply acknowledge it and move on with their work day. It helps to talk about what you are experiencing, but not everyone will want to listen to your story, and you may not want to share with everyone. You may find that all the condolences put the attention on you, making you feel uncomfortable or upset. While you likely have at least one close work friend, you cannot expect all your co-workers to lend a sympathetic ear when you feel overwhelmed at work.
If you feel the need to talk to someone at work or find yourself in need of emotional help, talk to your human resources department. HR will be able to provide you with valuable resources, such as grief counseling services. In addition, you can rest assured that anything you talk about, including personal matters, will be kept strictly confidential by law. This is not to say that you can’t trust your work BFF, but sometimes information slips and it might not be information you want the entire office to know. If you feel that someone in your office needs to know what is going on, start by talking with your boss or manager. You just might be surprised at how flexible and understanding they are. At the very least, it will explain why you might seem a little distracted or have to step away from your desk more than usual. Build a support system at work and don’t be afraid to lean on them.
One resource that you can rely on at home or work is Neptune Society’s 12 Weeks of Peace. A free online bereavement program, 12 Weeks of Peace delivers one email each week containing seven days of content, including support group resources and websites, helpful tips and information, poems and stories, and other ideas for helping you move through your recovery. You can easily access the weekly content at work during a break or lunchtime to get the help you need and find peace in your life even when you are at work.
3. Take Control of Your Transition
If you are dreading hearing condolences from colleagues, enlist the help of your closest work friend to help you convey your wishes to your workplace before you return. For instance, you may request that all cards and messages be given to your friend so you don’t have to accept them and risk a breakdown at work. You also can take control of the transition by visiting your workplace ahead of your first day back and letting your coworkers know whether you want to talk about your loss. The more you control your transition by communicating with your colleagues, the more prepared you will feel for your first day back at work. Grief is a complicated process, and unless you speak up, the people around you will respond in a way they feel is the most appropriate, even if it does more harm than good.
A big piece of taking control of your transition back to work is implementing the proper self-care. Start by setting the proper boundaries at work. Grief can make tackling anything with the word ‘load’ a monumental task, and your workload is no different. While you shouldn’t slack off on your work responsibilities and duties, talk with your manager about decreasing your workload and gradually working your way back up. You want to be able to dedicate yourself 100 percent, and put forth your best work that reflects your hardworking attitude, but grief is draining. Expecting to be back at 100 percent is an unrealistic expectation for yourself, and certainly from your employer. To make up for the grief mind drain, incorporate healthy coping methods into your daily routine such as yoga, meditation, or exercise, which reduces stress, improves focus, and helps to clear your mind.
You can manage your grief when going back to work more successfully if you are kind to yourself, use appropriate resources for help, and take control of your transition. It might be a little slow going at first, but each day under your belt is a sign of progress.
Julie Morris is a life and career coach who strives to help others live the best lives that they can. She believes she can relate to clients who feel run over by life because of her own experiences.