Returning to Work After Loss
5 tips to help you prepare to return to work after a bereavement
Returning to work after losing a loved one can be challenging, hard, and a big deal. It might be that you don’t feel ready, but you have to go back because you need an income. You might feel ready to return because the routine and structure of work might help you feel a bit more normal. You might also be feeling lonely.
Here are some tips to help you prepare, so you feel a bit more in control of your situation:
1) Your Employer: Talk to your employer, or whoever you report to, to prepare for your return and help them to understand that you may need additional support and understanding. You may wish to ask for a phased return or part-time hours until you feel able to take on more.
When you have this conversation, you may want to think about having your loss communicated to your colleagues, for example people you work directly with. Also, talk about whether you want colleagues to know or indeed talk to you about it, as you may find it too upsetting. You may find it easier to talk to colleagues, so they can understand what you’re going through.
Find out if the company provides any kind of external bereavement support, such as counselling or a grief programme through your Employee Assistance Programme, or if they will allow you to take time out for attending sessions.
2) Your Grief Responses at Work: Once you’re back at work, you may struggle to concentrate, you might become tired more easily, be listless, or weary. You may only feel sad, numb, or have a need to cry. Please know these are all normal grief responses and there’s nothing wrong with you.
It’s also important to know that there are no time limits on grief. You may feel fine one day and dip the next. You might feel different, that so much in your life has changed but everything has carried on at work like nothing has changed.
3) Find a Listener: It’s an idea to find at least one safe person at work who you can talk to and feel comfortable sharing what you’re feeling. This will help you to prevent feelings of isolation. Ideally, you want to find someone who is a good listener and won’t interrupt you or tell you how to feel.
will inevitably hear sentiments like ‘be strong’, ‘time’s a great healer,’ or ‘don’t feel sad.’ These are things people say when they feel they want to help but don’t have the tools to do so. In these instances, hear the intent, not the content.
4) Know When to Stop: Be aware that throwing yourself wholeheartedly into your work might be your way of avoiding your feelings, which could lead to burn-out. Don’t take on too much and listen to your body. If you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, see if you can book a day off to rest.
5) Self Care at Work: Be prepared that concentration levels may dip and you might make mistakes, or feel angry, or other emotions you haven’t felt at work before. Keep an open dialogue with your colleagues or manager, so they know what is going on with you.
Establishing a bolt-hole for yourself during the working day, where you can just breathe for five minutes will help, such as your car, or your workplace kitchen. Filling a desk drawer or your work bag with a few treats, tissues, a stress ball, hand cream, etc, will help you soothe yourself if things feel a bit much.
And finally…head to the Grief Specialists website where there are plenty of free articles and resources. There is also professional support with grief professionals like me who can help you with your grief journey.
Jodie Mortern-Davies is a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist based in Northampton. Jodie specialises in end of life support, anticipatory grief, trauma and long-term grief - teaching emotional wellness life skills that will enable you to make the positive changes you need to move forward. You can get in touch with Jodie here.