by Adrian Martin
One of the hardest parts about losing someone is that after they’re gone, your life goes on. You still have the same responsibilities to keep up, from your full-time job to your household chores. Working while mourning is a challenge.
Perhaps you’ve taken time off, and now you’re scheduled to return to work. You might feel like you’re far from ready to do so. Unfortunately, the reality for many of us is that we still need to work, despite our grief.
We’ve put together our advice for returning to work while you grieve:
Change Your Workday
Before the loss of your loved one, you may have worked 40 hours a week (or more!). When you return, you may not feel ready to throw yourself back into the swing of things.
Talk to your boss about working while mourning and ask for reduced hours during your first week or two back. For example, you might need a shorter workday or a day off during the week.
In addition, try to give yourself breaks when necessary. If you notice your emotions are building, give yourself 10 or 15 minutes to go for a walk, find a quiet space, and/or call a friend.
A flexible schedule can be a great help during grief. Contact your boss and see if they can accommodate you.
Notice Your Symptoms
When you return to work, you can’t expect it to be business as usual when you are working while mourning ; you’ve just gone through a major life change. Pay attention to symptoms of grief that may arise, which include:
- Trouble concentrating
- Nausea and difficulty eating
- Issues with sleeping
- Body aches
- Emotional numbness
It’s hard to predict how grief will affect us in different situations. A trigger—such as a song or a phrase—can shake the careful mask we wear in public.
Try to be patient with yourself if you experience these symptoms; they’re all a normal part of the grieving process.
Let Yourself Grieve
In the workplace, showing signs of grief can feel embarrassing and even unprofessional. We live in a society where it’s normal to conceal our emotions. Often, whenever someone asks how we’re doing, we say that we’re “fine”.
But it’s important to permit yourself to breathe. You don’t need to act as if you’re “fine” when you’ve lost a loved one.
Grief doesn’t go away just because we ignore it. It’s something we need to experience.
If you’re at work and you’re hit with a wave of emotions, don’t try to suppress them. Look for a quiet and private place where you can allow yourself to feel. Practice a deep breathing exercise: Sit in a comfortable position, roll out your shoulders and begin breathing deeply. When your mind wanders, try to return it to your breath.
Talk To Your Colleagues
If no one knows you’re grieving, you may feel pressure to act normal. It can help you relax when others know that you’re dealing with grief and a loss; they won’t hold you to the same standards or pry too deeply when you seem downcast.
Communicate to your boss about your situation. Make sure your employer knows that you probably won’t be yourself when you return to work. This can also be a way to receive support and compassion from your colleagues.
Seek Grief Counseling
The way you treat yourself during your free time can significantly affect your job performance. If you’re ready to work through your grief, consider seeking professional assistance for it.
It can be helpful to understand the different types of grief. They include:
- Anticipatory grief. If you’re expecting a loved one to pass away soon (after a cancer or dementia diagnosis), the grieving process begins before losing them.
- Delayed grief. After losing someone, you may feel numb for days or weeks. Delayed grief is when months pass before you start to experience and cope with the loss.
- Complicated grief. Are you having trouble with regular functions, like eating or taking care of yourself? Time may not help the pain you’re experiencing; grief can last for months or years. Complicated grief affects 10-20% of people. If you’re experiencing complicated grief, it’s highly recommended that you seek professional help.
Check In With Yourself
After your first week back, set aside some time to reflect on how it went. Do you think it’s feasible for you to work right now, or do you need additional time to process your loss? If you aren’t ready to work, see if there are any financial programs to assist you during this period.
Your grief shows that you loved someone so deeply that their loss stays with you every day. And as heartbreaking as it can be, it’s also something worth celebrating—the beautiful relationship you shared with another person, whether it was your partner, your parent, or your best friend. We hope this resource can help you balance your work life with your grief.
Adrian Martin is a writer based in Canada. She writes articles with a focus on mental health and funeral planning for a variety of businesses. Some of her favorite pieces can be found on Alterna Cremation’s website.
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