7 Tips on Going Back to Work After a Bereavement

By Lesley Postle, Editor of GriefandSympathy.com

I had two weeks off after my Dad died. It was a very sudden loss and we were all in a great deal of shock, especially my elderly Mum. I stayed with her for a while to make sure she was able to cope before heading home back to normal life. 

Meme - Going back to work after a bereavement

Going back to work was particularly strange. It felt really weird. You feel like you have a flag coming out of the top of your head saying “I’m different, I’ve changed, I don’t know what to say” and no-one else knows what to say either.  It’s as if our ability to communicate has suddenly been wiped out. 

“I’m sorry for your loss” is followed by awkward silence or at best a story of who ever that person has lost – their father, grandfather, second cousin or even pet. Some people didn’t know what had happened and asked if I’d enjoyed my holiday and some just didn’t know as they hadn’t noticed I’d been away. Having to tell people about my Dad dying multiple times a day on the first day was really confronting. 

Then you’re expected to carry on as normal.  Carrying on as normal actually has some benefits. It is good to be doing something and have normal life going on around you as it can help, but on the other hand, you can be feeling all sorts of difficult feelings while desperately trying to concentrate on what you are supposed to be doing. 

Things you might encounter when trying to go back to work: 

  1. Foggy headed and inability to concentrate, especially if you’re still in a state of shock
  2. Feeling like you might be about to burst into tears at any time and not wanting to do it in front of people. 
  3. Working more slowly than usual or making mistakes. 
  4. Worry that you’re not able to do your job properly or safely. 
  5. People saying thoughtless or inappropriate things which hurt. 
  6. People not acknowledging what has happened to you which also hurts. 
  7. Lack of motivation. 
  8. Not wanting to be there. 
  9. Fear and panic of having to go to work.
  10. Taking time off sick because you can’t face going to work. 

How to deal with the challenges of going back to work after a bereavement:

  1. First of all, don’t try to go back too early before you’re ready. Bereavement leave is often not very generous, so if you’re able to take some holiday leave too, don’t be afraid to do it. Or even take some unpaid leave if you’re in the fortunate position to be able to do that. 
  2. Talk to your boss before going back so that they know how you are and what your challenges may be. Perhaps ask for simpler duties or more support for a while until you are back on your feet. This is especially important if you have a job where mistakes could create a risk for you or other people. 
  3. Don’t beat yourself up too much if you lose concentration or make a mistake. How many people do you know who work at 100% efficiency all the time.  Cut yourself some slack. 
  4. Have a few answers ready for what you will say when people ask you about what happened. Keep it simple and don’t go into too much detail unless you are especially close to someone at work. 
  5. Set aside some time each day for grieving. Let yourself have a good cry in the car before you go in or at lunchtime, so you’ll feel more in control the rest of the day. 
  6. Know that the weird feeling of being different and that everything has changed will gradually wear off as you come to terms with your new normal and learn to live with it.  
  7. Work some self-care time into your schedule. Meet a friend, have hot bubble baths, do some exercise or meditation. Watch a film or your favourite TV programme and eat your favourite food. Grieving is tough work and you need some ‘me’ time. 

If time passes and you are still having a lot of trouble working with your grief, don’t be afraid to get some help.  Join a support group or get some counseling. There is plenty of information about getting help on the following pages: 

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Do You Need Bereavement Counseling? 

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