Written by: Jenny Smith
An experience of bereavement can often be the most difficult thing any of us face in life. When someone we love dies it is natural to go through an experience of grief which can be very different for everyone. There is no right or wrong way to feel during this time and this can make the process of making decisions about the rest of our life hard because there is no absolute blue print.
It may be difficult for you to know how ready and able you are to return to work after a bereavement. In a way it is one of the most important areas to consider because you spend a lot of your time there. What people often find is that when they ask friends or family about this they are told that it is their decision. Whilst this is ultimately true, it is helpful to have some support to get clear about what feels right for you.
Talk to your employees
If you work for a big organisation there may well be a human resources department that oversees employee time off and that will¬† have a system in place to meet with you, assess you and ensure that you have what you need to return. They may suggest an amount of time to take off and review this with you, they may also have access to support services that they can refer you to such as employee counselling.
If you work for a small organisation or for yourself, you will be in a the position of having to play a more active role in the decisions. If at all possible, find somebody that you can talk it through with who is able to hear you and give you objective and supportive feedback.
Walking back into your job may feel surreal. You will have gone through a big life changing process and dealing with feelings of disbelief that someone is not around anymore whilst everything in the office is the same as ever. At times like these, it is very common to feel ungrounded, unclear and indecisive. You may not be able to say what you need, life may suddenly feel very unpredictable and unsteady, and your emotions may run high. Extra support or supervision can be very beneficial; taking breaks during the day and letting yourself work more slowly, are all ways of easing back in more gently.
Taking things steadily
As much as possible and necessary, let people know that you are not as available and that things may take more time. Once people know there is a reason why things are taking longer they are much less likely to give you a hard time about it. You don’t have to tell everyone the whole story, what you say depends on your relationships with them and how much they are going to be affected by what is going on for you.
Sometimes people have what is known as a ‘staged return’ after a break from work.¬† Something like working part time for a few days or few weeks can really help to minimise the risk of overwhelm whilst settling back in.
Take the pressure off yourself
The most important thing that you can do for yourself is to avoid putting any unnecessary pressure on yourself. This includes being aware of what you are telling yourself about your ability and your performance. If you have just gone through a bereavement you are naturally going to be more tired, more sensitive and more prone to feeling overwhelmed. It can be tempting to throw yourself back in as a distraction to painful feelings that are around for you but this is really only a short term solution and potentially a harmful one at that.
Build in some different forms of support into your life that will help you to manage things both at home and at work. Recognise that you are operating below par and may well be for a while. Prioritise doing things that relax you and support you to let go of stress, these could include physical activities, meditative ones or purely things for fun.
If you know that you are going to take some time off for a bereavement in advance you could ask your boss, supervisor or colleague for a chat. See if it is possible for you to arrange to stay in contact in a way that feels manageable and supportive for you. This will help you to feel less afloat and unable to return. You could also ask if it’s possible to arrange a return to work discussion just before you start back which would provide an opportunity for you to talk through how you are feeling and what you need to enable the transition back to be as smooth as possible.
For professional support in relation to a bereavement see Cruse http://www.cruse.org.uk/ . They have a phoneline and offer counselling for free.