Returning to Work
Going Back to Work After a Loss
- Written and compiled by Sari Edber and Tracey Letteau of the MISS Foundation
The decision to return to work is a difficult one that comes with many mixed emotions. You might want some kind of “normalcy” and routine back in your life, but you also might be anxious about seeing all of your co-workers again. Here are a few things that might help both you and your colleagues with this transition.
Before going back to work, it might be helpful to have someone you trust send out an email[*] (or otherwise communicate your loss) to your co-workers. This message can include any or all of the following:
- The news of your loss. According to your own preference, you can give as much or as little information about the death of your child. Some have found it beneficial to provide some degree of medical specificity about the death of their child, as others may be able to provide contacts or additional information in understanding certain medical issues. Also, some find it comforting to provide some detail, as people will “come out of the woodwork” and tell you about their own experiences with loss. However, this might also be a very personal experience that you wish to keep more private. Either way, be sure that you approve this email message before it is sent so that those receiving it will be able to use language that is both sensitive and supportive.
- Whether you would like co-workers to attend any funeral and/or memorial service and/or make donations on behalf of your child.
For new or casual acquaintances, it is completely your choice as to whether or not you want to talk about your loss. Grief is a personal experience and you may not feel that it’s necessary to share such deep emotions with people you barely know.
- Prepare for the fact that some people might not know or have since forgotten that your child died-- they might ask about how your child is assume that nothing has changed.... You might want to have a line ready to say to these people: "Thank you so much for asking, but...." and, then, use whatever phrasing works best for you.
- Be prepared for the very common question, “Do you have any children?” You might want to come up with an answer in advance so that you’re not put on the spot when this happens. This might be the same answer that you say to people in #a (above). But, it might vary depending on the person and situation. After such encounters, the other person usually feels awful for asking this question, and your instinct might be to console that person. It’s okay to simply say, “You didn’t know/you forgot, and I know you meant well”, and leave it at that.
Be prepared for insensitive comments (we’ve heard them all and many more):
"It's all for the best."
"God doesn't give you more than you can handle."
"Don't worry, you can have another."
"At least it happened early before you really got to know him/her."
“At least you’re young.”
“Time heals all wounds.”
“You need to move on.”
People think that they are being helpful, but they have NO clue what is comforting for us. Feel free to respond in whatever way you feel most comfortable. My general response for this is:
“Thank you. I appreciate your thoughts.”
Expect that some people might avoid you all together for fear of saying the wrong thing or because they are uncomfortable with the topic of death. Again, respond however you feel comfortable. It’s ok to let it go, but, it’s also ok to approach that person and say a casual hello.
You might find that some people close to you will not react to you and the death of your child in the way you had hoped. You might feel disappointed, resentful, and angry that they are not as sensitive or compassionate as you thought they would be. On the other hand, be mindful that others will pleasantly surprise you with their level of support.
Ask someone in your HR department if your office offers any kind of staff support (i.e. counseling services) or if your work insurance covers any part of grief/bereavement therapy.
The first few days at work tend to be incredibly draining and for this reason, some people have found it helpful to return to work mid-end of the work week (ie: Wed., Thurs., or Fri). This way, they can rest on the weekend after only a few days rather than a full week.
Know that there is no right or wrong way to act. This is a new version of yourself going back to work -- you might be less social, less motivated, more tired, more emotional . . . and all of that is okay, ESPECIALLY in the beginning.
It’s usually difficult to see other pregnant women or hear other co-workers talking about their children. It’s even more difficult to hear them complaining or taking these things for granted. Feel free to excuse yourself from these situations or leave the room if these conversations are taking place. Be sure to take care of yourself first.
Sometimes taking things one day at a time is too overwhelming. When you feel that way – just take it one moment, one emotion, or one encounter at a time.
Do not be surprised if you find your job less fulfilling than before the death of your child. The experience of losing a child is life-transforming and makes many people question their goals, achievements, and priorities. It is very common for bereaved parents to not return to work, switch jobs, and/or even change professions. However, try to give yourself some time before making such a big decision.
Be gentle with YOURSELF. This is a very difficult step in your grief and healing processes.
As many of you know, we were expecting our first child this past summer. It saddens me to inform you that our son tragically died a few short months ago. While our grief is still incredibly new, we know that we are forever changed by this loss.
I am sending this message to all of you because I am planning on returning to work this coming week. Your thoughts are appreciated by our entire family.
Thank you, in advance, for your understanding, support, and sensitivity.
We have found a wonderful support network, called the MISS Foundation. If you so choose, we would appreciate any donations to this organization in memory of our child. You can donate at: www.missfoundation.org