5 Ways to Grieve When You Still Need to Work


woman grieving

Adobe Stock / samuel

Sarah Landrum
Sarah Landrum
  • Check in with your place of employment or talk to your boss to see if you're entitled to bereavement leave.
  • Take the time you need, keep yourself busy and ask for help when you need it.

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No one knows how to deal with grief. Losing a friend, family member or loved one affects each of us differently. Depending on your place of employment, you may be entitled to a few days of bereavement leave, but anyone who’s ever lost someone knows you’ll never be able to bottle up all your grief in the few days you get before you have to head back to work.
Learning to deal with your grief can seem like an insurmountable task — a full-time job all by itself. While we can’t help take away the pain, here are some tips to help you face the idea of going back to work when you’re still grieving.

1. Talk to your boss.

Bringing up a recent loss when you’re talking to your boss is probably the last thing you want to do, but letting them know what’s going on is important. You don’t have to go into detail. You don’t even have to let them know how you’re handling it.
This step has a secondary purpose, too. Your boss is going to be the one who can tell you about your company’s bereavement leave policy. Most companies offer a few days, either paid or unpaid, of leave. If more time is required, this is the time to have that conversation as well.
Depending on company policy, you may be able to take an unpaid leave of absence after your bereavement leave is up. You won’t get paid, but it ensures your job will be there when you get back.

2. Take the time you need.

As we’ve already mentioned, you’re not going to be able to bottle up all your grieving in the few days that are available for bereavement leave. Things you might not expect could trigger your grief and leave you a crying mess behind your desk — anything from a scent to an article you come across.
If what you need is a hug, ask for one. If you need a Netflix and ice cream binge, then let yourself enjoy a new show or an old favorite.
Take the time to be kind to yourself, no matter what that means to you. It won’t fix everything, but it will make you feel better for a few minutes. And when you’re living one minute at a time, a few minutes is worth everything.

3. Keep yourself busy.

Staying busy, whether that’s at work or at home, is one of the best things you can do for yourself while you’re grieving. You don’t need to take up a new hobby or throw yourself into your work or anything so dramatic. Just getting up, showering, making yourself a meal and writing an email to a friend can be enough.
Don’t let it make you avoid your grief — you can’t avoid it forever.  Staying busy shouldn’t be used to avoid grief. Instead, it should help you move forward so you don’t stagnate in it. It’s easy to let your grief hold you in one place, but staying busy keeps you going.

4. Be kind to others, too.

It’s hard to deal with our own grief, but it’s even harder for people to think of the right thing to say or the best way to help someone who is grieving. You can expect people to come to you and offer their sympathies. You can also expect them to say exactly the wrong thing. It might make you cry or it might make you angry, and they won’t know how to deal with that, either.
Be patient with them. They mean well and they’re trying to help as best they can, even if what they’re saying is entirely wrong for how you’re feeling in the moment.

5. Ask for help (and accept it).

Your friends, family and coworkers will probably offer some form of help when they learn of your loss. Whether they’re offering to help with work, chores, cooking or something else entirely, everyone tends to offer to help when they learn someone is grieving. We’ve got three words for you: Let. Them. Help.
If you need help with something, ask for it. If someone offers to help with work or offers to bring you a home cooked meal, accept it. They’ve all been there, at one time or another. They all know how hard it can be to accomplish even the simplest tasks when all you can see is your pain. Take all the help you can get. 
Take time to figure out if treatment would be an option to consider. If you are struggling to get through the day or just need someone to talk to, there are professionals who can help. 
Grief is not something that can be easily explained or experienced. The best description of grief likens it to waves when you’re swimming the ocean — at first, they’re tsunamis that hit every few seconds and don’t leave you any time to breathe. But as time goes on, the waves get smaller and farther apart. They never go away because the ocean is never still, but they get easier to weather as you heal and get stronger.
Going back to work after a loss is never easy, but it isn’t the impossible task it might first appear to be. Take things one step at a time, or one second at a time if steps seem too hard, and know it will get better with time.
Sarah Landrum is an expert career blogger and the founder of Punched Clocks, a career and lifestyle blog helping professionals create a career they love and live a happy, healthy life. For more from Sarah, follow her on social media and subscribe to her newsletter.