How soon is too soon to return to work after a bereavement? A reader tells of her distress at having to return to the normality of work just weeks after her mothers passing.
As Kay Conroy from Turning Point explains, while some people find a focus on work helps them to temporarily relieve their mind of the feelings of grief, for others, time away is essential.
As colleagues of a person going through the grieving process, sometimes the only thing we can do is acknowledge the loss, offer a cup of tea and a listening ear.
My mother recently passed away after a short illness. I am obviously devastated and am finding that the thought of returning to work is exacerbating my anxiety and depression. My company have been extremely kind and have told me to take as much time as I need, but it’s been three weeks now and I know that I should set a date for returning but I can’t seem to bring myself to do it.
I’m not sure if it’s the thought of trying to get back into a routine, which somehow normalises my mothers passing, or if its the fact of having to deal with colleagues and their well meaning but distressing expressions of sympathy that is worrying me. I am also terrified that I will keep breaking down in front of colleagues as I have burst out crying whilst doing routine things like grocery shopping etc over the past few weeks.
Can you please offer some advice on how I can manage these feelings. Taking unpaid leave is unfortunately not an option right now.
Thank you for reaching out and looking for guidance at this difficult time.
Many of the feelings associated with loss and bereavement are most unpleasant to experience. Losing someone close like a mother can rock the very roots of our existence. It is a life crisis.
Grieving is a natural process. The feelings you share in these early days of grief are from your own vulnerability, so present in grieving. Markings of happier times, all the treasured memories you carry will allow you to be present to your vulnerability and the tears that flow. You need to let that process happen as it will.
Whilst the well-meaning attentions of colleagues can be hard to take, it might actually affect you more if they did not acknowledge the fact that you have experienced a traumatic loss.
You cannot at present, and will not for some time, enter into an inner ease. My advice to you is that you are too vulnerable to return to work full-time. If it is possible for you, you could ask your employer if you could slowly return to work part-time, giving yourself time to return to task orientations.
Although it may be difficult to deal with, the support of your colleagues may actually be beneficial to you. It is because they deeply care and want to nurture you, it can help to bring an inner comfort. Whilst their well-meaning attentions can be hard to take, it might actually affect you more if they did not acknowledge the fact that you have experienced a traumatic loss. Without overpowering you, they can be there for you in small ways – making you a cup of tea, sitting with you at lunch to chat.
Setting a goal to return to work will mean giving some attention to work tasks, which can allow for a little space from the grief.
If in two months you still feel too vulnerable, you could consider the listening ear of a Bereavement Therapist. We are here to support at this painful, vulnerable time of deep loss. I would also recommend Mary Paula Walsh’s book ‘Living After a Death’, a copy of which can be obtained from Turning Point.
Wishing you all the best,
About Kay Conroy & Turning Point
Co-founded by Kay Conroy and Mary Paula Walsh in 1986, Turning Point™ was one of the first organisations in Ireland to offer Humanistic and Integrative Counselling and Psychotherapy services. Turning Point™ continues to offer these services and is a registered charity.
One of the leading Counselling/Psychotherapy Centre in Ireland, Turning Point was established to fill a perceived gap in psychological supports and services for those experiencing cancer, other life-threatening illnesses, and/or bereavement. Within 2-3 years, Turning Point™ had grown to include a staff of five therapists, and in response to demand, has expanded to offer general psychotherapy services and group workshops.
For more information on Turning Points values and services visit http://www.turningpoint.ie
If you have a career issue you would like help with email the details to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will source a suitable professional to help. All correspondence will be kept confidential.