Losing a loved one, especially someone very close to you, is one of the most devastating and stressful events you’ll ever experience. Obviously, you won’t be able to work in the days following receiving such tragic news.
But how much time should you take off when losing a loved one? And what should you do during this time?
The Individual Experience
Most importantly, you should recognize that each individual is different. There’s no standard amount of time that an average person should take off, because people vary wildly in how they come to terms with loss, how they think about work, and how they’re affected by the unique circumstances of the loss to begin with.
Susan Fraser, founder of In The Light Urns Inc., which specializes in cremation urn products, shares her experiences: “Every day, we receive calls from people wanting to talk about our memorial products. As we talk about the details, emotions well up. These are normal reactions and we are here to help them through the process, and make it as simple as possible.”
However, not everyone feels the same emotions or processes those emotions the same way. Fraser adds, “We have seen folks that have come to terms very quickly because of a long sickness that had no surprises. On the other hand some are so attached, compounded by surprises they find it difficult, but again we’re here to help and we totally understand. After over twenty years of service and many hundreds of thousands of customers, we’ve been able to help people through a wide range of different experiences.”
Even after over twenty years, Fraser still personally answers customer calls daily to provide her expertise on finding the right memorial options while navigating grief. As an employer herself, Fraser advocates giving the employees enough time to grieve and process the mourning and emotions before returning to work. If required back before they, as individuals, are ready, their performance is going to suffer.
Questions to Ask Yourself
When deciding how much time to take off, ask yourself the following:
- What are your workplace dynamics? Most businesses have some kind of bereavement leave policy, allowing you to take paid or unpaid days off in response to the loss of someone close to you. You may also be able to take personal time off (PTO) or unpaid leave in addition to that. Do you have understanding employers and supervisors who would be willing to allow you to be away for as long as you need? Or is your workplace more demanding?
- What is the severity of your grief? This is a hard question to answer, but it’s an important one. Losing a spouse is generally much more severe than losing a distant cousin, and losing someone unexpectedly is generally more severe than losing someone after a prolonged decline in health. The more severe your grief is, and the less you understand it, the more time you should take off.
- What are you doing in your time off? There are no rules for how you spend your time off of work. Some people want to confront their emotions in isolation. Some people want to be surrounded by friends and family members. Some people just want to be distracted so they don’t have to think about things. These are all valid, but you should have some kind of plan for how you’re going to cope and grieve during this process.
- What do you feel when you think about returning to work? Imagine returning to work. Would you feel overwhelmed and distracted, unable to focus on your responsibilities? Would you feel comforted in a familiar environment in which you can immerse and distract yourself? Your sentiments toward work should play a significant role in your decision.
- Are there options to return slowly? Is it possible to return to work in a slow or gradual capacity, such as working part-time before returning full-time?
Other Important Tips
These tips can also help you make better decisions and improve your outcomes after taking time off for bereavement:
- Treat your mental health as a top priority. You may be truly passionate about your job, but at the end of the day, it’s just a job. Your mental health needs to come first, always.
- Be patient with yourself. It’s common for people to take three to five days of bereavement leave when losing a loved one, with additional days taken as necessary from PTO or unpaid leave. However, it’s important to be patient with yourself. Don’t scramble to return to work after a few days if you’re still grieving and processing.
- Use mementos and keepsakes to remember your loved one. Mementos and keepsakes can help you remember your loved one and find peace even after returning to work. A piece of cremation jewelry or a custom urn could be exactly what you need to beautifully memorialize your loved one.
- Don’t hesitate to change your mind. Your emotions and reactions are going to evolve throughout the bereavement process. Don’t feel bad about changing your mind if you alter your plans.
There’s no single right answer for how much time you should take off when losing a loved one, because each situation is so unique. Think about your specific circumstances, acknowledge your own emotions, and choose a path forward that’s best suited to your needs.
Interesting Related Article: “5 Stages of Grief: Are We Letting Go of Office Life?“