Returning to work after a close bereavement

Throwing yourself into work is a common reaction to bereavement, as it can be an effective distraction to keep you functioning. It’s an easy way to feel productive in spite of a tragedy and gives you a break from grieving. However, with your attention on ticking the next task off your to-do list, there’s less room for intrusive thoughts and processing your emotions. Striking a balance between these is so important when you’re preparing to return to work.

In this blog, we’ll look at different stages of grief and how you can manage these when returning to work.

How to cope with the stages of grief

Even if it is expected, the wave of shock and grief that hits us when a close loved one passes away is immeasurable. No two experiences are the same. Fear of loss of control, uncertainty about a flood of emotions and questions about how you will cope are all common reactions.

Psychologist J. William Worden outlines the Four Tasks of Mourning to illustrate the stages of grief we go through. These aren’t felt in one particular order, but they are typical stages we all experience in order to reach acceptance and closure. 

Accepting the reality of the loss

If you feel comfortable doing so, talking with your co-workers in an informal setting about what has happened can help you to maintain connections. Retreating away during this time and avoiding contact is tempting, but remember to make the most of your support network.

You might want to take a break from big projects or tasks whilst you focus on the practicalities of bereavement. Accepting that your performance won’t be the same as before, at least for a short while, will help you to rid yourself of fear and judgment.

Processing the pain of grief

Taking breaks and time for yourself to express natural grief reactions is vital to the healing process. It’s normal to experience feelings such as:

  • Despair
  • Shock
  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Anxiety
  • Isolation
  • Fatigue
  • Distraction
  • Lack of concentration


Don’t be so hard on yourself if you’re finding it hard to manage these feelings alongside your job. It can be helpful to talk to those you trust and who understand.

As we mentioned, this process is not linear and will be different for everyone depending on the circumstances. It’s common to feel this in waves over time, with holidays or special dates triggering your emotions again. Focussing on the present moment by using mindfulness techniques can help you to feel more comfortable about any distressing or upsetting feelings you may be experiencing.

If you need additional support, there are a number of charities that can offer support and guidance.

Adjusting to change

Living in a world without the deceased can feel like you’re taking on a new identity. Things aren’t the same as they once were, but life goes on. Learning to adapt and adjust to big changes takes time, but it’s not impossible. You could try:

  • Easing yourself back into your schedule
  • Asking about flexible working options 
  • Learning new skills or hobbies that your loved one enjoyed
  • Coming to terms with changes in your routine one day at a time
  • Sharing with colleagues what support you would find helpful

Creating a balance

There is a fine line between grieving and continuing to live a full life. Some days at work will be easier than others. Ultimately, grieving in a healthy way involves giving ourselves permission to grieve whilst also looking ahead to the future and continuing to function, even if it’s in new ways. Whilst this can seem daunting and challenging, especially if you’re juggling work and home life responsibilities, there is support available to help you through this time.

You’re not alone

Our course Working and Grief can support you if you have experienced a close bereavement and are ready to return to work. With our motivational messages, easy-to-follow guidance and expert advice, you’ll feel less fearful at the prospect of seeing your co-workers. You’ll soon be able to shift the balance between the time you spend grieving and time living.