Returning to work

Written by Kevin Carlin, Family Support Practitioner at Very Special Kids

The challenges
For some parents returning to work after the death of their child can be very challenging. Mustering up the physical and emotional energy to return to the workplace can be extremely daunting.

For the grieving parent whose life has changed forever after the death of their child work can seem not important and no longer have the same meaning it once had.

Having to interact again with work colleagues, sensing their awkwardness and their inability to know “what to say” can be difficult. Some parents have said that they have found themselves actually consoling a work colleague who has been upset on seeing them.

Small talk in the lunchroom or other parents in the workplace talking about their children can be both tedious and confronting. Management not making allowances for the parent returning or expecting them to immediately be working at their optimum level can also be challenging.

Most bereaved parents have financial commitments to meet and do not have the luxury of not working for an extended period of time.

For some parents, work can be a valuable distraction from their grief and provide them with some welcome respite. However, for others, it can become a defining time in their working lives and the impetus to either change jobs or go down a completely new career path. A path that may provide them with greater meaning in their working life.

In the case of some parents, it may be the challenge of returning to the workforce after an extended time away from it caring for their sick child.

What can help?
The following are some suggestions that have been identified from working with some bereaved parents that have helped them return to work.

  1. Initially going into the workplace to just meet management or key work colleagues can just help to “break the ice”.
  2. Endeavouring to negotiate a staged return to work, such as working half days or part-time.
  3. If it is feasible, a parent may be able to work from home rather than having to go to into the workplace.
  4. Transferring to another work site for the same organisation where people don’t know you may help in some situations.
  5. Discussing with management the option of stepping outside the workplace for a short break or leaving early if on a particular day a parent finds themselves really struggling.
  6. Some workplaces fundraise in memory of their colleague’s deceased child and a parent can find this really touching.
  7. In the workplace where other staff does not talk about the deceased child for fear of upsetting the bereaved parent or because of their own awkwardness, some parents have taken it upon themselves to initiate that conversation thereby setting the tone and giving permission.
  8. Sending out an email to colleagues or arranging for management to do it on your behalf, thanking people for their support and letting them know how they could react/respond in a helpful way going forward.
  9. On occasions, a Very Special Kids Practitioner has gone to a parent’s workplace to talk to staff about how they can help support their colleagues return to the work.

Note: Not all these suggestions may not be helpful to other parents, nor relevant to their work situations.