Time is an illusion.
Taking time off from work is very helpful in allowing for a recovery period, as well as allowing you time for organizing and doing all the tasks that arise related to the passing of your loved one. It also gives those at work who care about you time to collect themselves to interact with you when you return.
The more you are focused on time – past and future – the more you miss the now.
The eternal present is the space within which your whole life unfolds, the one factor that remains constant.
There was never a time when your life was not now, nor will there ever be.
— Eckhart Tolle
My suggestion to help you avoid the pressure to buck up and perform at your previous level, is to take an extended leave of absence and allow yourself time to heal. You can use family leave, saved-up vacation, or sick time. Just meet with the human resource department to work out the details. Your physician can even support you by filling out Family Leave forms. This is ideal to do, but if money is tight, you might not have the option and must return to work as usual.
Time off from work is not for everybody. Some of you, however, may also feel the need to re-establish the normalcy of a routine and thus return to work as soon as possible. Choose wisely the course that is best for you. If you come back too soon, however, and you do not progress back to the normal performance required for your job, you may be called in and criticized about this. Don’t let this additional stressor happen to you. You will find out that your critics may tell you that you should have stayed out longer, anyway. So, be kind to yourself.
If you must go back to work, so be it. You will need to be strong, but also let others know how they can support you. How can they support you? Here are some suggestions, and I am sure you can think of more:
bring you a cup of coffee or tea
have an extra box of tissues ready when yours is used up
go for a walk outside with you
share a joke or funny story
give you a hug
give you a hand with your job
Also know that when you do come back to work, you may be comforting your colleagues as much and sometimes more than they are comforting you. You will find that you are welcomed by all and receive condolences and caring responses as the word gets out that you are back to work.
However, there is a time limit on some of these well-wisher’s frequency of support, as they have other priorities and life stressors too. Oh, a few, rare colleagues will continue to care and support you, knowing full well how difficult a transition you are going through — these will be your close friends or most friendly colleagues. Some will display caring for a while, then drift off into their own world of work routine, not being malicious, but just moving on with their work — they care, but have not been in your inner circle at work, and that’s OK. A few will look exclusively at the bottom line, finance and productivity, placing more stringent limits on your recovery needs. They make exceptions to your distractions, crying, and some callouts, but eventually draw a hard line. This is a fact of life in the business world.
I thought of staying out of work longer than three weeks, but decided to go back. I told myself that I had so much to do at work. After all, I am a workaholic and have been for many years. I even had the paperwork for extended leave at my doctor’s office to be filled out, but I ended up not using them.
I told myself that I was strong and needed to live up to what my husband always said, “Cheryl, you are a tough old bird.”
Back to work I went. In one way, it was good returning to work and having something to get up for every morning to do…even though I cried on the way to work…and on the way home from work, for many weeks. At work, I had more control over the crying — most of the time. I was always tired. I did not sleep well. I refused to take any sleeping pills. I believed that “this, too, will pass.”
I appreciated all the caring and comforting gestures very much by my friends and co-workers. The hugs felt great. The sympathetic looks and kind words helped a lot. I was amazed to find out how many of these people had their own story of grief and loss of which I was unaware. This sense of a community of caring experience comforted me.
After four months, I was completely worn out with the stress of work and all the tasks that needed to be taken care of due to the loss of my spouse: mountains of paperwork and trying to keep track of the phone calls, faxes, and letters reflecting progress or problems related to the transition to my sole ownership. I decided to retire and move on — a very good decision.
Experiencing a significant loss, you are going through a very difficult time. Most people can only “imagine” what it must be like. Carefully assess your needs regarding return or delayed return to work. Do ask for help, and above all - be kind to yourself. You are trying so hard to keep it all together, while grieving, managing the multitude of tasks related to the loss, holding the family together, lacking sleep, having poor concentration, and crying frequently. You may really need to take a “Time Out”.
· I honor my need for time to heal my mind, body, and spirit.
· I make good choices to meet my needs.
· I choose the contents of my life and am gentle with myself.
With her permission, I am serializing here nurse Cheryl Barrett's valuable book on transcending grief. I had the pleasure of being her coach and editor through my Write Your Book with Me enterprise.
Douglas Winslow Cooper, PhD
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