It is easy to feel paralyzed by uncertainty. Questions need to be answered. Choices need to be validated. Plans need to be followed through in the direction of our dreams. When death in the family occurs, especially when it is tragic, sudden, and unexpected, our whole world shatters in an instant. But we can gradually work towards picking up the pieces.

Grief is a universal human condition, but the experience is unique for everyone. After a death in the family, there comes a time sooner than later that grieving family members must return to the routines of everyday life. Kids go back to school, adults return to work, and life goes on without having your loved one in your life. This is hard, and there is no way to minimize the gravity of the situation.

In the span of a little over a decade, I have lost both of my parents, my father-in-law, and two brothers-in-law. My experience, as well as connecting with others who have lost people close to them, have given me some knowledge to address common situations when returning to work after a short bereavement period (3 to 5 days is common in the United States workforce). Here are some way to cope in the workplace:

  1. Keep Your Supervisor Updated: While you are in your bereavement period, you should keep your supervisor or HR contact informed. You do not have to tell them everything, but make sure to let them know what is happening. This is not for them to intrude in your personal life, but it is for them to know what kind of arrangements they need to make. They will need figure out the logistics to cover for you and manage your tasks while you take care of yourself and your family.
  2. Less is More: Well-meaning colleagues want to show you that you are loved, and they might even want to do things for you to make it “easier.” Unfortunately, nothing will make your loss easier. If you feel that they are invading your bereavement process by bombarding you with constant updates about work and things they have done for you while you’ve been away, stop and breathe. It’s okay to feel frustrated. Even if they are not asking questions directly related to the death, you might still feel like you need space from them. This is okay. You need to fully feel all of your emotions. You can control what you share, and you can let them know without having to seem rude or ungrateful. Say something like, “I am grateful for you! Thank you for all that you do. I will see you soon, and I appreciate you reaching out during this difficult time.” End of story. You are not obligated to say anything more, and they will get the hint! Less is more for the grieving.
  3. Dealing with the Questions: Those pesky questions such as, “Are you okay?” “How are you?” or “What happened?” may seem ignorant and insensitive. If it still hurts to lie just to appease everyone when you say, “I’m okay,” you can always respond with a non-response, or say, “Thank you for reaching out.”
  4. Before You Return to Work: Ask your supervisor or your appointed colleague to let others know that you do not want people to ask you any questions when you return. Express your preference about focusing on work rather than the tragedy. They will be happy to do this for you, and you can feel less apprehensive about how to deal with seeing your colleagues again.
  5. Be Gentle To Yourself and Practice Self-Care: Expect that you will feel more distracted and less productive more than ever before your loss. This is okay. You’ll be okay. Hang in there. Make sure you are doing some kind of physical activity: go outdoors and take a walk or jog. Do something that gets you moving.
  6. Communicate Your Needs: Each workplace environment is different. I am grateful that in both schools where I have worked, people have been supportive during all stages of my grief. Communicating your needs in the workplace as you readjust to your “new normal” is an important part of the grieving process. Be honest, but don’t make excuses. During meetings where you feel like you cannot seem to focus, you can say something like, “I’m still playing catch up as I readjust to my routine. I appreciate your patience. Could you debrief me on ……?.” I have seen such grace and empathy in the workplace during my darkest hours that even when my hope was diminished, I still felt understood.

In loving memory of

My mother Josefina A. Del Rosario

My father Delfin Villanueva

My brother-in-law Jose Salvo

My father-in-law Fortino Pulido

My brother-in-law Mark Sneed

Pia Villanueva-Pulido is a published children’s author, content writer, and English teacher. She also specializes in marketing communications. Together with her husband, Michael Pulido, a creative content producer and homeschool music teacher, they have developed a series of children’s picture books and songs from the River of Imagination collection. Check out their website for updates and follow mandpcreative on Instagram.

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