Your gain: We’ll discuss how difficult it can be to continue working while grieving a loss. Or, witnessing a decline of a loved one, and ways to be able to cope as you journey through this emotionally taxing time.

If having to work while coping with a loss doesn’t apply to you at this particular moment, you’re welcome to skip this post. However, I’d love for you to hang around in case this does ever come up in your life. Or, you may be able to apply some of this information to other aspects of your grieving journey if you’re feeling overwhelmed simply balancing your grief and daily demands on you.

Let’s Get Something Straight…

Coping with a loss while still working and supporting a family, or supporting ourselves, is by far one of the most physically and emotionally taxing things that someone grieving has to go through. Period. I mean that so wholeheartedly. Not only from my own experience, but from hearing the stories of others who have had to endure this as well.

To have to show up to the office or on a Zoom call or whatever your place of employment is, essentially act like nothing is wrong, and internally show up as a fully functioning human being. It’s one of the most uncomfortable, painful, distracting, and overwhelming things we must endure. It can almost feel a little unfair, in a way, that you have to show up as everything else crumbles around you.

We’re going to dig into this further in this post, and we’ll also explore some tips on how to cope so you can feel like a somewhat normal human being again.

The Challenges of Working While Grieving

When you’re grieving a loss, distracted by an impending loss—or coping with the world crumbling around you in some capacity—it can be hard to focus on anything other than your loss. Even simple tasks can feel overwhelming, and the idea of going to work can be daunting. 

Some specific challenges you might face could be:

Lack of Energy

Grief can be incredibly draining both emotionally and physically. You may find that you’re struggling to get out of bed in the morning, or that you’re exhausted after just a few hours of work. This is highly common, but please do keep an eye on this if this feeling is prolonged for you! 

When we’re grieving and processing a loss, shock plays a huge part of this. Our brain and our body is trying so hard to get a hold of what’s going on around us. Adjusting to our new reality, creating new prediction patterns based on new lived experiences that help us grasp our loved one’s absence, and more. That being said, we need to give it (our brain, and ourselves) time and understand this is a process.

Early on in your grief, in acute grief, it can feel like new and painful reminders are everywhere. Learning how to handle our grief triggers (more on this below!) takes practice and patience. Lastly, worrying about what fear, experience, or situation relating to your loss might be waiting for you around the corner can leave you in a constant state of fear (hypervigilance). Being physically tired might require you to give your body a rest, while being emotionally exhausted might mean finding ways to calm your mind. More on this below, too.

Difficulty Concentrating

A female with brown hair in a yellow shirt appearing to be stressed with her hands on her hand, sitting at a desk with a computer.

When you’re grieving, your mind is often preoccupied with thoughts of your loved one. It can also get a little stuck in the past and memories of them. Missing them deeply in the moment, and worrying about the near and distant future. 

From how we’re going to live without them to any legal or funeral-related situations, this can be so distracting. And rightfully so! All of this and more can make it especially challenging to concentrate on work tasks, or remember important details. Remember, grief brain does exist and can often last longer than you might think!

Decreased Motivation

The loss of a loved one can leave you feeling unmotivated and uninspired. You may find that you’re less interested in your job, or that you’re simply going through the motions. Desperately just wanting to be off your shift and home (or literally anywhere else, let’s be real).

Emotional Outbursts

Ah, good ol’ grief bursts! They’re so fun. As you may have gleaned, grief can be unpredictable and a highly emotionally charged process. You may find that you’re experiencing intense emotions at unexpected times. And yes, often this can happen at very inconvenient times, too, like while you’re working. This can be particularly challenging in a work setting, where you may need (or feel the need) to remain composed and professional.

My Experience Working While Grieving

Emotionally and logistically, working while in the midst of my anticipatory grief (and then acute grief, and every day after that) was the most spread I had ever really felt in my life. 

Just to set the stage and give a little context if you’re interested in hearing my story (otherwise feel free to skip to the next section)…

I was working at a marketing agency when my mom was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, and throughout her decline (and then through my dad’s death, too). We had clients that were different wine brands that I did digital marketing for. I handled their social media, did their marketing emails, ran Facebook ads, write blog posts… all the things. I really enjoyed the work itself, but it demanded a lot of attention. And, some of this work had to happen outside of business hours. For example, getting on Instagram and engaging with any comments they got on a social post that day.

While I still managed to get the work done, I had a 45+ minute commute back and forth between my home and my mom in the hospital. I wanted so desperately to be present and be there for her, but still having to work and feeling like I couldn’t be there fully in certain moments was absolutely brutal. I mean, I would have been at the hospital 24/7 if I could have, let’s be real.

An Important Reminder

The most humbling thing that I think we have to remember is that in these moments when we’re distracted, especially if our loved one hasn’t fully left us yet but they are declining, is that we don’t get those moments back. Please remember that, if you’re there right now. There’s no going back. 

But you may also feel the pull to have to continue to provide for your family and go to work! Guess what? That’s okay. You’re allowed to do that, and I want for you to give yourself permission to not feel guilty. 

And maybe work is actually a good outlet for you! Maybe it’s a healthy distraction for a little while from everything going on. That’s absolutely okay and I encourage you to do that, if that’s what you need. We can’t live in our grief 24/7. It’s not healthy, and it’s not even realistic. 

An Important Caution

If you begin to dive into your work to escape and virtually ignore everything going on, that’s when that might need to be reexamined. There has to be a good balance, right? I’m not going to sit here and tell you that you need to stop working completely to be able to feel all your feels. To solely do grief work, or solely be there for your loved one if they’re declining. 

I recognize that’s perhaps unrealistic and probably not even doable for some people, so I won’t push that on you right now. But what I will say is that it’s absolutely critical, just like in handling a relationship while you’re grieving, to take those moments and take that time for yourself.

Despite the many challenges of working while grieving, it is possible to find ways to cope. Here are a few tips to help you navigate this difficult time:

Ways to Cope with Grief While Working

Be Kind To Yourself

Remember that grief is a natural and normal response to loss. It’s okay to take things slow and give yourself permission to grieve.

Practice Self-Care

Take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Get plenty of rest, eat well, and make time for activities that bring you joy and comfort. More on this below!

Set Boundaries

Setting healthy boundaries can mean a lot of things, but in this situation especially, it means communicating well and honestly with your loved ones and, in this case, with your manager or whoever that is for you. And, have zero shame or qualms about doing that. 

To be able to stand up for yourself and express these things is sign of great self-awareness and respect. Many employers are looking for this, so don’t fear it!

To be able to say—with the deepest of convictions and as assertive but vulnerable as possible—that you just might need a 10-minute break. Or you need to take a call with regards to something going on with some arrangements, funeral or otherwise. Perhaps it’s checking in on how they’re doing health-wise (I had to do this all the time with both parents).

Be Your Own Advocate

Whatever this looks like for you. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, be your own advocate. I was a little bit younger when mine happened, and I don’t think I did this for myself well enough in my current role at the time. But you know what? I didn’t know what I didn’t know at the time. All I can say now is that I will be sure to take that stand should it ever happen again.

Remember, it’s okay to let your coworkers and/or boss know that you’re going through a difficult time, and that you may need to adjust your workload or take time off if necessary. 

Remember to communicate this to friends and family, too! Some people might not fully understand or appreciate what you’re going through, and that’s a very normal thing. Yes, even if someone has been through a loss themselves! It’s important to remember we all handle it differently, and keeping realistic expectations is key.

More on coping with unmet expectations here:

Practice Mindfulness

Yes, I know this is easier said than done! But with daily practice and taking it little by little working up to this, it becomes easier(ish) to stay present in the moment and focus on the task at hand. Mindfulness exercises like deep breathing or meditation can help you stay centered and calm. I have resources for you on this below, too!

Seek Support

Don’t be afraid to reach out to friends, family, or a therapist for support. Or, a Grief Coach such as myself! Having someone to talk to can make a world of difference.

Feeling the Pressure While Working

I felt so much pressure, really more from myself than even my clients or my bosses, to continue working. Or, if I felt myself slipping or felt my work slipping a little bit, I would get on myself about that. Even taking equal priority to my mom’s care some of the time. But when we’re faced with a loved one who’s declining or a loved one that has passed away, and now we’re grappling with that grief, there’s no higher priority.

Remember what I just said about it being a well-respected and highly regarded thing for you to have self-awareness? To realize that and communicate that to your superior? I truly meant that. Employers quite literally look for qualities like that in their employees. At least really good ones, in my experience. I would venture to say more employers than not want you to be able to take care of yourself. For one, because God willing they’re good humans and want that for others. Two, they want you to be healthy and well.

When you take care of yourself, you might have to take a little time out of work now to deal with some things. To cope with your grief in those early days the best you can. But long and even short term, that means a more productive, happier, higher functioning employee for them. What employer wouldn’t want that, right? 

Work Performance Woes

If it gets to the point where you’re feeling like your work or your performance could be suffering because of this, depending on your work situation, I might even challenge you to have that candid conversation with your boss or your manager. No matter how you’re feeling about your job right now, whether you love it or hate it, chances are you’re grateful you’re at least employed and have money coming in, right? 

I say that because I’ve been in both situations before. With that candid conversation, express that gratitude for your job that you want to do really well, and you’re doing your best to find balance, but that you’re coping with a lot right now. This is also a great thing to bring up to your Human Resources rep, if you have one, if you don’t feel comfortable going directly to your manager.

That is a perfectly okay thing to communicate! Again, I would bet you that more times than not, most employers would be understanding and will try and work with you a bit. You never know, perhaps they’ve been through something similar and can empathize with what you’re going through.

Whether that’s adjusting some of your workload, giving you a little more time off to deal with things, a more flexible schedule temporarily, whatever it is. 

Time Off While Working

Most companies don’t allow more than five days, maybe seven days max for the death of a qualifying family member. While that’s all fine and dandy, I’m sure you would agree with me when I say that it certainly doesn’t feel long enough to even begin grasping a major loss. And one of the things that make me cringe on top of that is that it has to be a qualifying family member.

But what if it’s a more distant family member that isn’t technically a parent, sibling or grandparent, but it’s you’re amazing Aunt who helped raise you? Or maybe one of your best friends of 20 or 30 years, for example? To take this a step further, what about a loss that people would consider to be a secondary loss? For example, a death of a pet, a divorce, a financial situation, or a big move. A situation where you just desperately need time to find your footing again and grieve that properly. All of those I just listed in so much more deserves to be grieved just as much as a “major” loss. 

Employee Assistance Programs

I also just want to remind you that, depending on where you’re employed, so many companies now have Employee Assistance Programs, or EAPs. I have actually used one of these before when I was engaged many years ago in my early twenties, and we were not in a good place. We took advantage of that to get a little bit of counseling (spoiler alert, we broke up shortly afterward).

There is zero shame in it, and please remember that they are there for a reason. Probably most if not all of it would be paid for, too. If you’re in a situation where finances might be a struggle, please keep this in mind. There are so many resources that could be very inexpensive or even free for you to take advantage of.

And, remember, I have my Grief Becomes Gains Online Course, too, that’s a fairly priced program with payment plans that offer all of the grief coaching, support, and guidance you might need! You also have the opportunity to explore 1:1 coaching with me after the program.

Where Does This Leave Us?

To wrap this up, I just want you to know that if this is something you’re journeying through right now, or will at any point, you are so seen and understood here. The pressure and emotional toll it can take on us to have to continue working—or feel like we have to continue working through any kind of loss—can be so difficult and exhausting. 

As I’ve mentioned already, being able to excuse yourself or take a few minutes here and there both from family or relationship obligations, but also work obligations, is so important if you feel like your grief is getting the best of you. Or, if you feel a trigger or a grief burst coming on. I never want you to beat yourself up for feeling those things, or feel like you have to push them down or ignore them. You’re human, and guess what? It happens! Things hurt us, things trigger us, and having the wherewithal to own those and cope with them is what makes us stronger, with time.

The Reality of Triggers While Working

I completely understand that, especially in the workplace, it might be hard to get away, or things might just randomly come up. You’re innocently sitting at your desk, standing there making that coffee for a lovely customer, or needing to bring a table their appetizers and, all of the sudden, a grief burst might hit you. These things can absolutely happen. I assure you, they’ve happened to all of us at least once. I’d venture to say more than that, too.

But with time, as we get accustomed to a life without our loved ones. Or, simply put, a life that looks different than we anticipated. This will begin to ease up! But you do have to do the grief work and hold a sacred space for yourself to work through this. Don’t be afraid to fight for it! You deserve it, you’ve been through a lot. 

Explore my Course and Freebies!

I have FOUR free tools you can take advantage of if you’re ready to step up your grief work. I’m so excited to share these with you! My Gratitude in Grief Journal Prompt, From Grief to Grinning Toolkit, A Practice in Presence Toolkit, and Creating a Vibrant Life Toolkit are ready and waiting for you to download. All you have to do is click here or the button below.

Needing some more in-depth grief education, coaching, and coping tools? Look no further—meet the Grief Becomes Gains Online Course! This course is over 20 hours and 10 modules of material that can be done at your pace, on your terms. Come back to it over and over as you need it, because once you own this, you own it for life! You also receive a 100+ page toolkit, a monthly coaching call with fellow grievers and me to connect and talk all things grief, and more.

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