What it’s Like Returning to Work After a Loss

What it’s Like Returning to Work After a Loss
2 minute read

Ebony-Renee Baker

“So, what do your parents do?”

As a long-time restaurant server, I used to get this kind of question from customers a lot. But a couple weeks after my father passed away, and as soon as I returned to work, that question immediately found me in the restaurant’s basement trying to recollect myself.

Returning to work after the loss of a loved one is potentially one of the most difficult parts of the grieving process. It’s a sobering reminder – among many – that life goes on even when yours has effectively been on pause.

Looking back at those early days following my father’s death, returning to work two weeks later was definitely a premature decision. And eventually feeling incapable of doing the job I had once done for years, I ended up quitting. As a result, here are a few things I learned about grief and moving on.

There is no “acceptable” pace to move forward

Whatever it means for you to move forward – whether that’s returning to work, resuming daily tasks or socialising again – try not to be hard on yourself for the amount of time it takes.

While returning to work may be a welcome distraction for some, taking extended time off may be essential for others. There’s no instruction manual on how to press resume on your life, so your grieving process will likely be a matter of figuring things out as they come. Give yourself time.

There will be uncomfortable situations – try to prepare yourself

If I could go back in time, I would have asked myself some important questions before I returned to work like: how will I respond to my colleagues’ condolences IRL? What will I do when I’m hit with emotion in the middle of a busy dinner shift? Will I be able to deal with customers yelling at me or being insensitive because they simply won’t know what I’m going through?

Uncomfortable situations like these are bound to come up in any workplace. While your emotional responses will be hard to control, you can at least help your future self by preparing for them, even if that means some role play at home.

Your performance may suffer as you grieve

This is also a good time to accept that you might not retain the same work ethic, or work as efficiently as you once did. The heaviness of grief and all of its accompanying emotions can make you forgetful, irritable, dismissive and even tardy. Acknowledge these changes, but don’t be too hard on yourself.

At the same time, be open with your employer if you need more time off, if you want to share the extent of your grief, or to explore workplace benefits like counselling. In some cases like mine, you may end up seeking alternative employment to better suit that period of your life. But try to avoid making big life decisions during this time.

Your work and grief will continue to collide, even years down the road

Four years after my father’s death, I still have low periods that affect my ability to work and often experience unavoidable triggers.That’s totally normal. Expect to feel the waves, expect grief to get in the way and expect the topic to come up when you take time off for anniversaries and birthdays.

At the end of the day, all you can do is embrace the fact that your loss will always be a part of you. In doing so, those bumps down the road will start getting a little easier.


Ebony-Renee Baker is a Canadian writer and content creator based in the UK. She writes about topics including lifestyle, fashion, race, social issues and, yes, sometimes death.