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How to cope with bereavement

Grief is something no one is ever really prepared for. Learning how to live with loss can be difficult and bereavement affects everyone differently but finding the right support can sometimes feel like an uphill struggle. We share where to find help, your rights to workplace leave and tips on how to cope.

How to find the help you need

When a parent dies it can be overwhelming. If your parent has been diagnosed with a terminal illness you might find that preparing for their loss can be a helpful process for you and your family. Pre-bereavement care is offered by most bereavement counsellors and can help you cope with your feelings.

The NHS offers a number of bereavement support services as well as counselling and therapy sessions to help those coping with the loss of a loved one. The government also provides a search facility to help you access bereavement resources and support through your local council.

Both the British Psychological Society and the Royal College of Psychiatrists also have comprehensive articles on the stages of grief and how to identify and cope with the emotions you can experience during the grieving process as well as lists of useful books and further sites that can help.

If you’re finding it particularly hard to cope with your grief it may be a good idea to talk to your GP about ways to manage which might include medication.

How should my workplace support me?

If your parent has a fall, is admitted to hospital unexpectedly, is close to passing away or passes suddenly you have the statutory right to a “reasonable” amount of time off, paid or unpaid at your employer’s discretion, to deal with emergency situations involving a dependent.

It’s important that you tell your employer as soon as you can why you’re absent and how long you’ll need off work. You don’t need to do this in writing or provide proof but giving your employer enough information will help them determine whether your leave pertains to your statutory rights.

The amount of time you’ll be allowed off will be agreed by you and your employer in light of your individual circumstances but it is your right to ask for this time off to deal with unexpected incidences and so your employer should be lenient with the amount of time they allow.

Many employers also have a compassionate leave policy which is similar to reasonable time off but it’s granted solely at the discretion of your employer. Policy details should be outlined in your contract or employee handbook.

If your company doesn’t have a clearly defined policy for compassionate leave or you can’t find the information you need it’s best to speak to someone in your HR department as soon as possible so you can arrange the time you need to cope with the loss of your parent. Some employers may ask you to use part of your allotted holiday to deal with personal emergencies so bear this in mind.

What’s being done to help the bereaved?

In a recent survey the Dying Matters Coalition found that over 8 in 10 people felt that they should have a legal right to paid bereavement leave. The majority of those surveyed would support a change to employment law for paid leave if an immediate family member passed away.

The National Council for Palliative Care (NCPC) warns that a lack of support for the bereaved could lead to more and more employees taking sick leave or using their holiday allowance in order to cope with the loss of a loved on. It estimates that the recently bereavement who need hospital care could cost the NHS £190 million a year.

Currently you or your parent’s surviving partner would not be eligible for Bereavement Allowance under the existing guidelines, something which Dying Matters is urging the government to review. They’re also pushing for coordinated bereavement support and services on a local and national scale. You can read the full report here.

Maureen’s experience of workplace support

Maureen Meredith has coped with a lot of loss in her life. She lost her mum, dad and son in the space of 16 years. When her son was diagnosed with cancer he died within 8 months. As she was in full time employment she needed to organise time off with her employer to support her son for those 8 months and when his life ended.

Maureen’s employer, counsellor and doctor all worked with her to develop a plan to help her be there for her son when he needed her most. A medical certificate obtained from the doctor provided evidence of her son’s situation, which was a requirement of Maureen’s organisation’s HR policy concerning leave.

She was granted carer’s leave to help look after her son and then bereavement leave after he passed. Maureen’s employer was very supportive, advising on HR policies and appointing a staff member who ably fulfilled her role while she was away.

Her counsellor suggested a staggered return to work and this was supported by her employer. It made a big difference to Maureen to know that she didn’t have to worry about her leave or her job.

Tips for navigating grief in the workplace

Maureen wrote a free eBook based on her experience of grieving and the support she received. She shares the following advice when it comes to integrating back into work life during and after the grieving process:

  • Take as much time off as you can to give yourself a chance to confront your grief and cope with the emotional upheaval you may experience.
  • If you can only take a limited amount of time off break up your working week by having one day off each week to get out of the office and have some time for you.
  • Talk to your colleagues about how’re you’re managing your grief. Your colleagues should take their cue from you in terms of talking about personal problems.
  • Most importantly keep your employer informed of how you’re coping emotionally and with your workload so they can understand your needs and help as best they can.

If you need help coping with bereavement Cruse Bereavement Care and the Bereavement Advice Centre both offer support services accessible locally, over the phone or via email. Call Cruse on 0844 477 9400 or the Bereavement Advice Centre on 0800 634 9494 for more information.

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