Returning to Work/Life After Loss

February 19, 2015



Losing your child is beyond devastating. The pain of that goodbye is unlike anything else. Your world, in an instant changed. And, you…you will never be the same.

I’ve written before about the insult to injury that occurs after the death of your child, the strange phenomenon of not feeling familiar in your own skin.

And, then.

Then, there’s the bitter pill of life moving on anyway, when yours lies in smithereens…shattered…pieces flung in all directions.

How…how does the world dare to keep turning when you’re standing beside a tiny, cold, grave…and you don’t know how to walk away or think past the darkness of your broken heart for even a moment?

Six weeks later…or sometimes sooner, you are expected to return to work. To wear clothes that match when you can still barely lift your head. To carry on a coherent conversation. To focus on a task, for an entire day. To interact with other human beings…those who may avert their gaze to avoid making eye contact…those who don’t know what to say…those who say the wrong thing….and those who may want to show love and kindness, but you really aren’t sure how to respond to that either. Some moments you want to talk about your baby…to tell the world that he was here…maybe even show her picture. And, some days you just want to be left alone. To go to work and delve into the task in front of you in a desperate attempt to quiet the gnawing ache of missing that weighs on your soul, attaching itself to your every do something that feels normal.

Only nothing about this is normal. None of this was in the plan.

The anxiety grips you as you wonder what that first day will be like. Will people embrace you, go on with business as usual, or completely avoid you? What do you want them to do? How will you respond? Can you get through the day without crying? Can you give yourself grace if you cannot?

The truth is, while for some people going to back to work or the everyday social interactions of life may be a comfort in grief, something that feels safe and soothing or at least a welcome distraction of busyness, for many, the opposite is true. Many dread returning to a life that no longer feels safe and familiar to them. In the fresh throes of grief, we may not even enjoy the things we used to love. Grief can be consuming, energy-sapping, exhausting, distracting…leaving you a little stumbly and foggy brained.

1. The most important truth to remember, whether you fling yourself back into the workforce, or tiptoe tentatively to the edge, is to give yourself GRACE. Grace to stumble. Grace to make mistakes. Grace to feel a myriad of things that may not even make sense. Grace to cry. Grace to feel numb. Grace to be disgusted for a moment, and hurt when someone says something insensitive. Grace to forgive. (Incidentally, this grace thing is true for grief in general…not just in regards to returning to work. And, not just grief…but in life. We all need grace.) Grace to not be exactly like the person you were “before.” Grace for friendships to change, and for you to sometimes prefer the company of those who “get it” as opposed those who don’t or won’t. Grace to forgive those around you who do not realize that you will never be the same. Parts of you will heal, but you are changed. No one should judge your performance in grief…including you. It takes time to ease into life when you’re walking around in pieces. And, that needs to be okay.

2. Grief is exhausting. Physically, emotionally, and mentally. Rest often and try to build strength through proper nutrition and exercise. This will help you prepare for returning to work. Ease in if you can. Maybe doing part time at first and easing back into longer days. This isn’t possible for everyone. But, I think as a culture, we rush ourselves and others through grief way too quickly, not allowing time for proper healing before we expect someone to be fully functioning.

3. One of the things people are most unsure about is being uncomfortable around their co-workers. The co-workers are concerned about this, as well. While that prompts many to say nothing or to say the wrong thing, some will wisely take cues from you. If you are comfortable talking about the baby, that may set others and ease. They may follow your lead. And, if you’re feeling quiet, hopefully they can respect that you need space. If possible, communicating can help alleviate the uncomfortableness.

4. Telling the news. Another fear is…will I have to repeat this story again and again, reliving the reactions of others over and over? A good idea would be to send out an email or even a memo through a trusted co-worker or supervisor telling others that your baby has passed away. Asking a trusted coworker to share with others how you are doing and what your concerns are as you return to work may be helpful if that’s an option. For instance, I had a teacher friend who asked me to speak to her students about the loss so she would not have to tell them the story. She also asked me to share with her co-workers and to kindly request that they allow her to return to work without speaking of her loss. She wanted the “business as usual” environment. To others, it may be hurtful to have no one acknowledge their baby or their loss. Everyone is so unique in their responses in grief. That’s one reason it is difficult for others to know how best to support grieving parents. And very important to communicate, if possible…even if through someone else, if you’re feeling too fragile to speak up for yourself in those moments of brokenness.

5. Make sure you have a safe zone or a safe person or place to vent emotions when needed. Even if just briefly.

So much has changed for you, and your work life may be just another thing to adjust to. You may find changes are needed in that area of your life as well. Don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself, and to explore the person you are now. She is worth getting to know, and even in this sorrow, she has adventures to pursue still. The courage and grace will come with each overcoming breath as you put one foot in front of the other and do the next thing.




  • Kelly Gerken

    Kelly Gerken is the president and founder of Sufficient Grace Ministries, an organization providing perinatal hospice services, bereavement support and Dreams of You memory-making materials to families facing the loss of a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth, infant death and the death of a young child. Kelly has walked through the loss of three of her five children, and now reaches out to walk with other grieving families as an SGM perinatal loss support doula and SGM Remembrance Photographer. She is a creator and facilitator of training for birth professionals on compassionate care for bereaved parents facing perinatal loss. Her memoir, Sufficient Grace, was published in 2014. You can read more about Kelly's journey of grace, hope and healing and the outreaches of SGM, order resources or find her book here:


    • Nellie Caron

      May 14, 2016 at 10:58 am

      I have lost my child , It was 8 years ago, but none the less I feel like Im stuck in a pool under water . I try to climb out emotionally, but I feel like I I should stay there, because I deserve it. I feel guilt after all this time. I feel like I should have been a better mother. When she was born I looked into her small little eyes and promised to protect and care for her. I let her down in so many ways. Why should my life be better , why should I live and go through life as if she’s still here?? She’s gone and I dont feel like the same person. I go to work and I dont feel Normal , I feel like im out of place. I make stupid mistakes and I dont care about the consicuences. I should be punished. I never felt the same after Ana’s death and yet I pretend in front of everyone like a pro. Yea Nellie is Strong like a bull. I may be strong like a bull, but inside Im afraid of who I am. Im so angry right now that the thought of suicide feels like a sense of releif. If I could find a way to accomplish it without pain, or as fast as possible, I would have no problem in a rage of anger executing it. I feel like im taking up so much space for no reason. Im 54 , getting older less and less of my daily activities get my attention. Im just existing for no reason at all. Why? I keep asking myself why??.

      1. Kelly Gerken

        Kelly Gerken

        May 14, 2016 at 11:59 pm

        Nellie, I’m so sorry for the loss of your daughter. And, for the pain you’ve endured these last 8 years. I wish I had the words to take that pain or to make these wrongs right. I wish I could lift the guilt for you or answer those agonizing “whys.” But, I can’t take the pain or answer those hard questions for you or for me…or for so many hurting and missing their children. I know that we live in a broken world that often doesn’t make sense. And, I think some answers we don’t get this side of heaven. What I can tell you is that you are not alone…and that there is hope…and that life…even in the pain… is worth living because your sweet girl lived. She would not want you to feel this misery or to harm yourself. I know my words don’t and can’t fix it. I do think that it would help you to reach out for professional counseling in your area if you haven’t already done so. You should not walk in this wilderness alone. And, if those thoughts of suicide continue, please do not hesitate to call for help: 1 (800) 221-7437 is a 24/7 number to provide mental health/crisis support for parents after the death of an infant or child. Another number: 1 (800) 273-8255: US National Suicide Hotline

        Praying for peace for your heart. And sending a hug from here.

    • Lying-In After Pregnancy or Infant Loss – Still Standing Magazine

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