Going back to work after losing someone, whether it's on-site or working from home, is a really tough thing to have to do. You may need to go back to work because you need the money, or it may be to provide structure, company and support.
As a freelancer I didn't have a lot of choice about going back to work. I also found that doing a job I loved meant that I got up in the morning with something to do. I started back a week or so after the funeral. One of the first stories I had to write (I'm a medical writer) was about heart disease in diabetes, which was the cause of Tim's sudden death. Even now I struggle to write on that topic, with the only consolation being that the medical research I cover could stop someone else being in my situation.
I did take on too much too soon, and that kicked me in the butt about a year later, when I had a crash in my mental health and had to pull out of two major projects. I've tried to be more measured about my workload since then (which I don't always manage), and to take on smaller rather than larger projects.
There is no specific right time to go back to work – it's whatever works for you. It may be days, weeks or months. You have the right to time off when a partner dies. However, depending on how much bereavement leave you get, you might need to take holiday or unpaid leave as well, or get your doctor to sign you off. You may go back to work and then find out you need to take more time off. This isn't a failure, it's what you need.
Unfortunately, not all employers are as good as they should be. You may need to be determined in asking for what you need, and you may experience your coping strategies being dismissed or undermined, and your self-care plans belittled. Talk to your boss (or your boss' boss) about what you need, and if you have an HR department or a union, you might want to get them involved.
Some people don't go back to their old job, go back and leave, or don't go back to work at all, after bereavement. This may be because their workplace doesn't provide the support or adjustments they need, the travelling is too much, or the experience of bereavement has changed priorities.
"I left my job a month before Steve died to care for him, so I had no job to go back to. Steve had said to me that I should work for the special assistance at the airport - he said I’d be good at it. So, 9 months later I rocked up at the airport to start my new career. Although it was hard at first they loved me for being the only member of staff that joined because we had used the service, and they were compassionate about what I had been through. I loved my job then and 7 years later I still love it. I went from doing nothing for 9 months (apart from the horses - three at that time!) straight into shift work. It was a bit of a launch but was so the right thing to do for me."
How you might feel
Hints & tips
In a guest blog, Alison Messom responds to Talking about chapters and stories
I've never liked the concept of a chapter 2 as it suggests the only thing important in your life is a relationship, but I don't have an issue with the concept of chapters per se. I see our lives as a complex novel with multiple chapters, each adding to the whole story.
Some chapters introduce new things or reveal something that we only recognise as being important later, or help us realise that something we thought was important really isn't. However, no matter how well written it is, no single chapter is complete on its own. You need all of them to understand and enjoy the whole story.
There are threads that run through the novel. Some threads have a key role in a single chapter, others are a constant feature. Some feature in multiple chapters and some play a critical supporting role that may not be immediately apparent.
My life has many chapters. Some relate to activities that were really important, some to places I've lived or have significance. There is an extensive cast list and various characters appear at different points. Some characters only make a fleeting appearance, others form key pillars on which the story builds. The key is that nothing is irrelevant. All of these things add to the picture and a theme or thread doesn't end as a chapter ends; it may well have a role to play in a future chapter.
I like to think that my current chapter is pulling together various threads and characters that were introduced much earlier and is also adding some new characters to move the story in a new direction, building on what came before.
Unlike Theresa May, Tim and I never thought that there were 'boy jobs and girl jobs' around the house. There were just jobs he did, such as taking out the bins and the recycling, and doing the vacuuming. He partly did those because they needed to be done, but he partly did them because he knew I hated them, and he was a nice man.
That first Monday morning when I put the rubbish out it hurt, and it reminded me how much I missed him. Now, while I still hate doing it, it reminds me how good he was.