Going back to work after losing someone, whether it's back into a physical workplace 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 around six months after Tim's death, when I had a crash in my grief and 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
Widow's experiences of going back to work, both good and bad.
I was widowed at 50 when Tim, who I expected would be my happy-ever-after following a marriage break-up, died suddenly from heart failure linked to his type 2 diabetes. Though we'd known each other since our early 20s, we'd been married less than ten years.