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Top resources for those taking bereavement leave

If you or someone you know is currently grieving the loss of a loved one, it can be overwhelming to know where to begin. With many states not offering but more than three days off for paid bereavement leave, it can feel impossible to arrange everything necessary and also take care of yourself. While each person’s needs are unique, there are a few places you can start. If you are supporting someone currently grieving, or if you have a colleague who lost someone and is in need of support, here are some things you can recommend they look into (or better yet, offer to look into it for them).

If you are the one grieving, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you don’t have the energy to give much direction on how others can help, maybe just forward them this article and let them do the rest. But whatever you decide, here are a few resources that can be helpful.

  1. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) - Many companies offer EAPs, which provide free and confidential support to employees who are experiencing personal or work-related problems. EAPs can offer counseling services and other resources to help employees cope with grief and loss. Contact your human resources department and ask them what you need to do to access these resources. When you request your bereavement leave, this may be something they already do, but just be sure to ask if there are any other benefits you can leverage.
  2. Grief support groups - Some hospitals, churches, and community centers offer grief support groups that can provide a safe and supportive environment for individuals to share their feelings and experiences with others who are going through a similar loss. If your loved one died in a hospital, they will typically have social workers who serve as bereavement specialists. They will be able to help you with any additional resources, including support groups. While it may be difficult to jump into these right away, incorporating regular activities (especially with others) that make you feel supported can be incredibly helpful.

    Grief can feel more like a life-long companion to those who have experienced loss, so find tools that you can keep on you for a while. One of our favorites is a monthly grief and writing workshop hosted by a non-profit organization called You’re Going to Die. I took this one about a year ago and found the focus on creative writing as a tool for processing grief to be so profound and freeing.
  3. Hiring help- There are an increase of individuals and organizations focused on helping those grieving through everything from planning a funeral to figuring out how to sort personal items to closing estates and much, much more. The list can feel insurmountable. This is why we would recommend hiring someone to help. Organizations such as Professionals of After Loss Services (PALS) is one that has proven to bring so much help to grieving families, as the four founders have experienced personal loss themselves. Find someone who can help take care of the heavy burden of post-loss tasks and give yourself more time to spend with family or to just do, literally anything else besides paperwork. Nobody grieving should be lost in paperwork.
  4. Negotiate time-off - With zero federal law requiring companies to provide paid bereavement leave and only a few states taking it upon themselves to do so, it is important to advocate for your needs. However, if your company already has a bereavement policy, it’ll be unlikely you can negotiate that, but it never hurts to ask. If you do want to negotiate, do it over the phone. Sometimes we forget that real-time conversations can help us get what we need, faster. After that, submit a clear written plan based on what was agreed upon. Be sure you know how much extended time you’ll want off and what the timeline could look like for your return.

    Talk with co-workers to see if there is additional support that can be provided. And remember, you are your best advocate in these situations. If you feel you need more time, trust that. If your company is unwilling to budge on time-off, then push for other resources that can help you come back to work. It’s an unfortunate reality of the world we live in, but having a clear plan can help those conversations go over much easier.
  5. Separate tasks among family - When a loved one dies, there is often one family member leading the charge to get everything done. While hiring help can also be incredibly effective, it’s also important to allow other family members in to help as well. Identify bulky tasks that feel overwhelming to you and see if you can break them down into smaller ones, and then divide those among family. Also, be sure to know if certain things must be done in order (ex: You must file for a death certificate before doing anything else after a loved one dies — several other forms rely on this one document.)

As you can probably tell, the overarching theme here is to ask for help. We haven’t been well taught to do this, so when it comes to deeply painful experiences, it can feel easier to slip away and isolate. But if you need help, there is always going to be someone who will be happy to do it. Whether it is a family member, a co-worker, or a social work at a hospital. There is always someone available who is wanting to help you through this grief. All you need to do is start with one person. Then, it does becomes easier to continue asking for help after that. And eventually, you may just find yourself turning that grief into something wildly unexpected and beautiful.

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Breena Fain
Breena Fain

Breena is a writer, certified death doula, and co-founder at Addio based in San Francisco. She leads Addio's content efforts and helps families navigate their end-of-life plan. In her free time, you can find her at the piano, on the beach with her dog, eating her weight in sourdough bread, and volunteering at a local SF hospice facility. (She's also who runs all our social media accounts so be sure to say hello!)

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