Grief is a normal and healthy response to loss. The loss of a child invokes some of the deepest grief a person can experience. For a bereaved parent, grandparent, or sibling, having a supportive employer and understanding co-workers can make a world of difference as they adjust to their new reality during this traumatic time in their life. To help out, we’ve provided information below on what employers and co-workers can do when someone they work with experiences child loss.
By researching what to do for a bereaved parent, you are taking the first step in being that supportive employer or co-worker. We applaud you for taking the time to do so. Hopefully our tips below will help in your journey together.
For Employers and Supervisors
- Try to give the parent as much time off work as possible. From our experience, having at least a month off helps relieve the burden of having to return to work and face curious and/or distant peers while still working through the early stages of grief.
- Ask the parent if they would like to open the wake and/or funeral to anyone they work with, and if so, offer to provide that information to the parent’s co-workers so they do not have to.
- Let the parent know the company cares about them. This can be in the form of flowers or a donation for the funeral, or coordinating gift cards or food for the parents.
- If possible, talk with the parent after a few weeks about when they are comfortable coming back to work.
- Coordinate the parent’s responsibilities with their supervisor and/or a coworker who is going to step in while they are out so they don’t have to worry about having to tie up any loose ends.
- Be open to the parent coming back part-time or with a flexible schedule.
- Before the parent returns to work, talk to them about how they would like to handle their return. Do they want people to talk about their child? Do they want to avoid anything in particular? Most parents want to be treated normally but welcome talking about their child’s life. The parent may wish to send an email when they return to the office letting them know of their preference, or they may wish for their supervisor to handle it.
- When they return, talk to the parent about their responsibilities and how to realistically make a plan that works for both of you.
- Be open to a reduced workload as they try to re-integrate into the workforce.
- Be mindful of the type of work the parent is performing and be willing to be flexible on changing their tasks. Depending on their situation, some parents may not feel comfortable doing certain tasks or talking to certain clients that trigger their grief.
- Be open to the parent requesting additional time off as time goes on. Often, certain dates are very difficult for the parent and they may want to request off as they know they will not be able to focus on work that day. These may include birth dates, death dates, hospitalization or other traumatic event dates, and some holidays.
For Employers and Co-Workers
- Let the parent know you are thinking about them and their child. You can send an email, a card, attend the funeral (if invited), send gift cards or food, or offer to help in numerous other ways.
- While the parent is off work, only contact them about work-related tasks if it is urgent and the answer cannot be found elsewhere.
- Designate one or two people to check in with the parent while they are out to see how they are doing and if you can do anything for them.
- Recognize that the parent is likely not going to be operating at 100% capacity when they return to work and it may take some time for them to return to full capacity, but they will eventually.
- Realize that some parents want to delve deep into work and others have difficulty focusing on work. Keep communication open about what expectations the parent is expected to meet.
- Don’t wait for the parent to ask for help. Offer to help with a task or project. The parent may be reluctant to ask for help because they already feel as if they are not doing enough.
- Know that there will be triggering events, dates, and discussions for the parent. Be mindful of this and try not to take it personally. If you know what the triggers are, avoid them if possible. It’s always best to ask the parent what their triggers are instead of assuming. Triggers are different for each person, but could include seeing or talking about children of the same age or gender, the same medical condition their child had, or their child’s birth or death date. The parents may not even realize some of their triggers until some time has passed.
- Be willing to talk about their child and their accompanying grief with the parent. It is helpful for the employer or supervisor to check in with them from time to time about how they are doing, both emotionally and with their work responsibilities.
- Continue to include the parent in lunches, meetings, and the like, so they don’t feel further isolated.
- Be gentle and patient with the parent. They have been through a seriously traumatic event. They will not be the same person immediately and may not return to the same person at all. Please avoid any judgment.
- We encourage you to explore the other resources found under the “Resources for Family and Friends” tab on this site, particularly the “what to say” and “what to do” sections, since many of them will be applicable to you as well and will help you to better understand what the parent is enduring.