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Grief & Bereavement Policies

How many people agree that when a family member dies, that the standard three days off work allows you enough time to attend the funeral and wrap up on the many details that death has left behind? I thought of all the ways we have not taught people how to express feelings to someone grieving—expressions that are appropriate for that individual.

The worse thing I found was that bereavement policies across the corporate and association spectrum differ very little: they are, in my opinion, too short and too narrow in the scope for whom people are permitted to take PTO (paid time off) when a death occurs.Most are for immediate family and few include those who are in non-married partnerships; some do not consider cousins, aunts, uncles or in-laws family and for those of us with “fur babies,” there is not a chance in the world they’d be included in bereavement leave.,

I asked a member of middle manage, Why is bereavement leave so stingy? You’ll have guessed it—if we are taking time off and being paid, we are not an asset to the bottom line. Yet, I know few people who are grieving who are productive when someone they love is sick and dying or after a death. It has taken me weeks to even be somewhat more productive after the death of three friends.

If I worked for someone else, I’d have not been able to take any time off. It makes no sense to me. In days past, many people lived near families. Now, we live elsewhere and have both families-of-choice where we live and family scattered around the world. Five days—though the most common was three—is not enough time to travel, attend a service, or being with others, and return. Once back, it is rare that we can concentrate so deep is our grief. Of the friends who died, I asked some closest to them for their input.

ME: Did your Mom at any time discuss with you or your siblings what, when she died, she wanted the end of life observance to be?

Molly: The only thing I’ve ever been sure of about my Mom’s funeral is that “Be Not Afraid” and “Eagles Wings” should be sung, but we never discussed her wishes directly, and I’m a little bit sad for that. I do think my siblings and I did a pretty good job of ensuring her viewing, funeral and lunch reception were a good reflection of our Mom, but we guessed at a lot and knew she’d understand.

Planning a funeral can be like planning a wedding without the couple getting married. I’m not religious but was grateful to have the structure of funeral mass to get us through.

ME: How were your own employer’s policies and those of your spouse on bereavement versus what you needed?

Molly: When I looked in my HR handbook and saw I was officially entitled to three bereavement days, I laughed because it seemed like a sick joke.

But the culture at my organization is very family-friendly, and my boss was very empathetic since her own mother died recently.

I was urged to take as much time as I needed for as long as I needed, including half days.

This sense of understanding and flexibility was exactly what I needed—more than larger allotment of official bereavement days.

ME: How you are managing grief and being back at work?

Molly: I’m not sure. It’s been just over a month since I’m back and work and sometimes the clear to-do lists of work are a helpful escape from the vague free-floating physical and emotional symptoms of grief. On the other hand, I’m also being a bit half-hearted when it comes to some of my projects. I’m trying to take more deliberate breaks in my day to emotionally vent and then regroup. I’m not really sure if It’s doing much good.

I’m tired and will be taking a real vacation with my family in a few weeks. I think that will be helpful—not traveling for work or settling Mom’s affairs, just traveling for the joy of it.

Dave: I was between jobs when Mom became ill, so the work question does not apply to my situation.

Mom conveyed her burial wishes and services through a will, thank God; doing that made all the arrangements very matter-of-fact. Without the will we would have been searching for consensus [among the siblings]. Mom was a much more devout Catholic than any of us. Our funeral director knew mom and was excellent even though I’m not a fan of the funeral industry.

We all grieve differently. Right now I’m trying to stay busy. I started a new job. I believe that sadness, self-pity and repetitive-mourning are neighborhoods in my brain where I can choose to hang out or to not hang out. I try and redirect my thoughts to gratitude and appreciation.

Mom lived the most beautiful life. She loved deeply and often; she prayed daily; she rejoiced with nature; she continually gave of herself for the betterment of others. Mom was the brightest bulb in my chandelier of life and her passing has made my world a little less bright.

And, we must live! We must move forward! We must do as she would want us to do.

One note: I’m a recovering alcoholic and I’ve often said that there are only two reasons I’d ever consider drinking again. One was the sudden passing of Mom.