Dear Annie: Two months ago, I went back to work full-time, four months after the death of my partner. When she became really ill, the company I work for was really good about giving me the time I needed to be with her and our two children. I returned to work a fortnight after she died and my boss arranged for me to ‘ease’ back in, working part time hours, so we could adjust at home.
But I need the full time hours. Compared to some people, I’ve been fortunate to work for an employer with a sympathetic approach. But I’m still deeply affected by my partner’s death and worried about being the dad that my kids need. I’m worried about this showing in my performance at work and affecting my job. Now I’m ‘back in the saddle’, it’s assumed I’m okay. But I don’t feel okay. How can I muster the strength? - EL
Annie says: Your dilemma really touches on the confusing nature of grief, that we can both need normality, and not want it at the same time. And that is a very difficult thing to come to terms with for oneself, let alone try and communicate it to others.
What I also hear is that perhaps in some ways it has got a little harder over time, rather than easier – so whereas being at work two weeks after your partner died might have felt like a welcome distraction, now you feel a pressure to ‘be over it’ and okay, as you say. This too is quite common, as once the shock wears off we start to feel things more intensely.
It is still very early days in your grieving process, so this is likely to continue for some time. I would really encourage you to be mindful of what pressure you might be putting on yourself to be more okay than you are, especially having two children to support. This makes it all the more important that you actively seek out extra support for them and yourself so that you don’t neglect your own needs.
As you say, your employer is understanding, so take them aside, and explain to them that things aren’t as okay as they might seem, and that your transition won’t necessarily be a smooth and predictable process. You are far less likely to ‘perform badly’ at work if you are working in an environment in which you feel understood. So although telling them you are struggling might feel like a risky thing to do, you are ultimately doing the best thing for yourself and your employer.
If you have a question for Annie to answer in this column, you can write to her at DearAnnie@funeralguide.com
Annie Broadbent is a trained psychosynthesis counsellor, with specialist experience working with the bereaved. As a therapist she explores the mind, body, feelings and spirit, working with individuals in a way that is most appropriate for them.
She is the author of bestselling self-help book We Need to Talk About Grief, inspired by personal experiences of living through bereavement, including her own. Whilst writing her book, Annie volunteered at St Christopher's Hospice and has given a number of talks on issues around grief, bereavement and mental health.