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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

Why I'd Rather Work While Grieving Than Take the Day Off

This is a tough week for me. Tomorrow, my son Moses should be turning two, but he passed away as an infant.

Since his untimely death, a few things have really helped me cope: the love and support of family and friends, a charitable fund we set up in his name, and yes, my job. It’s been a refuge.

After experiencing something so heartbreaking, there’s a longing to inhabit a space that doesn’t feel tragic. Maybe you want to feel like your old self. Maybe you want to feel like someone completely different who isn’t seeped in grief.

Working makes me feel smart and productive. It allows me to step outside my sadness, and it allows me to engage and challenge a part of my brain that’s not connected to my loss.

So, while I truly appreciate my boss asking me if I wanted to take tomorrow off—and while you should never feel guilty if that’s what you need—it means even more to me that she let me work (with the understanding that I’d be approaching it a bit differently).

If you’re in a similar boat and would rather work through a tough time than take the day off, here’s what I’d suggest:

Be Honest With Your Team

Tomorrow is not a regular ol’ Thursday. It’ll be harder for me to be empathetic to a co-worker’s work-related problem, because compared to what I’m processing, it’ll seem pretty frivolous. And I won’t be the bubbly networker or eager brainstormer I usually am.

My strong preference will be to keep my eyes locked on my computer screen. I can add value there: In fact, it’s the perfect time to tackle monotonous tasks I’d typically find a bit boring. However, I need to let my boss and co-workers know that’s my plan in advance. I want them to know I’m not being rude—I’m just trying to make the most of a hard day. And for me, that means being a little more inward than usual.

This conversation doesn’t have to be awkward. Think about it: People discuss their availability all the time, and look for ways to communicate that they’re super busy or otherwise occupied and it’s not a good time to pop by for a chat. If you’re dealing with something heavy outside of work, you can simply say that—that you’re having a rough couple of days—and it’d be really helpful if you could save outward-facing (or creative or whatever you need a break from) duties until the following week.

Secondly, I’d tell people to:

Be Honest With Yourself

I love burying myself in a pile of edits and I find writing cathartic; but even still, I know that if Mother’s Day wasn’t on a Sunday, I’d request it off every year. That’s my day: That’s the day I feel broken, and angry, and sad, and cry about the fact that I can’t hold my son, or watch him grow, or ever hear him call me “Mama” or say, “I love you.”

And it’s perfectly understandable for me to feel that way. But I don’t want to feel that way at my desk.

You know best whether you can handle being at work. Just like you know the difference between pushing through being a little tired or needing to stay home because you’re coming down with the flu; you know if you can be there but should run important emails by a second set of eyes—or if you’re really better off taking a personal day. If it’s the latter, don’t feel bad! Taking the time you need is the most responsible thing you can do.

I know what my pain feels like, but I can’t experience someone else’s. Much like people grieve differentlt, people cope differently, too. If, like me, you want to work through it, find a way that makes sense for you and your workload. And if it ends up being too much, it’s OK to change your mind. Your work will still be there when you’re ready to tackle it.

Note: If you are coping with grief or something else that’s affecting your ability to work, consider contacting a mental health professional who can help.

Photo of tktk courtesy of tktk/Getty Images.