There is no timetable to follow to determine your readiness to return to work, school, the world of the living. Even a simple trip to the grocery store or mall is a big deal. The best advice I can give is to get in and out as quickly as possible in the beginning. There will be painful reminders everywhere. There will be foods at the grocery store that your child loved to eat. There will be clothes and gifts at the mall you want to buy for him or her. The worst part for me was seeing young families together with their long lives in front of them – children who would grow up and know both their parents, parents who would not outlive their children. Once again, as painful as these outings will be in the beginning, it will get better.
If you are under the care of a physician, he may set the time for you to go back to work. You may have no choice. I returned to work four weeks after the death of my son. I was terrified. How would people behave? Would I be able to function? Would I cry at my desk? It’s something that, if you must work to eat, you must take a deep breathe and plunge in. Some grieving parents take long extended leaves and others feel better about getting back to work to stay busy. My co-workers responded to me and the September 11 tragedy with open hearts and unbelievable generosity. I received an avalanche of sympathy cards and well wishes. Still, it was so hard to walk into that office. There are those who, to this day, look sad and downcast when they pass me in the hall. I can’t figure out if this is genuine or a behavior they believe is appropriate. Some greeted me when I returned to work as if I had just returned from a vacation, all smiles and cheer. Some avoided me completely while others were wary, as if I might explode. A very few were direct and open in their expressions of sympathy. Some were overly direct and curious to hear an eye witness account of how it was to be effected by 9-11. There were prying questions about me, my son, and my family. I was surprised to find that people I barely knew were sometimes more aware and sensitive than those I had known and respected for a long time. You can choose to respond or not, it’s up to you and you are the one who’s been hurt.
I read once that grief changes your address book. Old names are crossed out and replaced by new names, the names of people who you can talk to about your child, cry, laugh, and wonder with, without telling you to move on, get over it, or find “closure.”