Some Frequently Asked Questions About Work
What help can I access now my child has died?
When your child has died, even thinking about work or what help you can access can be daunting. It is hoped we can provide you with some basic information not only to help ease the transition back to work but where you can seek other support to lessen the stress of dealing with the legalities and financial strains you were never expecting to handle.
In the first few days
Letting people know
Beside advising those close to you, there are ‘official’ phone calls that must be made. This is by no means a complete list but it will help you get started. You will find people will be anxious not to overwhelm you or be feeling affected by your tragic news but want to support you in whatever way they can. It is important for you to remember that if you ask, they will help. So if you are uncertain of the next steps when you contact someone, ask – even if they don’t know, they may be willing to investigate for you.
As you are going to need time, this is probably going to the one of the first calls you will need to make. Depending on where you work, some organisations have defined policies in place that will guide what they are able to do to support you. There are rights that are yours by law (National Employment Standards (NES) – 3 days’ bereavement leave) and often your employer will extend this if it is set out in their policy. If there is no defined policy, refer your employer to the Our colleague’s child has died – how can we help? section of this website which outlines ways they can support you during this very difficult time. You may also find this information of interest as it highlights ways in which you can ask for support from your workplace – it provides a stepping off place to ensure you ask for what you need.
- Leave entitlements - In addition to the National Employment Standards (NES) allocation, which is your right by law, your organisation’s policy may give more. You are also entitled to access your annual and sick leave and are often required to do this before being eligible for government assistance. Some organisations allow your colleagues to donate some of their entitlements but this would most certainly be a voluntary arrangement. The important thing is to ask your employer so you know how much breathing space you have.
- Employee assistance program (EAP) - Some companies offer an EAP to employees. If you are not comfortable contacting Red Nose Grief and Loss or other support services (The Compassionate Friends or Australian Centre for Bereavement and Grief for example), this benefit, while limited to a prescribed number of sessions, is confidential and does not cost you anything.
Centrelink has a range of supports for which you may be eligible, depending on your circumstances. These can alter with changes in government policy, e.g. if your child was stillborn, at the time of writing, there are a Stillborn Baby and a Dad and Partner payment if eligibility applies. Currently you can access your superannuation for funeral expenses for a dependent and Centrelink can guide you through that. If you are self employed or your company does not have extended leave or other supports they can offer, contact Centrelink to ascertain whether there are safety net provisions that could apply to your situation. There may be other benefits that you can receive so inquiring at Centrelink is worth considering.
In addition to the unexpected costs of your child’s funeral and other associated expenses, the everyday cost of living continues. It is difficult enough to put one foot in front of the other without the added burden of worrying about how to pay the bills. Often it is that feeling of things being out of control that compounds your sense of vulnerability.
While it might be the last thing on your radar, it is important to contact your bank to see if they can defer your mortgage or make another arrangement until you can see things a little more clearly. If you have other loans, e.g. car, personal, hire purchase, also call them to check what assistance they can offer. It can help to start a list and as things pop into your mind, jot them down. That way, you can put that particular bill aside, knowing you will not forget to call them when you have the headspace.
Before you start, you can search websites such as MoneySmart which is a government initiative that has a tremendous amount of information or Financial Counsellors Australia who can provide services for free. If you can make suitable arrangements, knowing that your payments are in hand can relieve anxiety and help you regain at least a little control over your life.
As you are on this website, you know Red Nose Grief and Loss has a range of bereavement supports to help you for as long as you need them. The difficult part can be reaching out. Experience has shown us that, particularly in those first few desperate days, many parents find even picking up the phone to talk to someone impossible. Ask a trusted family member or friend to make that initial contact. Email is also another way to reach out without the need to talk.
Another valuable resource is our telephone support line 1300 308 307 available 24/7 – knowing that there is someone who has also experienced the death of a child on the other end of the phone can be a comfort in the middle of the night.
A little further down the track
When will I be ready to return to work
There are as many answers to this as grains of sand on a beach. The only real answer is when you feel ready but with the realities of life grinding relentlessly forward, sometimes there is no right time.
Before I go back
When you and your employer have agreed to a suitable return day, don’t be afraid to ask for their support in easing your way back. Perhaps email them a link to the Our colleague’s child has died – how can we help? section of this website and mention the suggestions that you think would be of most help to you, e.g. giving your colleagues information on grief or arranging for Red Nose Grief and Loss to come to speak with staff before your return.
Be aware that, no matter how well you think you will go, grief can be a brick that hits you at unexpected moments. Ask for reduced hours or the ability to leave if things get too tough. Strength is in recognising there is valour in retreating to fight another day. Perhaps you have a colleague with whom you are more comfortable – ask if they can be released from their duties to support you: go for a coffee or take a break when the pressure is getting to you. There are many ways your workplace can support you – the trick is to ask.
That first day back
The first step over that threshold is courage personified.
Unless someone has been through a similar experience, they will not know the thoughts, feelings or anxieties you face. What we can reassure you, however, is that your colleagues and managers want to make your return as welcoming and supportive as possible. If you have let your workplace know how they can help, that will be a huge hurdle overcome. If you haven’t felt able to do that before your return, it can be a good idea to speak with your manager before facing your other colleagues to clarify what expectations there may be on both sides.
Communication is key.
Be aware of your stamina. Both physically and emotionally, you are going through a difficult time and your body may not cope to the same degree it did before your child’s death. If you hit the wall on your first, second, whatever day back, heed that and take early marks.
Although the trauma you have just gone through will be unimaginable to many, a death has been described as a ‘pebble in a pond’. The ripple your child’s death has created will be felt by others to a greater or lesser degree. Especially in western cultures, death can be a very uncomfortable topic and knowing how to act around those who have recently been touched by it can be a foreign concept. If colleagues inadvertently appear insensitive, try not to take it personally – there will be a period of tip-toeing around and trying to find the right words. If it happens, try to be direct but not abrasive – just let them know what does and doesn’t feel right for you.
Those first few days back will raise levels of discomfort for both yourself and your colleagues – patience and understanding can be responses that bring long term benefits.
As time goes on
Grief is a journey.
There is most certainly a beginning – a raw, painful beginning – but seldom an end, just a gradual path to living what many bereaved parents call a ‘new normal’. You may have forever been changed by the death of your child – this is the sad reality, but as time goes on, you will find laughter and joy will return. As your new ‘normal’ starts to feel more natural, ‘grief’ can still be an unwelcome knock on the door. When it comes, six months, two years, decades on, don’t feel you should be ‘over it’ – accept it as much a part of life as breathing. That you still grieve over your child’s death is testament to the great love you have.
However, if you are finding it difficult to deal with day-to-day demands or your grief is having a serious impact on those around you, seeking professional help can bring peace and stability. Remember that Red Nose Grief and Loss will support you, regardless of how long you may need it. The 24 Hour Telephone Support Line 1300 308 307 is available 24/7. Your company’s EAP can also be tapped into and through your GP, Medicare will also provide a number of subsidised psychology sessions.
We hope this information, in some small way, helps you return to a full and active working life – it is important to remember that there will be days it will not be easy, there will be days when it will feel impossible to go on, there will be days when the sun starts to shine through and there will be days when things begin to seem ordinary. That will be the day you know you have found your new ‘normal’.
Till that day, take one day at a time, reach out if you need help and above all, be kind to yourself.
Other information that may help
The internet is a valuable source of information to help you understand the needs of your bereaved colleague and their team.
Below are some links to get you started.
Last reviewed: 19/8/19