If I had a pound for every time someone asked if I was back at work since Lenny died I’d never have to work again… the irony. I don’t know whether it is seen as a sign of being ok, a benchmark of sanity that being back working means all is good, no need to worry about the crazy person any more or its just a topic of conversation. Either way no one enjoys work chat! But I haven’t been asked the question before Lenny died. When I do get asked, I feel I need to justify why I’m unable to work and why a medical professional has said I’m not fit to work, as if its not obvious enough!
I have been a teacher at a large secondary school in Sheffield for 10 years. I remember riding home on the 17th December 2021, it was the last day of school, the sun was shining and thought next time I come to school Lenny will be here. I remember seeing Jane the ex head of department and I was beaming. Mim was 40+1 I knew that Lenny would be arriving in the holidays and I would have 2 weeks off paternity leave after the holidays, 4 weeks off with Mim and Lenny I was buzzing!!!
In the immediate aftermath of Lenny’s death, I genuinely had no consideration about work, other than telling my colleagues, some of whom I would class as friends, what had happened. Although I got a message from my line manager on New Years day, who I think is a ……… (you choose the inappropriate word) with some half ass sympathy message which included, “let me know if there is anything I can do at work” to be honest pal, that’s your job! I spoke to my doctor (who I’d never met before, big practice and the like) and he immediately said come in and lets have a chat, He really listened, Mim came with me to the appointment and he was fantastic given the circumstances, it was clear he had done some child bereavement for dads research. He was so understanding, we had an appointment for at least 30 mins! He signed me off for months, not for anxiety or depression, which I probably had, no need to pathologize grief the sick note said, ‘child bereavement’! (GPs learn from this!) He didn’t play it down, he acknowledged the gravity of what had happened – we had watched our healthy child die in an accident.
For the next two months I was in no fit state to consider work, daily survival was hard enough, but whenever I was asked ‘are you back at work?’, so many things came through my head, I second guessed whether I should be? Does this person think I’m ok? Because I really don’t feel it. My work gave me space and didn’t contact for a while, a lovely lady in HR was my point of contact, she was really understanding and gave me a good amount of support.
If you are an employer or line manager here are some tips to support bereaved parents:
- Check up on the parent, they might not answer but leave a message, not about work, just reassure them that you are thinking about them and that you are there in a supportive way. If you are an idiot robot manager then seek some support from someone with a heart!
- Start to think about how you can support the parent when they return to work. Don’t put this responsibility on the parent. ideas like, flexible working hours, time off for appointments, investigation report meetings or hospital visits, weekly support meetings,
- Small realistic achievable targets! don’t make assumptions about what they want or need.
- Support a phased return and be as flexible as possible. Delayed start times. Grief is really tiring and comes in waves some days you don’t know how you are going to feel.
- TALK ABOUT THEIR BABY AND USE THE BABY’S NAME!!!!
- Do not try in any way to minimise what the parent has felt and still is experiencing – child bereavement is horrific. Utterly horrific and time does not change this – their child will not un-die
- Talk openly about money and realistic times to return, this will be a consideration for all parents.
- Remember child bereavement is NOT contagious. You can go near and look at a bereaved parent. I felt this when walking my dog through a park, I saw a colleague whom I worked with for 10 years, our dogs interacted and they completely blanked me! like I had leprosy. DONT DO THIS!
- Say thinks like; its nice to see you back, we have missed you, you have had such a hard time and we want to support you, we would like to hear about your beautiful baby when you are ready. we are going to do this ….., you have had a shit time, please tell us if you want?
- Get the family a gift! like you would if their child was alive!
- Recognise that child bereavement is FOREVER, this is not an illness that the parent will get over in a few weeks after some hard graft. There may be days that the parent feels crap.. birthdays , mothers day, fathers day. BASICALLY THINK!!!!! time does not heal it changes. you never heal when your baby dies.
For many parents it comes down to cost, or if you are mental you just want to go back to work straight away. I would recommend having time off, I most certainly couldn’t go back into teaching, the amount of time is so dependant on whether the manager has done the above. I have taken 6 months off and I had hoped to return in September 2022.
I had a phased return the last week in July, where I met with the headteacher and the HR manager (my main point of contact with the school). Going back was going to be very difficult, as a teacher you have to be on form all the time, there is no chill, expectations are so high and its exhausting, balancing my grief and work was going to be really hard, but I wanted to to try!
Mim had already returned to work, for the main reason her job is so different to mine, she works in research and has a few meeting each week but mainly working on a computer, she can cry whenever she wants, have a break, be totally flexible when she works, this is wholly different to teaching! This was a huge surprise to many people, the man should go to work! But Mim and I are a team, the view is that the man should work and woman stay home….. Fuck the patriarchy!
Since the loss of our second boy at 18 weeks, things have changed yet again! I have been signed off work again until Christmas. but I still get shit from people, “So what are you going to do with your time off?” my response was in the morning try and get my sorry ass out of bed and then just try and get through to the night when I can go to sleep, REPEAT! REPEAT! REPEAT! The feelings of being off ill for such a long time are shit, you are constantly worried about seeing people and trying to justify how ill you are and why you’re not at work, give me a break!
So, What to do? …. Fuck it! I can’t handle going back into an education setting when my passion for teaching is now as much as my passion for the monarchy. I’m completely indifferent! I’m no longer enthusiastic about anything. I have changed so much as a person over the last year, I just cant see myself fitting into education, my perspective on life in no longer as it was, I cant face trying to educate children that don’t care when my children didn’t get the opportunity to care – it would feel like a slap in the face. I have had some amazing experiences and worked with some absolutely wonderful people, some of whom I will most certainly keep in contact with.
I’m tapping OUT!, I have handed my notice in for December the 31st, I’m not well enough to go back! SHIT…… What will I answer when someone asks me about work?…. UNEMPLOYED? GRIEFY? BRITNEY 2007?
In summary: Being back at work dose not mean I’m better, I’ll never be better. Don’t ask me about work, I’m more interesting than that. My baby boys died. I will never recover and be the same old Roy again. However, I learn to live with my grief and hopefully my work in the future will understand this too. But who knows what the next chapter will hold…. A BIG TRIP ME THINKS!