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Returning to Work: Part II

by Paul V. Johnson

Dear Paul:

Thank you for your response, Paul. I did go to work today, but only for a few hours. It all became a bit too much. I felt as though I was stepping back in time into a place when things were all right. I have brought work home with me, and will try working from home over the next week, with the intention of building up my concentration levels during that time.

I feel terrible about having to leave work today, and I am unsure exactly how my employer feels about my situation, despite the fact that everyone seemed to be understanding. I intend to return to work next Monday, when a new employee will be starting. I hope to throw myself into training her. I am hoping that this will be a new beginning for me as well.

I feel so much loss and distress that I cannot put it into words properly. Dad and I were very close, and to lose him so suddenly is very distressing. How do I possibly go on leading a normal life now?

 

Dear Inquirer:

I'm glad that you went back to work today, even if you weren't able to stay for as long as you had hoped. Your situation is not unlike returning to work following surgery and only being physically able to stay and continue working for a limited period of time. You are in need of emotional recovery time, and hopefully your return next week can be a new beginning for you also as you begin training the new employee.

Your final question, "How do I possibly go on leading a normal life now?" opens the door to discussing what lies ahead for you, namely having your life transformed through the grieving process following your Dad's death. From the instant that you knew your Dad had died, normal life for you (as you knew it) ended. And, whether you really believe it or not, you began developing what I call your "new normal" life which no longer includes the physical presence of your Dad. It is obviously quite uncomfortable right now, but someday you will define normal life for you in a way that includes the death of your Dad and it won't have the same degree of pain that you feel right now.

To help you make this transition to a "new normal" through effectively grieving your Dad's death, there are three questions that you must answer over the coming weeks and months. There is no real time table for answering them, and they are not easily answered in just one sitting. Instead they require your thought and concentration on several occasions. Though not lengthy, their answers may be lengthy.

The first question is very brief and to the point. It is, "What have you lost?" You may say that the answer to that one is obvious and your answer is, "My Dad died." Though that is correct, it is far from complete. If we were talking about this in person, I would encourage you to list all of the many things your Dad meant to you. For example, "The person who I could talk to about anything died"; or "The person who told the greatest jokes died"; or "Tthe man I admired more than anyone else died." To fully answer this question I would encourage you to start a journal and at the top of the first page write the question, "What have I lost?" Then leave several pages for your responses. Some things that your Dad was to you perhaps have not even come to your attention yet, and as these things do come to your mind it is important to write them down.

After you have spent time with that question, (and the length of time could be weeks or months,) it is time to focus on the second question: "What do I have left?" No matter how big a part of your life your Dad was, you still have something left now that he is gone. You still have the skills to do your work, you have friends and family, you have special memories of things you did with your Dad. You have a lot left. On a subsequent page of that journal put this question, "What do I have left?" and begin the process of answering it.

It is the third and final question that, in my opinion, gives this perspective on grieving its real strength because it has a future orientation to it. The third question is, "What may still be possible for me?" and it focuses on your life in the years ahead following your Dad's death. It is true that he has died, but your life continues and, who knows, you may even make a change in the future course of your life because of his death. But the key factor is that your life goes on, and you are developing that new "normal" which will define who you are in your new status.

I hope you will spend some time working through these questions and that they are beneficial to you.

Best wishes,
Paul


Paul V. Johnson, MA, is a consultant and trainer for business, industry, and educational institutions on issues related to loss and grief. He was formerly an Associate Professor of Sociology at Bethel College(MN) and Director of Aftercare Services for the Bradshaw Funeral Homes in the Twin Cities area. He has made presentations at the national conferences of major professional caregiving associations and is a member of the Association for Death Education and Counseling.