Understanding the true price of loss

Published on Jan 31, 2023

We have made it our mission at Empathy to change the way the world deals with loss and lighten its burden for every family that experiences it. Every day, we have the opportunity to leverage data, knowledge, and expertise to improve our product and services, and to help the recently bereaved families that we support through our enterprise partners. 

But every January, we take the time to look at the bigger picture, to assess the true toll that loss takes on American families as a whole, and to begin to understand what we, and our partners, and our society at large can do to help relieve their hardship, stress, and pain. We publish our findings in our annual Cost of Dying Report.

Last year at this time, we set out to document and quantify the massive demands that every death makes of the family of the deceased, in money, time, mental and physical health, and more. What we found was eye-opening: After loss many families are absolutely stretched to their limit.

For this year’s report, we asked more detailed questions of the bereaved families we surveyed, striving to understand the trials they went through, how long these effects lasted for, and how intense they were. We saw clearly that the burden of loss is both broad and deep. Almost everyone we spoke to was affected across every aspect of their lives. 

Among the many important implications of our data, perhaps the most important is the fact that the emotional and the logistical challenges of bereavement almost always go hand in hand—the pain of grief and the stress of having to deal with all of the issues of wrapping up a loved one’s life and legacy. Both are sources of stress, and both have significant effects on health, relationships, and work life. 

In America, over 3 million people die each year. Recent studies indicate that every loss leaves behind nine bereaved family members. Even if only some of these shoulder the true burden of loss, we’re still talking about tens of millions of people every year who are suffering this extreme stress, tens of millions of careers stalled out, of marriages strained. It means hundreds of millions of hours spent filling out paperwork and doing court filings. Billions of dollars spent on funerals that families can’t afford. And billions of dollars in lost productivity at work—with all that implies for American businesses and the economy of the country.

This isn’t a small problem, and it’s not getting better on its own. If anything, a growing, aging population, inflation, growing wealth disparity, and regressive social welfare policies mean that the impacts of loss will be felt more and more in the years to come. Unless we start doing something about it now.

As Paurvi Bhatt, a healthcare executive and leader in the care economy, remarked to us, “We can't allow this to go unchecked. The data suggests that things are getting harder. With many of these headwinds coming together, with an increasing wave of loss coming into the workplace, there is no time to waste; we have to do something.” 

In particular, for employers, addressing the challenges of bereavement and finding benefits solutions that help any member of your workforce facing a loss in the family isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s a necessity—and an opportunity.

Comprehensive bereavement support is the only way to ensure that your workforce can absorb the shocks of loss without significant repercussions to productivity, whether from employees who are forced to take extra time off to deal with these issues, or from those who show up but are distracted, overwhelmed, and potentially suffering from severe health issues. 

On the other hand, when you demonstrate to your employees that you have their backs during one of the most challenging times in their lives, you make them feel fully supported and create a culture of care in the workplace. This will in turn raise morale and cement loyalty, reducing turnover and making recruiting easier. Real bereavement care sends the message that you are an employer who not only cares about your employees, but that you understand what they are going through.

Loss doesn’t skip any of us, and ignoring this fact only serves to deepen the pain it causes and the scars it leaves. It is all of our responsibility to face the true price of death head on—its costs in money, in time, in stress, in harmed productivity and strained interpersonal bonds. Only then can we hope to lessen the load for all families, everywhere.

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