Working full-time in the aftermath of loss

6 min read

How to balance your job and the stress of settling a loved one’s affairs

  • Managing a full-time job while dealing with the aftermath of the death of someone you love is an enormous amount of work.

  • There are several things you can do to lower your stress levels and make the heavy workload feel less demanding.

  • Be honest with your boss and anyone helping you with the estate about the load you are carrying and how you are organizing your time, so that they can support you.

  • Make a detailed checklist and set up a weekly schedule, so you have everything down on paper.

  • Give yourself time off, and take personal days if you can—these quick breaks actually give you energy and make the process go faster overall.

When someone you love dies, grieving the person and adjusting to their absence in your life is a painful, life-altering process that unfolds over many months and even years.

But there is much more involved: logistics to be handled and deadlines to meet, especially if you’re the next of kin or the executor of the estate. And for most of us, a quick return to our professional lives means that we'll be working full-time during this entire period as well.

When it comes to taking care of the affairs of a loved one who has died, the average person makes six calls per week, and the entire process can take 420 hours over several months—a hefty addition to your regular schedule. But, to paraphrase a famous quote by novelist Honoré de Balzac: Fear lies in anticipation. Fear, and a lot of stress.

Take a deep breath. Remind yourself that you’re not alone and that everyone around you knows that you’re going through a very difficult time.

There's no need to add extra stress to your life by worrying about the heavy workload ahead—just take it step-by-step and be aware of your limits, and you'll get there. Meanwhile, there are several things you can do right now to make it easier down the road.

Set up a meeting with your boss

When you’re back at work, one of the first things you want to do is sit down with your supervisor and talk about your new responsibilities.

Explain to your boss that occasionally these duties may need to be tended to during work hours, while making clear that you don’t want this to affect your productivity.

Even if your boss isn’t the most empathetic person, they’re going to appreciate your honesty and can help you come up with a plan for handling these additional tasks without jeopardizing your position at the company.

Make a list of things that must be done sooner rather than later

In the days and weeks that follow the death of a loved one, there are a series of things that must be taken care of immediately.

For example, you'll need to review the will, locate important documents, and secure your loved one's property. And if probate is necessary, the will needs to be filed in court.

Making a list of what must be done in those first 30 days will be an asset in guiding you in the right direction and helping you stay on track so you can move from one task to the next, checking each one off as you go.

Checklists have a comforting way of making things feel less overwhelming, and you'll realize you don’t have to rush through the whole process.

Make a weekly schedule

Include blocks of time when you can handle bureaucratic matters. If you have an hourlong lunch break, for instance, you can use that time to make necessary calls, run errands, or set up meetings with experts that pertain to the estate.

When scheduling these things, choose days when your workload at the office is on the lighter side so you don’t feel too overwhelmed when you return to the office.

When it comes to taking care of the affairs of a loved one who has died, the average person makes six calls per week, and the entire process can take 420 hours over several months.

Some people find relief from their grief by burying themselves in work. But if you’re not one of these people, go easy on yourself. As much as you have on your plate, you’re still only human.

Protect your time and set boundaries

If you're working with lawyers and accountants or other professionals to help you settle your loved one's affairs, make sure they understand the demands of your full-time job.

You might need to remind them that you have a schedule you need to stick to and time limitations.

If you set a meeting with your lawyer on a day that you’ve reserved your lunch break to handle estate-related tasks, make sure you communicate that you need to be back in your office at a specific time.

While people will be sympathetic to the difficulties that come with having so much to take care of, it’s still business as usual for them. It’s up to you to let them know when you’re available and when you’re not.

You not only have a job you need to keep, but you also need space to breathe and process your emotions. Setting boundaries will lower your stress by making your life more predictable.

Give yourself time off

For both your mental and physical health, it’s important to give yourself breaks in your schedule.

For example, don’t dedicate more than two lunch breaks a week to the estate’s tasks. If you feel, especially early on, that even that’s too much, then only do estate tasks during one lunch break a week.

Yes, you have a responsibility to take care of these tasks, but you also have a responsibility to yourself and your health.

Consider using a couple of your personal days

Although you may have had plans to save up those personal days for something like a week away, consider using one or two of them so you can attend to estate-related matters.

Not all tasks can be taken care of during lunch breaks or on the weekends, and if you’re fortunate enough to have personal days, this is a good time to use them.

Schedule meetings and tasks for half the day, then give yourself the other half off. Even if you’re running on autopilot, you need to take a moment to remember that grief and stress take a physical and mental toll on the body, so there’s no shame in giving yourself time to reboot.

Find a coworker who’s willing to lend a helping hand

When you go back to work, you’re likely to find that your coworkers, especially those you’re close to, will offer to help you out if you need it. This is something you should take advantage of and feel no shame in doing so.

Sit down with a coworker you trust and ask them if they wouldn’t mind covering for you occasionally. Choose someone who is close enough that you know you'd do the same for them, if the tables were turned. That way it doesn’t feel like you’re burdening them, but rather asking for a favor that you’ll someday return.

Remember that the task of handling a loved one’s affairs isn’t easy. Combined with a full-time job and the toll of grief, and it really is too much for one person. But sticking to schedules, being honest with those around you about what you need, and taking time off regularly will get you through this.