Returning To Work After Loss
By: Marissa Steinhoff
My world had stopped, completely shut off for 8 full weeks. I would sit in my house, avoiding the outside world and the looks of despair from others. My home was the place I felt most comfortable, most human. I knew that inside the walls of my home I was loved by my husband and visiting family and friends. I was safe. They knew my grief and accepted me for the fragile, lost, grieving mother that I had become. It was inevitable though, I knew I had no choice; I would have to return to work and continue on with my life, the life that had come to a screeching halt on January 1, 2011 when my sweet Paige was born with a rare form of Leukemia and lost her battle only 3 days later.
Back To Work
Besides being a mother, I am a second grade teacher. A teacher that adores her job and students. However, in March of 2011, I didn’t know how I would walk through the school doors to face those 22 seven and eight year olds after going through the loss of my child. They were told my baby was very sick and passed away. They were told that their teacher was very sad. They spent weeks with the school counselor preparing for my return. I prepared too. Mentally, I would go over my return in my head: What I would say to my students, the strong face I would put on, the thought that if I stayed busy enough I would be ok. I worried about co-workers and how they would react to my presence in the building. After all, they attended my baby’s funeral just a few weeks prior.
They saw me at the lowest point of my life, and now I would be returning to work. Would they be scared to talk to me? Would my presence make them uncomfortable?
Honestly, when the day came, I was so scared and nervous. I remember waking up that morning and feeling a sense of reassurance. I had prepared myself, and so I put on that “superhero” mentality and marched myself into that school building. Unfortunately, I had not prepared myself for all scenarios. Within the first five minutes, my plan was ruined. I had arrived at school early to prepare for the day before the kids would arrive. I walked through the empty main office, past the staff mailboxes and I was stopped in my tracks. There hanging right on the wall was a baby announcement for a colleague who had just given birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl.
My heart stopped, I was overcome with jealousy and pain. I remember running down the hall to my classroom, closing the door, and crumbling to the ground sobbing. The superhero facade was gone. I managed to get myself up and walk to the restroom. I remember splashing my face with water as my heart was beating to get out of my chest.
I looked in the mirror and for the first time I saw what everyone else had been seeing. The face of a bereaved mother. The face of someone who was broken and scared.
At that moment, as I stared into my own eyes, I realized the old me was gone and this was the “new me”. “New me” might need some time to adjust, time to relearn how things go, but I had to accept this new me and be gentle with the healing heart beating inside of me. Thankfully, as I walked back to my classroom I was greeted by amazing friends I’m so lucky enough to work alongside. That first day back was a complete blur. I know there were times that I had to leave the classroom to recompose myself. I was still healing and that healing took many months.
Time To Heal
We so often expect so much from ourselves. So much that we forget we are only human and we too need time to heal. Going back to work after a loss is scary. There will be coworkers who are absolutely amazing and respect the grief you are experiencing. Unfortunately, there may be those who just can’t quite understand. They may possibly give a harsh comment or expect that you are coming back miraculously healed from your loss. Be open and honest with your needs. Surround yourself with a good support team and just allow yourself time to heal.
Grief does not disappear overnight or even after months or years.
Each individual handles grief differently. Be kind to yourself.
About Marissa Steinhoff
Marissa is a teacher, wife, daughter, sister, and friend, but her most valued title is mom! She has a wonderful husband, Patrick, and three children: Paige, Landon, and Mya. Paige is their angel that the Steinhoffs lost on January 4, 2011. Paige was born with a rare form of Leukemia that was not conducive with life and she lost her battle at just 4 days old. Landon and Mya are their rainbow babies that are a constant reminder of their big sister in Heaven!
Thank you for your article and thank you for being such a huge support and inspiration to so many families.
Thank you so much for sharing. I was a grade one teacher at the time and going back to work was so difficult. I still sometimes worry about being the one to introduce these little kids to this kind of painful death.