Should You Quit Your Job After Your Parent Dies?

Updated

The devastating loss of a parent is a highly impactful rite of passage for many individuals. Significant life changes following their death are inevitable, causing you to rethink your life and work as a whole. The question of whether you should leave your job, as a result, is one that you’ll likely often consider when trying to make sense of your grief. 

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Dealing with parental death can be profoundly painful, making concentrating at work challenging at the beginning of your grief. Coping with the death of a parent in adulthood doesn’t necessarily make the loss less agonizing than losing your parents at an early age. 

During your grieving, you can expect confusing feelings and emotions to creep up when least expected and your reactions to surprise you, clouding your decision-making and judgment for at least several weeks after their death. 

What to Consider Before You Quit Your Job After the Death of a Parent

Taking off work after a death in the family is necessary for most bereaved individuals to allow themselves time to process and grieve their loss. The everyday demands of work can become increasingly stressful when dealing with a significant loss. You can expect your post-loss concentration, motivation, and productivity to diminish as a result. 

Questions to ask yourself before walking away from your employment are:

  • Will I be able to grieve and meet the demands of my job?
  • Do I enjoy the work that I do, and is it fulfilling?
  • Am I expected to take on the care of my surviving parent?
  • Can I meet my financial obligations if I take time off or quit my job?
  • Should I take extended time off rather than leaving?

Freedom from work duties

The responsibility that comes with work can be overwhelming when dealing with grief. After the death of a parent, you’ll experience several significant shifts in your life that begin to surface within the first twelve months after they die. Your employer may not offer you the flexibility or compassion to deal with your grief by lightening your workload, deadlines, and attendance requirements. 

Carefully consider if you’re able to handle returning to work while grieving. If you think that you can’t take the added stress and pressure, quitting might be the best option for you until you’ve had enough time to process your loss. 

Work enjoyment

Having a job that you not only enjoy but that you’re passionate about should cause you to assess whether quitting is the right option for you. Many people work a lifetime to achieve a place in life where they’re not only thriving but are truly happy with a job or career that gives them joy and fulfillment. 

Grieving the loss of a parent might cloud your decision-making abilities, and you’d be better off taking time off from work rather than quitting altogether. In a few weeks, you can reevaluate your decision to leave to see if you still feel the same way.

Assuming surviving parent’s care

The death of one aging parent may signal the beginning of you having to care for the surviving parent. Many adult children must at some point evaluate their caregiving options for aging parents nearing the end of their lives. 

Some children may choose to seek outside care providers, while others decide to quit their jobs to take on the responsibility themselves. Whatever decision you make, your family should consider the time, financial commitment, and consequences.

State of finances

Not everyone can count on their parents leaving them an inheritance. But of those adult children that do inherit from their parent’s estate or life insurance policy, quitting their jobs shortly after a parent dies is a viable option. 

When there isn’t an inheritance you can count on, you’ll need to tap into your financial resources to sustain you for at least one year from when you quit. Having a year’s worth of living expenses saved up will give you the peace of mind needed to focus on your grief.

Taking time off versus quitting

Taking an extended leave of absence from work is an acceptable alternative to outright quitting, especially when you love what you do for a living. The intense grief following the death of someone you love doesn't last forever. In time, the painful emotions subside, and you'll regain some of your life as before.

You'll undoubtedly experience changes to your personality and role within your family dynamic. However, these adjustments are standard for almost anyone who's undergone a major loss. You can expect that after a few weeks, you'll start feeling better, allowing you to return to work if that's what your aim is. 

Benefits of Keeping Your Job After the Death of a Parent

Going back to work after your parent’s death isn’t always a bad thing. People grieve in many different ways, and sometimes work allows for distractions while giving you a guaranteed income flow that you’ll benefit from if needed.

Funerals and other end-of-life expenses can add up to a sizable amount. Continuing to work while grieving also makes it easier to pay off any debt you might have incurred on your parent’s behalf. 

Aside from the financial benefits of working through grief, there’s added social support you derive from your work colleagues. While not everyone is comfortable talking about your loss, there are usually one or two people who’ll genuinely reach out to you to offer their support.

You may find that empathetic coworkers are willing to pick up the slack in your work deadlines or projects needing immediate attention. Talking to your friends at work also lessens the burden on your significant other to be your sole source of emotional support. 

Drawbacks of Keeping Your Job After the Death of a Parent

The stress and strain that grief places on your mental, physical, and psychological well-being are significant drawbacks to continuing to work after suffering a major loss. Returning to work while grieving may prove too much to contend with. On top of the already burdensome responsibilities you may be facing at home, you'll add workplace policies and politics that aren't always sympathetic to your grieving. 

Additionally, you'll likely deal with coworkers who don't understand your grief and won't support you as you struggle to regain your footing in the workplace. You may be surprised at the source of your greatest support and compassion and those who isolate themselves from you. Openly grieving at work is still taboo in many workplaces, making it challenging to ask for or accept the help you need.

Alternatives to Quitting Your Job After a Parent Dies

When one of your parents dies, you can expect a significant change to your overall perspectives and worldview. For some individuals, a parent’s death represents coming face-to-face with their mortality.

For others, it means freedom to finally go after the life they’ve always wanted free from their parent’s glaring criticism and opinions. But, before going off and handing in your resignation, consider some of the following alternatives to quitting your job. 

Take time off

After bereavement leave ends, it may feel like it's too soon to return to work when you're still processing your parent's death. You can check with your company's bereavement leave policy to see if they offer extended bereavement leave, even if it's unpaid.

You might not be ready to face your coworkers after the three to five days most companies afford their employees of bereavement leave. Talk to your human resources department to see how they can structure an extended period off from work for you that doesn't affect your seniority or other company benefits.

Don't be afraid to ask for more than what's written in their policies. If that doesn't work, ask for a voluntary leave or sabbatical.

Going part-time

Reducing your work hours may be just what you need to get you through the worst part of grieving soon after your parent’s death. Consider going from a full-time to a part-time schedule where you ask for a shortened work week where you can reap the benefit of having several days of rest in between. 

Depending on your employer’s flexibility, you may even consider working one or two days a week for a few months or until you’re ready to rejoin the team in a full-time capacity. Be upfront about what you’re going through without divulging too much information that may hurt your chances of promotion or added responsibility in the future. You don’t need to explain or justify your decision by asking for these changes.  

Hybrid work schedule

Another great way of making your full-time job feel like it's part-time employment is by working from home several days each week. Not every type of job allows for flexibility in choosing when and where you'll work on your remote days, but it's a step in the right direction of needing to put in less face time in the office.

Hybrid work schedules are typically set by the company and rarely by employees. While you may get the opportunity to work from home, you can't always decide which days. So, one thing to consider with this type of arrangement is that hybrid doesn't mean flexible.

Choosing Not to Work After Loss

Grief experts who counsel individuals who’ve lost their parents in adulthood may suggest that you hold off for at least a year before making any significant decisions or changes in your life. Taking a step back from changes for a few months allows you to take in the bigger picture to decide what's best for you before taking the plunge and quitting your job. 

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