Helpful Ways To Spend Bereavement Leave (2023)

Updated February 9, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Experiencing Loss?

Following the death of a loved one, bereavement leave can give an individual time and space to begin the grieving process. While the duration and overall process of grief is deeply individual, bereavement leave offers some the opportunity to walk through their loss without the distraction or obligation of work. Understanding how to leverage this time as effectively as possible can help you to have a more healthful grieving and healing process.

Below, we’re exploring what bereavement leave is, different considerations of bereavement leave and healthful tips to help you to make the most of it for your overall healing process. 

What Is Bereavement Leave?

Bereavement leave is generally categorized as a specific type of absence that is reserved for employees experiencing the death of a loved one. It is set aside time given to the employee so that they can grieve, as well as take care of all the funeral arrangements and other matters.

In the United States, there are no federal laws mandating the terms of bereavement leave policies, or laws that mandate that employers must offer paid bereavement leave at all. Some employers may have no formal policy, while others can have generous paid leave options for their employees. 

However, at this point in the 21st century employment landscape, many organizations have designed some form of bereavement leave for their employees. If you are experiencing grief due to the passing of a loved one, you may consider reaching out and enquiring about bereavement leave options and terms. 

Requesting Bereavement Leave

Before you request bereavement leave with your human resources department, you may consider checking your company’s guidelines or bargaining unit to see what your employer’s bereavement leave policies are. You may have more benefits available than you are currently aware of. 

Generally, it is often up to employees to take and request bereavement leave. Just because you experience a death in the family does not mean the company will know to automatically put you on leave. To get the most out of this experience, you may consider making a formal request with your supervisor or human resources department.

As a general note, human resources departments may require evidence that a loved one passed away to avoid frivolous requests. This can include items such as a death certificate, a prayer card or a funeral program. Other employers may not require a death certificate or any other document to grant the bereavement leave request. However, this term is generally at the discretion of your employer or related department(s). 

Healing Ways To Spend Bereavement Leave

While bereavement leave can feel overwhelming, it can be important to take care of yourself, too. After all — you may be trying to process what's just happened, or you may also have to attend memorial services or a funeral. You may have to socialize with friends, relatives and acquaintances, which can be overwhelming if you haven’t seen them in years.

That's why it can be helpful to many to incorporate healing practices in your bereavement leave. And, if the thought of doing or trying something new sounds overwhelming at a time of great loss, you may choose to remember that these practices are designed to support you as you grieve. They aren’t generally intended to do away with grief, or to make you "feel better" Immediately. Rather, they can be simple ways to take care of yourself and experience grief in a way that supports you rather than overwhelms you.

Taking Time To Rest

A recent study has found that people can be more vulnerable to infectious diseases after the death of a loved one, indicating a possible temporary immune deficit. This vulnerability can increase within the elderly population.

This can be partially due to cortisol, the stress hormone, which can increase when someone experiences shock and grief. These higher levels of cortisol may lower the body's immune system function, potentially lowering its defenses against illness.

Many believe that one of the most important things you can do for yourself is to choose to rest whenever you can. If friends or family offer to prepare meals, run your errands, clean your home, or support you in any way, you may consider accepting their offers and caring for yourself.

Allowing people to help you during bereavement time can make it possible for you to rest and process grief.

We do acknowledge that you might not want to rest. Instead, you might want to stay busy and distract yourself from the intense grief you feel. However, avoiding grief can prolong the overall process and limit your ability to heal. If you’re experiencing feelings of numbness or avoidance, you may choose to seek professional support via therapeutic services. 

Remaining Mindful 

It can be very difficult to stay in the present moment when you feel heartbroken. Pain can be immense, all-consuming, and entirely overwhelming. 

However, when you stay present and remain mindful about whatever you are feeling, it can keep you from worrying about what the future holds. It can also keep you from looking back in sorrow with any regrets you carry, remaining in a more mindful place of self-forgiveness and acceptance — grounded in the “now”.

Some ways to stay in the present moment include:

  • Focusing on your breathing 

  • Remaining mindful of sensory-based stimuli (such as the sounds, smells, sights, and sensations you experience)

  • Mindful meditation

Staying Strategic 

When you lose someone, your entire reality may feel as if it has been shaken up, along with any long-held beliefs you have about life, faith and spiritual matters. On top of these potentially painful and emotional experiences, you may worry about how the future will be without your loved one.

It might seem impossible to continue without the person you've lost. You might not be sure how you'll survive and cope with life without them. However, instead of worrying about tomorrow, or the day after, just focus on today during bereavement time. Remaining focused on just the next moment, minute or hour can be a helpful way to stay strategic about your thought patterns and expended energy, keeping you grounded in the present — another form of mindfulness, for many. 

To begin, you may choose to ask yourself what needs to happen today, and today only. You can give yourself permission to halt your scope of focus there, as tomorrow's tasks will generally come when tomorrow arrives.

Staying Self-Compassionate

Grief is compared to an emotional roller coaster, by many. As author and scholar, C.S. Lewis said in A Grief Observed, "Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a new landscape”.

During grief, a wide range of feelings can come your way, including fear, guilt, and anger. Fluctuation and change are normal, although it can be difficult to deal with for some. 

As you work through these feelings, you may feel confused at times, disorganized and disoriented.

In times of vulnerability and confusion like this, it can be easy to be hard on yourself and overly critical. If you can, we encourage you to try to be compassionate with yourself. Some ways to start being kind to yourself and practicing self-compassion actively include saying affirmations, such as:

  • I am doing the best I can

  • It's okay to make mistakes; they don't define me

  • It's okay if I forget "x"

  • Everything will work itself out

Another important way to be compassionate with yourself is to set boundaries that give you the respect and rest you need from social or personal obligations. If you need a break from socializing, or if you're unable to keep up with the commitments set for you, it's okay to decline or to take a step back.

Talking With Someone Who Cares For You

During bereavement time off, you may or may not want to talk about how you're feeling. However, it can be helpful to talk with someone who cares for you, nonetheless. 

Doing this critical task can help you to begin processing your emotions and meeting your needs on the road to healing. Even if they aren’t sure how to help you, you can tell them exactly what you need or simply tell the emotional burden. For example, if you're not ready to discuss your thoughts and feelings, just asking someone to be there with you can be a helpful first step. 

Or, if you do need someone to open up to, you may choose to let them know that you just need someone to be there for you. Caring friends and family are generally more than happy to be a shoulder you can lean upon.

Consider Using Rituals Or Remembrance Practices

Rituals are generally known to be ancient practices people use to acknowledge the sacred nature of an event. While it may seem strange to associate heartbreak and loss with anything sacred, doing so may help during the mourning process.

Experiencing Loss?

Both religious and non-religious people can incorporate the following rituals into a daily routine to help them better cope with the mourning process:

  • Saying prayers (if applicable), mantras and affirmations 

  • Lighting candles

  • Meditative practices

  • Calming yoga

  • Journaling your thoughts

  • Painting or art therapy

  • Listening to or composing music; Music therapy 

Eating Regular Meals

During bereavement time off, your appetite may change. Despite this, it can be important to nourish your body with regular meals.

To begin, you may try to honor your regular meal times, even if your meals are smaller than usual.While you may not feel like eating, doing so can nourish your mind and help it process everything it's going through. Healthy fats, such as those in salmon, walnuts, avocados, coconut oil, olive oil and eggs can help support healthy brain function.

Certain foods, spices, and beverages may also help to relieve stress and anxiety, such as leafy greens, turmeric, organ meats, turkey and teas, such as chamomile and rooibos.

If possible, you can try to incorporate these foods into your meals during bereavement time.

Trying To Move Your Body

In her Ted Talk, "The brain-changing benefits of exercise," neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki says "exercise is the most transformative thing that you can do for your brain”.

Now, exercise may be the last thing you want to do during bereavement time off — and if exercise isn't part of your daily routine, it might not be a good idea to hit the gym when you're going through intense grief.

So, instead of trying to "exercise," you may consider moving your body in any way that feels good to you. Perhaps that means going for a 20-minute walk or taking your bike to a nearby park and seeing how you feel once you start pedaling.

The idea isn't to focus on any weight- or health-related goal. In this context, the idea is to move your body to support your mind simply. This looks different for everyone, such as exercising as usual, or slowing down a bit.

If this idea doesn't feel right to you, there's no need to push yourself into more discomfort by exercising.

Speaking To A Professional Counselor

Processing grief on your own can be difficult. Even though family and friends may mean well, they may not always know how to help. 

There isn’t any no shame in seeking a professional therapist if you feel that they can support you as you experience grief and mourning.

How Can Online Therapy Help Those Experiencing Grief? 

If you aren't sure where to start, or where to find a nearby professional, you may consider an online therapist. They can provide a safe and open space where you can process your feelings and thoughts without judgment. 

Online therapy can also be a more effective and accessible option for some, specifically if the process of grief is causing difficulty leaving the home or fulfilling their basic needs. While this would otherwise cause a barrier to treatment via in-person therapeutic formats, this form of therapy can be especially helpful, as the person can engage with the therapist from their home or their bed on their own time. 

Is Online Therapy Effective For Those In Mourning? 

A recent meta-analysis of scientific literature found that online therapy can be effective for those currently experiencing grief. Across the seven reviewed studies, researchers also found online therapy to be comparably effective for addressing conditions such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which may occur concurrently.


Bereavement leave can be a helpful tool for many to process their emotions about the passing of a loved one. Knowing how to effectively leverage your time can help you to heal at a more comfortable and effective pace for you. As everyone can experience grief differently, you may benefit from feel free to trying different supportive strategies to see what resonates with you the most. Therapy can be a helpful resource to you in this time of mourning. BetterHelp can connect you to specialists who can assist in your specific area of need.

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