Grieving a loss

"The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen nor even touched, but just felt in the heart." Helen Keller   

When a death takes place, you may experience a wide range of emotions and feelings, and you may not know how to move forward. Grief and the grieving process are personal and unique to each of us. Human Resource Services connects university community members to the help and information they need.

Information about grieving and support services

Everyone grieves in their own way and in their own time. There are, however, typical stages that people experience as they move through the grieving process. 

  • Shock and Denial. Feelings of shock, disbelief, numbness or detachment are common. The bereaved may appear to be coping well because they have not fully accepted the loss. 
  • Separation. The reality of the separation begins to sink in. This period involves intense emotions that include anger, guilt, fear, sadness, yearning and sometimes even relief. 
  • Depression. The intense pain associated with the separation stage begins to subside, leaving in its place and ongoing ache and feeling of sadness and emptiness. 
  • Acceptance. People entering this phase are gradually coming to an acceptance of their loss, moving forward and letting go, establishing new routines and directions

Caring for Yourself
Coping with the death of a loved one or someone close to us is one of the most difficult challenges of our lives. While it is true that we will all face numerous losses throughout our lives, when the loss is someone close to us, someone we care about, the loss triggers a grieving process that may impact our way of living, both at home and at work/study.

Grief and the grieving process is very personal and unique to each of us. The way grief impacts each of us will depend on the loss we've suffered, our religious beliefs, the relationship we had, our resiliency and our own mental and physical health. Grieving does not have a particular duration. Mourning a loss can take weeks, months, or even years. While grieving is a process, talking to someone about your feelings can help you work through the process and at your own pace. The university's Employee and Family Assistance Program is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling 780-428-7587 and can be accessed by all staff, faculty and eligible dependents.

Supporting someone who is grieving
Information adapted from University of Exeter's Bereavement and Grief Support Booklet

It can be difficult to know what to do or say when faced with someone who is grieving. We may shy away from connecting with those in our lives experiencing loss, at a time where they need support the most. Here are some suggestions to support you in this sometimes very difficult position.

  1. Acknowledge the situation and express your concern. For example you could say “I heard that your friend passed away, I’m sorry to hear about your loss. By acknowledging the death head on, you indicate that you are willing to really hear what the grieving person is feeling. 
  2. Understand and trust the process. Remember that grieving is a natural and healing process that everyone will need to move through at their own pace.
  3. Be there. Silence can speak volumes; sometimes simply sitting with them can be exactly what they need. Your caring presence and support can be enough.
  4. Ask if they would like to talk -- perhaps about the person they’ve lost, by sharing anecdotes or photos, or perhaps about something else entirely. 
  5. Listen calmly, patiently, empathically, and without searching for solutions.
  6. Know and accept your own limits – It’s ok to acknowledge that you may not know what to say. You may need to seek support for yourself. 
  7. Be yourself. Be genuine and authentic in your support. 

While you may have the best of intentions, try to avoid wanting to speed up the process, wanting to do too much, or offering solutions as if grief is a problem to be solved. 

Support Services
University of Alberta Employee and Family Assistance Program 
Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week 

Alberta Health Services Grief Support Program 

The Grief and Trauma Healing Centre

Pension and benefit information

The university administration will work with your department/faculty and look after the following: 

  • Coordinating faulty/department access to EFAP resources 
  • Contacting the family
  • Administrative tasks such as computer access, forwarding emails, etc. 
  • As requested, work with the department/faculty on notifying colleagues of the faculty/staff member's passing 
  • Working with the department/faculty to ensure personal belongings are returned in an appropriate and timely manner 

Need to notify the university of a death? See the “Who to contact” section below.

The following information is provided to assist individuals in navigating the notifications and benefit processes following a loss.

Making a Claim for Pension and Life Insurance Benefits
When you are able, please contact the Staff Service Centre to notify them of the death. Soon after contact, you will receive information about the requirements to process the claim.

Supplementary Health and Dental Care Benefits
Supplementary Health and Dental Care coverage for eligible dependents of a deceased employee will continue for six months from the date of death.

Academic Staff Death Benefits
When a staff member passes away, their full salary will be paid to their estate for the month of death plus one additional month. This payment is made in lieu of vacation pay and does not apply if death occurs while on a disability or regular leave without pay.

Canada Pension Plan Survivor Benefits
In the event of a death, the Canada Pension Plan provides Survivor Benefits. Detailed information and application forms are available from the Service Canada.

Grief and work

Work is a place where you spend a considerable amount of time. It is a source of many friendships and a place where you get social support. When someone close to you dies, not only do you have to cope with the loss, but you must also adjust to new routines.

Returning to work after the death of a loved one is an important but often difficult step. Here are some points for you to think about as you prepare for your return to work.

  1. Be easy on yourself. Expect and understand that it is “normal” to be more distracted or less productive than you were previously. Look after your physical needs by getting lots of rest, eating well and staying active. Look after your emotional needs by taking time to relax and making time to do things you enjoy.
  1. Take time out to grieve. Try to set time aside during the day to remember your loved one. Let your co-workers know you may need more privacy or even a place or time to cry.
  1. Consider how much you would like to share with others. Some people prefer to share their grief and sorrow with others; other people prefer more privacy. If you choose to share memories and feelings with co-workers, select those you trust. It is also important to ask co-workers about their ability to listen. Questions like “Is it okay that I’m sharing this with you” or “Please tell me if this is too much” are appropriate.
  1. Be understanding of your co-workers. Many co-workers are well-meaning and want to be supportive, but they may feel uncertain or awkward. Let people know what you are comfortable with. Don’t hesitate to say “It’s okay to ask how I am doing” or “I’d rather not discuss this right now” depending on the situation.
  1. Access the services and supports available to you. The Employee and Family Assistance Program has specialized grief counselors available. You can call 780-428-7587 either to speak to a psychologist immediately, or to schedule an appointment. Services can be accessed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There are also a variety of support groups and specialized community resources available that your counselor could recommend.

The following resources provide support information:

Who to contact

Notification of a Loss
When you are able, please notify Human Resource Services of the passing by contacting Sarah Flower at 780-492-2249 or Human Resource Services will ensure that those who need to be notified are, in an effort to minimize the number of times you are contacted by the university.

Pension and benefits
When you are able, please contact the Staff Service Centre to notify them of the death. Soon after contact, you will receive information about the requirements to process the claim.

Information for managers and supervisors
If you are a manager or supervisor, please visit the Manager resource: death of a faculty or staff member page.