On Grief & Bereavement

Jeff Gibbard
7 min readMay 31, 2023

Gosh, I’m in a real pickle here! Maybe you can help me out.

You see, I’m trying to put together a bereavement policy for my corporation and I have a few empty cells in my spreadsheet.

Help me out…

  • How many days off is a child worth? What if it was their favorite one?
  • If someone’s husband or wife dies, what should the weighted average be if it’s a first, second, or third marriage?
  • What is the standard number of grieving days to use as a baseline before applying multipliers?
  • What about parents vs step-parents vs foster parents? How would you rank those? How many days for each?
  • If the grandparent was really old (like over 50 or something), how many fewer days should someone get?

Oh! And I almost forgot: should minimum wage employees qualify for paid time off or should that be reserved for salaried positions and executives?

If you could help me answer these questions that would be great. Thanks.

Let’s talk about death.


My father went to his deathbed on my birthday and passed away two days later, on my daughter’s birthday. Needless to say, May hasn’t been a great month in 2023.

I was exceptionally close with my father.

For my 43 years of life, I’ve had a champion in my corner, cheering me on, and waiting to support me with genuine pride in my efforts whether I succeeded or failed. In fact, this is the first post I’ve ever written, in my entire life, that I know he will not be reading. My father has been the inspiration for much of my work, and the support I’ve needed to keep getting back up to try again.

Several days after he passed I found myself laying in bed, reading a recent newsletter from Farnham Street, and came across the following…

Elizabeth Gilbert reflects on the death of her partner:

“I have learned that Grief is a force of energy that cannot be controlled or predicted. It comes and goes on its own schedule. Grief does not obey your plans or your wishes. Grief will do whatever it wants to you, whenever it wants to. In that regard, Grief has a lot in common with Love. The only way that I can “handle” Grief, then, is the same way that I “handle” Love — by not “handling” it. By bowing down before its power, in complete humility.”

On the day that my father passed and the following days, grief washed over me like a tidal wave. It would crash down on me, shatter my heart, and then erupt from my body in a flood of tears that made it hard to breathe. This would be followed by periods of emptiness. Everything would temporarily appear quiet with the stillness of a pond protected from the wind by the trees surrounding it. And then the grief would sweep in like a hurricane, thrashing and tearing at me, leaving destruction and wreckage in its wake.

I’ve never felt so broken before in my life.

Even now, as I write this, 27 days after we said goodbye for good, hearing his voice in my head or seeing a picture of him can make my chest feel like caving in if I let the thought linger too long.

This is what my grief felt like and what it still feels like.

Bereavement & Policies

When my father passed, my wife immediately took the rest of the day off and put in for bereavement leave. Since then, I have not been able to stop thinking about the idea of a bereavement leave policy. I started looking into what others had written about it.

I found this:

“When real-life intersects with business, bereavement leave policies can provide some compassionate flexibility, allowing employees to take time off within clear boundaries.” (Source)

and this…

Bereavement or Compassionate Leave is time allowed off work for those who have experienced a death in the family. It is a time when sensitivity must be used to maintain a delicate balance of compassion and professionalism. (Source)

If you’re not horrified by these statements, allow me, as someone still grieving, to point out precisely what is wrong with both.

  1. Real life does not intersect with business. Business does not supersede “real life.” Business is just a thing we do, in our real lives. If anything, business is intersecting with our real lives. And as for “boundaries,” it’s baffling how any enterprise would have the gall to take the reigns on setting boundaries while one of their team members may struggle to get out of bed.
  2. There is no delicate balance of compassion and professionalism. The two are either at odds or the professionalism is an unnecessary component. Compassion, in these times, is really all there is among those of us who consider ourselves humans.

The Luxury of Grief

We have been so propagandized and our minds so thoroughly warped, that we have the audacity to talk about grieving and bereavement as a business policy issue. It’s actually not…but it definitely is a class issue. Let me explain…

I described to you my feelings of grief above.

Well, right now, there are countless people who are feeling, more or less, this exact same way. They are devastated, and yet forced to come back to work for fear of losing their job or not being able to afford to eat, keep a roof over their heads, maintain their healthcare, or the risk of falling deeper into debt.

By contrast, those who are wealthy will have the luxury of grieving. They may be able to take as much time as they need. Should they lose their job, their financial safety net will enable them to continue without fear for their survival. They may be free from the bonds of labor that force others back to work while they still grieve.

The more money one makes or inherits, the more time one is afforded to experience being human, including mourning the loss of those closest to them.

There should not be a price of admission to grieve. The company should not have a say in this matter.

We can be better than this.

A Kinder, Safer, More Equitable World

We are failing as a society because we perpetuate a system that commodifies relationships and deprioritizes our human experiences so that we can serve our roles as cogs in a market economy for someone else’s benefit. (See: COVID and the rush to get people back to work.)

Let me paint you a picture of what a kinder, safer, and more equitable world might look like.

We’re so sorry. Take as much time as you need. Please do not worry about a thing, we’ll handle it. Reach out to us when you’re ready.

Especially if you are a business owner, executive, or manager, you may be wondering what “take as much time as you need” really means. Will this leave be paid or unpaid leave? What if it’s a year? What if people start abusing it because they’re lazy and don’t want to work? Etc., etc., etc.

Allow me to reframe…

That we should have to ask these questions is absurd because companies should not be the ones with the power to determine whether or not people have what they need to survive in the first place. They should not be in any position to flex any power or authority over someone, especially in their most vulnerable time, by compelling people to return to work for fear of being homeless, hungry, or without healthcare. There is simply no good argument for it that is kind, safe, equitable, compassionate, empathetic, or human.

No one should be in a position where experiencing the ubiquitous and very real human emotions of grief and loss is a threat to their survival. Every single human being deserves the right to grieve for as long or as short as they need, and it should be irrelevant to whether or not they’re entitled to continue living.

Therefore, the answer is this…

We need to shuffle the deck before it’s too late. We’re letting businesses determine whether we can experience the full range of human emotions, afford housing or not, or will have a habitable planet or not. So far, their answers to all of those questions are determined by a profit motive. We have to put humans back at the top and let businesses serve our interests instead of the other way around.

I’m talking about structural change. It’s time we all did our part to get there. You can start with how you handle the people on your team who are mourning, sick, or struggling. Ditch the policy and start acting like a human.


I have to state for the record that my team and my clients have been 100% amazing throughout this entire ordeal and I have felt precisely zero pressure from anyone. I also have my own circumstances that afford me some additional freedom and flexibility. I am privileged across a multitude of dimensions and I take none of it for granted.

These privileges have only further entrenched me in the view that everyone should have the freedom to grieve, in whatever way and on whatever timeline they need.

Anyone who says otherwise has something to gain or profit from your suffering.



Jeff Gibbard

Superhero. Professional Speaker & Workshop Trainer. World's Most Handsome Strategist. Author of The Lovable Leader 📚 Host of the Shareable Podcast 🎙