British Columbia

B.C. grief counsellors say bereavement leave needs to be extended

A Lower Mainland grief counselling group is using Canada's first annual National Bereavement Day as an opportunity to educate on grief, and get politicians talking about extending bereavement leave.

Group says National Bereavement Day is meant to educate on the damages of grief

An Illustrative photo representing a girl with depression, suicidal thoughts, taken Feb 21 2016. (David Donnelly/CBC)

A New Westminster, B.C., grief counselling non-profit group says the length of bereavement leave given to employees in Canada needs to be increased beyond three days.

Tuesday was Canada's first annual National Bereavement Day, and Heather Mohan of the Camp Kerry Society believes the day should be seen as an opportunity to acknowledge the damages of grief on the country's workforce.

Her organization projects around 269,000 Canadians will die by the end of 2017, and she estimates approximately five people will be significantly impacted by grief related to each death. The Canada Labour Code currently guarantees federal workers up to three days of leave immediately after the day of an immediate family member's death. The B.C. Employment Standards Act also states employees are entitled to take up to three days of unpaid leave.

"If it was the loss of a child or a spouse or an elderly parent ... three days is inadequate for everyone, no matter what the loss is," Mohan said during CBC's On the Coast.

Numbness and shock

Mohan said people experiencing grief after a death normally feel numbness and shock for the first few days. Those days are often spent arranging a memorial, and in most cases it takes three to six months before they seek grief counselling and emotional healing begins.

"One thing we will continue to explore is the concept of increasing that three-day bereavement leave to something like three months," said Mohan.

She said the United Kingdom is currently exploring that option as well, and the purpose of National Bereavement Day is to get Canadian politicians aware and interested in the subject of grief.

"We're trying to find creative ways to harness the power of community support ... to approach this differently than we have been," said Mohan.

She said her organization, along with the B.C. Hospice and Palliative Care Association, is mandated to educate on the needs of end-of-life care, which includes bereavement. Mohan said declaring a national day is another educational tool.

"This is an issue that faces our communities. We're often drawn in by the headlines of a crisis when someone young dies, but there's not a lot of follow up after that."

Mohan hopes the national day will generate the resources organizations like hers need to deliver services to those tackling grief.

With files from On the Coast