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Who Is Worth Mourning? December 30, 2010

Posted by Onely in As If!.

Question: Can you guess what this list is?

4.2.1 Spouse (including Same-sex domestic partner);
4.2.2 Child (including foster or step or any child you have raised as your own);
4.2.3 Parent (including foster, step or any persons who raised the employee);
4.2.4 Brother or sister (including foster, step, or half);
4.2.5 Grandchild;
4.2.6 Grandparent;
4.2.7 Parent or step-parent of spouse or same-sex domestic partner;
4.2.8 Brother or sister of spouse or same-sex domestic partner (including step or half);
4.2.9 Grandparent of spouse or same-sex domestic partner;
4.2.10 Son or daughter in-law;
4.2.11 Spouse of employee’s brother or sister.

Answer: It’s a list of people whose deaths matter more than others’.

According to my company (and, presumably, most other large employers), if one of the people on the above list dies, I get several days’ paid bereavement leave. If a loved one not on this list dies, I have to take leave without pay.

Shut up, you ignoramuses and cyber-trolls, the money itself isn’t the issue (although I always like money):

The payout reflects a restrictive hierarchy based on matrimonial/coupling status, imposed on diverse employees by the organization (and sanctioned without question by culture and government). It says that the only important relationships are child-parent-sibling–and the spousal connections thereto.

My married colleagues get at least twice as many bereavement leave options as I do. The funds come out of the company coffers, to which I contribute just as much profit, contractually, as my married coworkers. In effect, I am subsidizing my married coworker’s bereavement leave for his spouses’ brother or his spouse’s grandparent, but I do not receive the same privilege for the deaths of people close to me, if they are outside of the matrimonial/coupling complex.

The list presumes that a SPOUSE’S GRANDPARENT is always more bereavement-worthy than a BEST FRIEND or BOYFRIEND a CLOSE COUSIN or AUNT. Are you kidding me? When I read the policy, I was so offended I could have just spit (but I didn’t, because the office floors are carpeted).  In the throes of irritation, I wrote an email to my immediate supervisor decrying the discrimination, but she ignored it.

Employers should allow employees to create, ahead of time, a list of people/relationships that they can receive bereavement for.  My goal is to find out how my company acquired this policy, and then go to the appropriate benefits folks and make a huge stink, or more realistically, at least plant the idea in people’s heads that shaping policies around marital/coupling status is BASED ON HABIT, NOT LOGIC OR FAIRNESS.

Copious Readers, have you experienced discrimination based on marital status in the wake of a personal loss? What did you do?


P.S. Please consider your comments carefully, as I am in an ALL CAPS mood lately.


1. Josie - December 30, 2010

I’m trying to say this as gently as possible. If you are lucky enough to just be angry at the discrimination then you have to count yourself as lucky.

I lost my husband at 42 to cancer, didn’t wind up with any bereavement pay anyway, and spent 18 months waking up every day, forgetting for a split second that he was sick, then having my heart broken, every day, for 18 months. The last 3 months I woke up every day and wanted to run away, and wanted him to be able to die. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that death would be something I would wish for him.

When he was sick, he didn’t have a bucket list, he simply wanted to spend time with me. So I took a year’s leave without pay.
If you have to watch your spouse, whether married or not slowly die, money no longer becomes an issue. It’s not clear from the article, although you say it is so, that you get less bereavement if you are not married to the person?

I would argue that the loss of the person closest to you- ie your partner- does require the most bereavement leave. It’s definitely the thing that is going to tear you up, over and over and over, the most.

I agree the company should ask you to nominate a list of people/relationships that are most important to you. I encourage you to go and create waves and change the policy but remember how lucky you are if you never have to access this leave. Surely most companies have some discretion anyway when it comes to deciding how “important” these people are in your life? My sister-in-laws company paid her for 3 months to live with me and nurse my husband- my company didn’t. But I don’t care.
I really couldn’t stop myself sending this comment- I take your point, but i hope you understand why I had to reply. If you don’t check out the postings on grief and hope on my blog.
Regards Josie

Sheila - January 12, 2011

Sorry for your loss. But I think the point, on a site such as this, is that you may never have a “life partner” in the normative sense, and yet you may have non-related people that you want to grieve deeply. And that deserves respect. Pairing off is not the only way to engage deeply with someone.

2. downfromtheledge - December 31, 2010

Sounds like a pretty standard policy. Married people don’t get leave when their best friend, cousin, aunt, etc. dies, either. That’s equality, at least!

It troubles me far more that people who are gay and have a 20-year partner can’t get paid leave from most employers, than it does that I am single and can’t get a type of leave no one else can, either.

Not that something like an alloted number of bereavement days couldn’t someday be an option, however tricky, but I know for damn sure if I ever DID have a spouse or child that died, I would be seriously screwed up and need some time off.

Alan - December 31, 2010

But it’s not really equal, as Christina pointed out. Those with spouses or domestic partners have more options for bereavement leave…spouse/partner, brother or sister of spouse/partner, grandparent of spouse/partner…than single people do. This remains true whether or not brothers/sisters/friends are included.

It would be more equal to do as Christina pointed out and be allowed to have a list of people for whom one would receive bereavement leave.

Onely - December 31, 2010

Yes, Alan has articulated the problem exactly. No one is saying that people shouldn’t get leave for loved ones in the child-parent-spouse complex, or that these relationships are not bereavement worthy, for goodness’ sake.

What we need to remember is that people, especially single people, can and do have other relationships outside of the child-parent-spouse complex that may be just as important to them as a spouse/partner might be, and just as devastating to lose (although old cultural myths and paradigms have taught us that this is impossible or unexpected).

Such relationships and feelings are valid, but policies like the one described above implicitly devalue them.

This is not, as some readers fear, to disparage the matrimonial/partner bond, but to validate other bonds, which we are indoctrinated to disparage relative to the matrimonial one.

I wrote four paragraphs without using all caps once. Next time, I may not be so well disposed. = )


3. Matt - December 31, 2010

Not to be callous, or go off on a tangent, but to me, what this brings to mind is how unhealthy it is (in my opinion) to form such close, single bonds to one individual, that you literally can’t function if you lose them. I would argue that everyone should strive to be self-sufficient enough that there’s no one, single person who they absolutely couldn’t live without. Of course this is heretical in our romance-obsessed culture.

4. eleanore - January 1, 2011

Wow. You kinda took my breath away on that one. Someone actually took the time to pretend that they could rank the importance of a specific relationship in someone’s life…and therefore how much their death matters. Really? What about if you kill your spouse? Is it still #1? Just curious


5. Lauri - January 4, 2011

wow, I have worked at quite a few companies and I have never seen a list like this. I’ve never even seen any guidelines about bereavement leave. I’ve always just gone to funerals or whatever and billed my time to “bereavement” and that’s that. I once had a coworker who took way too long to come back after a grandparent died (like at least two weeks) and our boss had call her and tell her to come back, but I’ve never seen these hard and fast rules. And the list is upsetting. I would need much, much more time if I 30-something close friend or boyfriend or cousin or something passed away than I have needed for my 90-something grandparents, whose deaths, while very upsetting, are part of life. Plus the lack of aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews on the list is just wrong. My mother’s aunt recently passed away, and having no children of her own, her nieces and nephews arranged the funeral and any other issues that need to be dealt with. This list is very upsetting indeed.

Onely - January 6, 2011

You tell it, Laurie!

6. Amanda - January 10, 2011

This really caught my attention and invoked pretty strong emotions.

Several years ago, I was a graduate student working for an international research project. I had made a commitment to be there before my boyfriend was diagnosed with a brain tumor and to have surgery to remove it. When I made a decision to leave the project for three weeks to be with him, my boss (who has been married three times) treated me as though I were selfish and irresponsible and even told me “I don’t understand why you’re with him anyway.” I do not believe in marriage, but I was deeply in love with my boyfriend. Had we been married, no one would have questioned my decision.

When I returned to the project, I was continually criticized and treated as though I had to “make up” for all the time I’d missed (my boyfriend had suffered major brain damage as result of the surgery). Later that year, another graduate student working on the same project decided to leave early because he missed his fiance, apparently without consequence.

It is ridiculous to impose value on someone’s relationship based on their decision to get married or not, especially when the national divorce rate is above 50%.

Onely - January 12, 2011

Wow. Maybe one of these days I need to just make up a fiance in Hong Kong and see if I can get some time off.

Lauri - January 23, 2011

hmm. I like this idea.

7. Sheila - January 12, 2011

Amen to Matt! Becoming self-sufficient has only enriched my life. There is no one I couldn’t live without, and yet I love more freely and generously than I ever have before.

It would really upset me to lose a close friend and not be able to take paid bereavement leave. It OFFENDS ME (caps for Christina) that other people get to decide who should count most to me.

They may as well rank illness for sick leave, too.

5.1.1- Stomach Flu
5.1.2- Bronchitis
5.1.3- Migraine
5.1.4- Fungus
5.1.5- Paper cut

Onely - January 12, 2011

HAHAHA Sheila that is a brilliant and hilarious point! I completely agree with 5.1.1 but I think Migraine should be moved up to 5.1.2 and 5.1.3 should be “hiccups that turn into burps which is really embarrassing professionally.” Excellent.

Matt - January 13, 2011

5.1.4 – Intestinal issues that make is really gross to walk into my office at certain moments

5.1.5 – So tired I’m obviously not going to do any real work

Sheila - February 8, 2011

Ahahaha. Love it, guys.

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