Working during COVID-19

Death of a loved one

In the unfortunate circumstance where you have lost a loved one, UW employees, their dependents, and their household members can turn to UW CareLink for support. Additionally, the UWHR Benefits office can support you as you work through what happens next with other employee benefits, including life insurance, health insurance, retirement plans, and optional savings plans. Visit our life events page about learning what happens to UW benefits when a loved one dies.

Emotional support

Coping with the dying and loss of a loved one can be a very emotional experience. It is that much more difficult during a crisis like the COVID-19 outbreak, when even wakes and funerals have been curtailed. Whether it is a parent, sibling, friend or relative, the reality of losing someone who was close to you can feel overwhelming. While it is true that time heals painful wounds, there are immediate ways that you can deal with the grief and adjust to your loss. By identifying and accepting your feelings, finding comfort in friends and family, and not being afraid to ask for help, you can ease the grieving process.

Keep in mind: UW employees, their dependents, and their household members get 5 free visits with a counselor per incident. You can request remote counseling visits to maintain social distancing. Contact UW CareLink by calling 866-598-3978/ TDD 800-697-0353 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The Stages of Grieving

Each of us copes with grief in a different way. However, most people go through the following common stages of grieving:

  • Shock, denial and isolation
  • Anger, rage, envy and resentment
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

If a loved one’s death is expected after an illness, family members may have anticipatory grief, which canshorten the process. More severe reactions typically occur after a sudden and unexpected death.

Common experiences

It is normal for the grief-stricken to experience the following symptoms:

  • Crying
  • Inability to sleep
  • Lack of interest in eating
  • Difficulty in explaining feelings to others
  • Exhaustion
  • Irritability and uneasiness
  • Confusion
  • Fear of the future
  • Anger (e.g., toward a higher power or toward the deceased)
  • Sensitivity (e.g., toward a song or smell that reminds you of the deceased)

Depression and loneliness may set in following the funeral. Relatives and friends have gone back to their livesand may no longer be readily available to offer support.

These feelings should subside as time passes, as you come to accept the reality of the situation, and as you shift from mourning a loved one’s death to celebrating his or her life and wonderful memories.

Grief Relief

There are many ways to ease the mourning process. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Do not hold back your feelings: The emotions you experience upon first learning of the loved one’s illness or death will probably have an impact upon you immediately. The sadness you feel and the tears you shed are absolutely necessary to promote the healing process. Do not deny these feelings, whether privately or in the comfort of family and friends. Crying is a stress reliever and an endorphin releaser that will make you feel better. Talk through your difficult emotions with loved ones.
  • Express your emotions: As a cathartic release, some people like to write letters to the deceased expressing exactly how they feel. Others take solace in their faith and the counsel of a religious leader.
  • Be a comforter and a listening ear for friends and family who are also in mourning: It is natural to want to lean on others during this trying time. Be willing to let your grieving relatives and friends lean on you. This instinctual urge to be a caregiver can give you the strength and courage to better cope with your grief.
  • Create a scrapbook with your children, or write a short biography about the deceased. Some survivors like to express their feelings creatively by painting a portrait of the deceased or writing a poem or song about the person. Plan an annual visit to the gravesite. Dedicate part of your work, such as a book, film or other project, to the memory of the deceased, or consider launching a special fund or scholarship in the name of the deceased.
  • Get additional assistance: You may choose to talk to a therapist or counselor about your feelings, especially if the sadness lingers. Perhaps you have unresolved issues about the deceased or things you wish you would have told that person before he or she died. Also, consider joining a support group for family survivors and mourners.
  • Consider taking a hiatus: Aside from taking funeral leave at work, be prepared to give yourself ample time to heal and reflect. After the funeral, you may want to take a leave from your obligations and just get away for a short time, not necessarily to forget, but to recharge and ponder the impact of the deceased on your life.
  • Get on with everyday life: Give yourself enough time to properly mourn and reminisce. Do not be afraid to return to normalcy, as much as possible. Just as the deceased would have wanted you to pay your respects and remember him or her appropriately, he or she would have wanted you to enjoy life and make the most of its opportunities. Go back to your family, your job and your everyday routines, if you can, with the renewed commitment to do the best you can, and savor every moment.

While it is important to grieve the loss of a loved one, do not forget to cherish his or her life. Death is a sad occasion. However, in time, you will come to realize that this occasion is a celebration of a life, a revisiting of joyful memories shared with a special person that you will treasure for the rest of your life.

We hope these resources can help you as you navigate this process:


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Financial resources

When someone in your UW family passes away; whether it was the UW employee, the spouse/dependent of an employee, or a beneficiary – check in with the UWHR Benefits office to learn about the impacts this has on UW Benefits. You can call us at 206-543-4444, email us at, or visit our webpage to learn more.

Additionally, UW CareLink is here to help navigate the different financial questions during this process. Call 866-598-3978 to make an appointment with a financial advisor who can provide guidance on the financial impact of someone passing away. If you find that you need legal representation, remember that UW CareLink can provide unlimited 30 minute legal consultation with their in-house lawyers, plus get referrals to local lawyers with a 25% reduction in fees.

Collecting the benefit on a life insurance policy

If you have life insurance, in most cases you will not be around when it comes time to pay off. However, some insurance companies offer policies that allow you to collect at least some of the death benefit on the policy before you die. Typically this occurs when you are faced with an expensive terminal illness, such as cancer or kidney failure. Otherwise, your beneficiaries will collect the death benefit on your policy. Learn more about things to consider in our resource guide, Collecting the benefit on a life insurance policy.

How can Social Security help when a family member dies?

You may be eligible to collect social security when a loved one passes. UW CareLink’s in-house financial consultants can help advise you on what to expect. Here’s a summary of potential benefits who may qualify:

  • A one-time payment of $255 can be paid to the surviving spouse.
    • If there is no surviving spouse, the payment is made to an eligible child
  • Certain family members may be eligible to receive monthly benefits, including:
    • A widow or widower age 60 or older (age 50 or older if disabled);
    • A surviving spouse at any age who is caring for the decedent’s child under age 16 or disabled;
    • An unmarried child of the deceased who is younger than age 18 (or age 18 or 19 if he or she is a fulltime student in an elementary or secondary school); or age 18 or older with a disability that began before age 22
    • Parents, age 62 or older, who were dependent on the deceased for at least half of their support
    • A surviving divorced spouse, under certain circumstances

If the deceased was receiving Social Security benefits, a relative must return the benefit received for the month of death or any later months.

For more details, see our resource guide, How can Social Security help when a family member dies?


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Planning the funeral

The importance of having a funeral or other service to honor the deceased and to give loved ones an opportunity to celebrate that life and begin to grieve is vital, even in unsettled times. But in most of the United States, the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus has necessitated changes in the way wakes and funerals are held.

Citing the President’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America, most funeral homes are limiting wakes and funerals to no more than 10 of the decedent’s immediate family members. Many funeral directors are also recommending services be held at the gravesite whenever possible.

According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the changes are needed to flatten the curve of the pandemic, protect the health of attendees, funeral home staff and clergy, and reduce the spread of the virus.

Keep in mind that some states and cities have restricted public gatherings altogether, which might further limit how many people may attend funerals. Local cemeteries may also have their own guidelines.

During wakes and funerals, those attending are being asked to follow current social distancing guidelines, which require that people maintain a space of 6 feet from each other. Unfortunately, this restricts the ability of attendees to interact as they normally would with, for example, handshakes and hugs.

In place of typical services, many funeral homes are offering webcasting, Facetiming or livestreaming to help with social distancing and curtail infection of families, friends and funeral home staff. These options also allow those who cannot travel to the service to still partake.

All of these measures can add to the burden of grief felt by those who have lost a loved one during the COVID-19 outbreak. That is especially true if the deceased had pre planned his or her own funeral service and those plans could not be followed.

If you find yourself in this situation, work with the funeral director and choose what arrangements you can be as inclusive as possible via current streaming technology. You may also want to proceed with burial or cremation and plan to hold a funeral or memorial service at a later date.

We hope these resources can help you as you navigate this process:


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What to expect when you call

When you call UW CareLink, you’ll speak with a multilingual master’s level or above guidance counselor who listens to you and assesses your needs.

The guidance counselor first asks you basic demographic questions such as your name, job and work location. Your personal information is confidential and not shared with the University. The UW only sees aggregated data that helps program administrators understand how people use the UW CareLink service.

The guidance counselor will answer your questions, and if needed, refer you to a counselor or other appropriate resources. If your situation is urgent, the counselor is trained to begin solving it immediately.

How was your experience?

UW CareLink takes customer service very seriously. If your experience was more than you expected, or wasn’t at all what you expected, we want to know. You can either call UW CareLink’s program manager, Jessica Cole (206-616-4932) or fill out our anonymous form.

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