My father died last year in January 2018. My Gran died on Tuesday. In January 2019.
So here I am finding myself in that place again. That place of grief. Except this time I know how to manage my workload and how to protect my mental health. So however horrible, exposing and painful this is to write. For you – my community of wonderful people, mostly women, and mostly Mums, all of whom are freelancing and part of the gig economy, here is what I learnt from the death of my father and what I’m going to do to cope with the death of my Gran. So if, or more accurately when, you find yourself dealing with grief and your business to do list, you have this. I hope it’s useful.
1. First of all. I’m sorry for your loss if you are reading this.
2. Second of all be kind to yourself. Not in an Instagram slogan way, but I tell myself “be kind to your past self” and even more specifically,
“Be kind to your current self about past actions or decisions. You were doing your best during an intense life period. Keep on keeping on.”
This acceptance of my past self is something I had to work on following the death of my father. I had to make some incredibly difficult choices during his final 3 weeks in ICU. Hospital visits require an extraordinary level of co-ordination for me as I am the primary carer of my kids who were 3 and 5 year at the time and can not be left to their own devices, and a diary of commitments to clients.
I visited the hospital, I said my goodbyes, but I also worked during that time, I didn’t miss a school run during that time, I got my kids to every activity during that time. To keep as close to normal as possible was what I felt like doing at the time, and I remember that and am kind to my current self about making the decisions and choices I made during that time.
With my Gran I knew I needed to get to the hospital at least once. I made some very last minute late night calls and some quite wonderful school Mums sorted car seats and snacks and ferried my kids around so I could.
But whatever you do, however much you did or didn’t visit, the “I-should-of” thoughts are there. Like I say, be kind to your current self about your past decisions.
3. Death is not like in the movies. I had this idea that everyone manages to make it to be there with the dying. Some how I would make it even though I have the school run and I’m hours away and you get your information third hand through wishful thinking and people not wanting to worry you. Turns out life is not the movies, and especially in a hospital setting with visiting hours and waiting rooms, your loved one is likely to die with strangers holding their hand. Sister Amanda said it was a privilege. So I thank God they are not alone, add another prayer for the NHS, and try not to regret and dwell on – what with my commitments to my family and my business and living where I live – is a destructive fantasy.
4. Already alluded to, but tensions run high. Birth, divorce and death are the big shaker-uppers. Whatever stress points are in your family, a hospital waiting room will 100% test them to breaking point. Apparently some families really do get closer so if you are the Von Trapps then you are golden. But if you have a bloody annoying Uncle or your brother’s wife is a nightmare then get prepared for exhaustion to hit.
The exhaustion I now understand is caused by spending a lot of emotional energy. For me it wasn’t just adding to my mental load with additional tasks, but with grief I found I became physically exhausted and had that sense of being overwhelmed more often than was comfortable. And when you are running a business and coping with the kids, being overwhelmed is not a helpful state of mind.
This time around I know I will be spending emotional energy in the next few weeks and if you know it’s coming you can plan for it. Outfits, hymn choices, photo choices, flower choices, wake food choices. These choices are sad, and I know this will cause people to respond too quickly with less-than-perfect responses. They are grieving too.
The choices will be sad; feelings will be hurt.
This time around I’m going to worry less about other people’s choices or choices I can’t control. I’ve realised it doesn’t really matter on the day if the flowers aren’t seasonal. And I’m muting the WhatsApp group to conserve as much emotional energy as possible. Then I can get myself up to date when I’m ready to go into that space and not run the notification-about-coffin-choice-while-on-a-work-call gauntlet again.
5. Work doesn’t stop. And maybe I don’t want work to stop. But as per point 4 you are not in a place to keep working “as normal” – something I totally failed to recognise last year. So this year here is my process this time.
- Review my to do list
- Get everything quick done
- Push anything with a deadline in the next 3 weeks. Think of a reasonable amount of time to add and then double it. I now know to add in this unspecified additional time to offset the emotional energy I’m about to spend and take the pressure off the afternoons where I’m unable to stop clicking through photos.
- Send an explainer email to impacted clients or colleagues saying I had a bereavement this week and I’m onto task x but can I deliver it on this date instead? No one says no, everyone is really nice, and they might offer to take it off you. Do what is best for the client, and now is not the time to think about your profit and loss forecast.
Don’t ignore your to do list and explain in 2 weeks time when you miss a deadline. Be proactive even if the emails are tough to write.
- Get ready for new work coming into your inbox. I explain about a recent bereavement and push my processes. Normally I would turn around a phone call in 48 hours but maybe I’d push that to a week. Same with a proposal. I have been really tempted to say no to new work a couple of times as I feel overwhelmed, but my rationale is that running longer time frames makes the conversion less likely anyway, and as a freelancer the pressure to protect my pipeline – even during early grief – is still very real.
- Review my diary and where I’m supposed to be. I cancel networking optional stuff and push meetings where possible for a month or so – especially just catch up or let’s explore this idea sort of meetings. I arrange Zoom’s if a meeting is a “must do”. For me, I am not going to present my brand well during early grief and so cancelling is better long term for my business, although I’m going to miss out on some opportunities.
- I put in lunches with friends and nights in with TV. I genuinely write them in my diary. Hashtag self care.
6. If I’m battered by grief, the kids are too. This time I’m being a lot more tuned into the kids and how they are feeling. That they really need me to pick them up from school and want to skip an activity, or they need a quieter weekend or a more busy-take-their-mind-off-it weekend. Being tuned in means I need to make that time to tune in and not be too busy being unreachable on my laptop.
So this time around I’m off my devices in the back from school before tea window so that I get to sit on the sofa and just be with them. It’s good for my soul (and my screen time) as much as anything else.
And that’s it. That’s what I’ve done and that’s what I’m doing.
Not earth-shattering. Not new. But for the 500 of you living the same life as me. Hopefully helpful.