You’re born twice. Once at your birth and again when your Mother dies – Rufus Wainwright.
You may well ask, what grief has to do with business other than maybe having to take time off for a funeral or a period of compassionate leave? Well in my case, after losing my mother, it was a huge factor in both delaying and driving my business decisions.
In the natural order of things, we can all expect to lose someone we love, especially a parent and while everyone grieves differently, none of us can know what that will actually look like until it happens. I used to hear people say grief makes you crazy, but I couldn’t have predicted where crazy would take me and I’ll share that with you now.
For a long time and because of my grief I went through a phase of being completely disjointed. My head knew what I had to do but my heart wasn’t playing ball. I simply couldn’t make a connection between the two and believe me if your heart and your head are out of sync, that’s a bad situation to be in.
The effects of my loss were not just emotional. The physical impact was so debilitating, every single thing on my to do list, seemed to weigh a hundred pounds as I dragged myself through what felt like wet cement every day, trying to complete even the smallest task.
Throughout all of this, I was plagued with what I called mental vacating, which could happen anywhere and at any time. I might be sat at my desk, in the middle of a supermarket or at an event chatting when, without rhyme or reason my mind would literally empty. And believe me when you’ve been talking to someone for twenty minutes, getting to know them and enjoying their company, then suddenly your head decides to empty and you don’t know what you’ve been talking about for the last twenty minutes, let alone remember the name of the person you were talking to, you’re in trouble. Worse still, once my head began to fill back up with thoughts and information, these would be completely unrelated to whatever I’d been doing beforehand, so I was forever being taken off topic.
Brain dumping on this scale meant it was really difficult to make any meaningful progress in my business and when this level of inconsistency and struggle is taking place internally, it’s not long before it shows itself externally and other people start to notice something’s not right here?
I was sure that while no one ever said as much to me, although I could see it in their faces, people must have been thinking this woman’s losing the plot, where’s she gone. I was just talking to her a minute ago and she’s swanned off? How rude, what’s the matter with her? But I couldn’t explain what was happening to me.
I didn’t have a name for it so I couldn’t say to people, do excuse me I need a moment because I’m suffering from whatever, when I truly didn’t know what it was, nor could I predict when and where it would happen. So, it became a real hindrance and on such a scale that I had to withdraw. Not in a pity pot kind of way but definitely in the name of self-preservation, I mean who wants to be known as the crazy lady?
Eventually and while having coffee with Lydia my mentor and close friend of ten years, who I meet with every six weeks; I was retelling her about these episodes and explaining, while the mental vacating hadn’t increased in frequency or intensity, it hadn’t decreased either.
Coincidentally this particular meeting just before Christmas, would be the first one in five years where I didn’t cry at some point. Yes, for five years I’d cried every time I met her. Not big monumental sobs or dramatic whaling but there’d always be something in relation to my mother that triggered the tears, which for as long as I could manage would remain precariously balanced on my eyelashes. But we both knew the moment I blinked, they would roll. Whenever this happened we just sat together quietly until I composed myself.
So, the outcome of this Christmastime meeting with Lydia, led to her saying to me among other things, you have to find a way to process this grief because it’s been going on for too long now. You have to lean in to this, feel it, work through it, suck it up and let it come.
I do feel it I said, I am feeling it, my heart is broken, and I don’t know how to get past this. Lydia suggested that acceptance, or my lack thereof, could be the reason for my stilted progress, so I promised to look at ways to get myself out of this stuck position, not least so that I could find some forward momentum and get back on track.
Days later and as New Year approached, I’d decided that whatever it was I was going to do in terms of letting go was going to take place on New Years Eve. Of course it was symbolic and felt right to be closing this chapter at the end of the year, so that my new chapter would begin on day one of the new year. I still had no idea what I was going to do but I’d set the intention and that was enough for now.
On the morning of New Year’s Eve, I began writing a letter to my mother. It went into just over six pages and most of what was in there is between me and her. Although I will say I did tell her, my letter was an attempt to let go of my constant longing for her. Once I’d finished the letter, I put it away for the time being.
At 11.45 that night I filled the coffee table with an array of lighted candles and lovingly placed my mothers’ photo among them. Then I turned on the TV without the sound, because I wanted to see, but not hear, Big Ben strike midnight. At the same time I hit the play button on the CD remote so that I could hear Shirley Bassey singing as I love you, while I read my letter to my mother out loud.
If you’ve heard the song, you may know it as a love song and you’d be right however, in our case, this was a love song from a mother to her children and one she’d dedicated to us just days before she died.
My letter was an excruciating read and with no one else present, there was definitely ugly crying although I did make it to the end, snots and all and was utterly exhausted by the time I’d finished.
As the TV showed clips of celebration fireworks from around the world I set the CD to repeat, then I placed my letter and her photo along with more treasured items inside a memory box and told her, I’m putting this away now and I don’t know when I’ll open it again.
Now that it was over I began to feel different. Not better, not great, just different. The room was silent by now and I lay down on the sofa feeling wiped out, but every now then I’d be surprised by an involuntary sob, you know the ones that come from nowhere, long after you’ve stopped crying. After about an hour I began to feel tired. I didn’t sleep though. As soon as I closed my eyes a story unfolded before me, in a way that I likened to a clip from the movie Armageddon.
You know the one, where Bruce Willis hits the button on a hand-held device so as to blow up a meteor that’s hurtling towards earth and as he hits the button, the atmosphere lights up as elements of his life flash before him? Well it was like that, without Bruce Willis and definitely no flashes before my eyes.
What did show itself, was a gentle albeit vivid journey through my life and every single scene included my mother. These events were ordinary and unremarkable………… or so I thought.
My recall went on for a long time that night and I remembered her saying to me on so many occasions ooh you’re just like your dad! I’d always believed I was just like my dad whom I adore, and who, while I was growing up, was strict old school. A formidable character, tenacious and strong willed, I did in fact agree with my mother whenever she said, I was just like him.
Until that was, it began to register with me, yes I did have a lot of his traits and was grateful for them however, the woman I’d become, the way in which I was able to show love, my strength and my coping skills, my warm heart and caring nature along with my ability to dig deep in the face of adversity and to never have a single doubt about how much I was loved, was down to my mother. But what surprised me more was, the sheer number of gifts she’d managed to give to me without fanfare or announcement and for the most part, without me even noticing.
Until that moment I hadn’t recognised any of these things as being extraordinary. Why? Because this was all I’d ever known. Her gifts were my norm and my every day just as they’d been her norm and her every day. My mother was able to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary using only love and here I was, seeing this for the first time.
I got that she’d spent her life lovingly weaving her gifts into the fabric of my life, as she had with all of her children, but since her death this had suddenly stopped, and I wasn’t prepared for the impact or the fallout. Neither had I been prepared for something that was completely new to me…….. A life without my mother.
The fog was lifting, and I was able to see for the first time, that since her death, I’d been held hostage by the chaos of my emotions, all of which had been brought about by an unquantifiable loss. To this end, I’d subconsciously been resisting acceptance every which way I could, but somehow, the New Year’s Eve ceremony had counteracted the turbulence and helped me to start feeling my way forward. This journey into my past was speaking to my current situation and at last I was ready to submit and listen.
Roll forward some months after my New Years’ Eve ceremony and not only had the mental vacating stopped, I was beginning to understand that those vacant episodes which had plagued my mind for so long, were I think, the universe trying to make space for the messages it wanted me to hear.
To get me to look at what was really going on and to understand, these messages were in fact life lessons that so far I’d resisted and which, up to now, have turned out to be threefold.
#1 was to recognise and celebrate exactly who I was, along with how and why I’d got here.
#2 a life time of being deeply loved and valued, had given me the heart centred tools with which to work and the capacity to share this with others.
#3 is based on something my mother said to me just before she died that would further shape my forward path……
She told me she’d always been in awe of how I’d had the courage to go after what I wanted and to never be put off, especially by those who told me I shouldn’t or couldn’t do it.
Going back to the months that followed my New Year’s Eve ceremony, the bigger picture of my mothers’ influence and how this had impacted my life, was becoming even clearer. The Steve Jobs dots were beginning to connect. My long term niggle to follow a different calling, together with the zigs and zags of my start up journey were meshing once more, and these latest aha moments reinforced my belief that I should not limit myself. Instead my forward path could and should combine all of my gifts including those my mother had so lovingly bestowed upon me. Was this the beginning of a spiritual awakening?
For the purpose of the Ultimate Blog Challenge This post has been edited and adapted from my book Polish The Diamond In Your Heart (Chapter 6 grief).
Thank you for taking the time today