How do you take time out to process grief when you’re self employed?
Recently, I had to take some time off work.
I took the decision suddenly. There was warning, but certainly not enough to be prepared enough to feel I’d done a good enough job to just down tools.
Two days after a full moon, a week before the equinox, 3 and a bit months before his 90th birthday.
Where the sun shone like summer and everyone put their shorts back on and had their last bbqs of 2019. In a liminal space of waiting for something and nothing where there was no logic or reason to attach the event or the timing for comfort, he decided to leave.
So I found myself re-exploring the seven stages of grief…
As reassurance really as I rode the rollercoaster of emotions I could still function, still ace the school run and be early each day (I was late today) and still switch my head into projects for my clients.
- Shock & Denial
My grandad passed away at 5am on a Tuesday. A few days before I’d said a very emotional (on my part) goodbye to him. I’d watched a sunrise and cried from a place of feeling absolutely and utterly heartbroken.
One Friday in September I spent seven hours on trains and in the short time with him he asked me to leave multiple times and couldn’t agree to a hug or any eye contact.
That Friday that happened to be a 13th where the nurses reassured me that if he started to take his medication and drink fluids again he could get better. A Friday where I outstayed my welcome because I hoped a part of him I recognised would see me. Or maybe want to put pyjamas on or eat the pastry I’d brought with me from Newcastle train station.
So when I got the news of his passing 3 days later, I took L into school then started to drive to work as normal then promptly burst into tears.
Future me reminded present me that if winter was coming I better be under a blanket.
So that’s what I did, everything got cancelled. I watched back to back episodes of Lorraine which I’ve not done in forever and had three saunas which I do a lot.
The school run came and went and came back around again. The world kept spinning but I didn’t participate, not really and definitely not whole heartedly.
I went back to work after two full days that felt like two hours of wrestling with it all.
A meeting meant more actions following, I’d switched the ON switch back ON. I instantly regretted it.
I reminded myself the weekend was coming.
2 & 3 – Pain and Guilt, anger and bargaining
My Grandad was an incredible inspiration to me in so many ways and because he lived with dementia and Alzheimer’s, the last couple of years were complex for us and for my mum who did an incredible job of supporting him.
When you are plunged into a frozen landscape of grief, everything is relentlessly the same in the outside world but so different in the internal. Being around someone with dementia has you in the seven stages of grief over and over again and then with death it stops and I guess I could have gone on forever in some ways.
I’ve learnt (the hard way) how to make space for the tidal waves of grief blowing through your soul without integrity. I’m also very fortunate to be a Dementia Friend.
Back to the frozen surface of the lake how to walk on water. I don’t want to walk but I don’t want to wallow either and so I navigate and skate and come back to sitting sometimes. The shock hits me over and over.
4. Depression, reflection and loneliness
I’m only human and although emotionally intelligent I am right now incredibly vulnerable.
Externally expectations go on and I remind people we are still to have the funeral for Grandad, that he was like a dad to me and my last remaining grandparent and at times my closest friend. I feel incredibly lucky and sad I didn’t make more time to celebrate our relationship in the last few years for fear of rejection.
Today writing this feels like an action I can do well unlike everything else which feels quite the opposite. Endless emails, forgotten dates, six voice mails and school reading books, curtains to hang… life spins faster because shock makes you feel slow. I set up a direct debit for our milk man – check things off lists.
5 & 6 – The Upward Turn, reconstruction and working through
Feeling behind and having EVERYTHING to do is worse than just getting on with it.
So I am getting on with it but I’m not trying to be Spring when I feel like Winter.
If I feel sad I pause and do laundry or just have another cuppa. I have switched on my pomodoro self – just 25mins and then a break. I am showing up in my online community on Instagram because human connection reminds us we are alive.
Finding purpose in the ‘to do’s when really all I want to do is think about all the amazing conversations Gramps and I had, record them, make a photo album and write my speech for his send off. When I told L (we speak openly about the circle of life) he said; “It’s ok Mummy I love you and we’ll find you a new Grandad to have”)
So in being kind to myself it’s a reminder to be kind to everyone else in my world, you just never know what season someone is feeling or why or experiencing behind their mask society demands of them.
If I was in charge of how Western society processes grief I’d give everyone one month and five friends to spend time with, no work just experiencing vulnerability and human connection.
I might be sparkly today but it’s an act, my sparkle won’t be as consistent as usual until I’ve understood where to put the part of me that’s lost forever.
Your belief in me that it will come back and have more to share means the world! And until then I’ll leave you with his last words to me (after he ate the pastry) – “Take care of yourself won’t you kid” and I will.