It’s been a year since my Dad died and if you’re wondering, ‘What’s that got to do with me?’, please bear with me as I think death, dying, mourning and grief have an impact on business, whether we like it or not. My desire to support my Dad as he battled with cancer, and my own grieving processes following his unexpectedly swift death certainly had an impact on my business. But they also had a positive impact on my own personal development. Here’s what I’ve learned.

I’ve shared my own vulnerability sometimes. As we approached the anniversary of Dad’s death I was struck by how many friends and family encouraged me to ‘remember the positives’ because ‘your Dad wouldn’t want you to be sad’. I appreciate their good intentions but actually, I am consciously:

  • Making my own choices. Yes, I’m certain they’re right: my Dad was the living embodiment of ‘pick yourself up and carry on’. But that was his choice (which I respect) and, alongside that, I’m making a different choice that sits better with me, for me.
  • Embracing both my appreciation of the welcome good memories and the inconveniently sad ones. I’ve actively chosen not to suppress the latter and I’ve found that it enhances the former too. Light and shade. Shade and light.
  • Being real with clients and colleagues. Sometimes my sharing my own vulnerability can create a safe space for them to share theirs. Because I’m a Leadership Coach, I tend to notice when people are deflecting, avoiding etc and I respect their right to do so: their stuff is their stuff. But I also notice that when two parties share what’s really going on for them, our connection deepens. I hopefully don’t labour the point with clients as this is their time, but I’ve made a conscious choice to sometimes share my own vulnerability with the belief that it may also facilitate theirs.

I made a conscious choice to enable (not suppress) my grieving through:

  • continuing to sing with Rockchoir. This was a hard choice because – I’ve discovered over the years – that music facilitates my grieving. And grieving often hurts. There were definitely moments when I thought I’d prefer to hide from it but I’m glad that I chose to lean into it. Mostly.
  • sitting down with a counsellor three days after my Dad had died to process everything that was going on for me. I saw her once a week for several months. It was cathartic and painful, joyful and agonising. It was worth it.
  • making time to be alone to grieve. I’ve found that visiting the beach alone enables me to get in touch with how I’m feeling and what I need. Sometimes all I need is an hour to genuinely re-engage with myself and then I can engage with others without any ‘pretending’, ‘distraction’ or ‘deflection’. I definitely rejected ‘keeping myself busy’ as a grieving strategy. I’ve tried it before. It didn’t work for me, it just delayed the inevitable.
  • embracing the mantra ‘pain is inevitable, suffering is optional’. I spent my Dad’s last night alongside him, as he faded away. It was certainly poignant. Exactly 12 months later I could have spent the evening focussing on those painful memories. Instead I took myself off to the beach for the afternoon, enabled those memories to surface and have their impact…. and then I danced for hours at a wedding reception that night, frequently reminding myself that ‘Dad would love that I’m doing this’. Is pain inevitable, whilst suffering is not? Whether it is or it isn’t, I’m finding it helpful to work with this mantra.
  • prioritising my relationships with the family members I care about: my husband, children and brothers. Everything I’ve offered them has been repaid several times over through their kindness to me. My brothers and I are closer now than ever, I’ll be / do everything I can to enable that to last.

A lot of other people are on a similar journey at the same time as me: too many friends have lost their parents, spouses and even their children in the last 12 months. Everyone will have their own responses to grief and loss but it’s been very obvious to me that many of my clients and colleagues have huge empathy and compassion for people in a similar situation and haven’t judged me when I’ve postponed at the last minute or have been slower to respond than usual. If you’re one of those people who demonstrated your care and understanding: thank you, you’ve made a real difference to me.

Prioritising my self-care has supported me to an unexpected degree. My exercise and dietary choices (I became vegan two years ago) have enabled me to actively choose endorphins and well-being. I had a timetable of exercise classes and friends who were expecting to see me in those classes. So I elected not to ask myself, ‘do I want to go?’ (because sometimes the answer would definitely have been ‘no!’). I just went. And went. And went. Yes, there were tears and plenty of poignant (and sometimes angry) moments but I don’t think I’d have been able to be as present with my clients as I have been without this schedule and support. It helped, it really helped.

I’ve learned a lot over the last 18 months: I very much doubt I’ve been a perfect Leadership Coach at all times (as if!) and I’m certain that I’ve made mistakes. But I’ve also been more consciously authentic and vulnerable than ever before and my business has grown substantially over a period of time when it might have temporarily waned.

Death and dying, grieving and experiencing pain are an unavoidable part of life and those of our clients, colleagues, business partners, suppliers and bosses. How can each of us enable ourselves and others to embrace (and not resist) the natural and differing processes of grieving?

And how might we even grow through it.