A Guide for Making Room for Grief in Work & Life

Have you ever created intentional space in your work/life for grief?

I never knew it was possible until earlier this month.

I may be relatively young, but I’ve had my share of deaths to process in life. In all instances, I went through the motions and then seemed to just move on. As in, I went to a funeral, accepted condolences, and then got back to my routine – at work, at home, with loved ones and strangers.

This included my father’s passing a couple of years ago. My grief consisted of a few days on the couch, eating junk food and watching movies. Then I picked myself up and moved forward. No self-care, no reflection. That is certainly one way to handle it, but what I did this month was so much kinder to myself. And, just maybe, the kindest thing I’ve ever done for myself.

My grandfather died peacefully, a week short of his 93rd birthday. Knowing that he was only going to be with us for a short while longer, I made some very adult decisions.

  1. Decision #1: There was literally nothing more important in my life than saying goodbye to my Poppi in the way that felt like I was honoring him.
  2. Decision #2: I was going to allow my daily experience and grief to be the priority in my life by making space for it.

Once those decisions were cemented in my mind as the only things with real significance, everything else fell into place as if I knew exactly what to do…

  1. I canceled all my non-essential meetings. There were FIFTEEN of them! To be kind to myself, I blind-copied everyone at once (opposed to personal emails for every person), told them why I needed to reschedule and counted that task as “done” in a matter of a few minutes. The immediate weight that came from reclaiming a minimum of 15 hours of my week was enormous. Everyone was so extremely kind and supportive of my need to reschedule. I kept 3 essential meetings (reviewing proposals and onboarding a new client) and used the rest of my time working on things that bring me joy and add great value to my business.  And it got me thinking…why did I have 15 non-essential meetings on my calendar, anyway?
  2. Made space for self-care every day. Things like, taking a bath, reading, writing, getting a massage. Every day there was one scheduled item of self-care on my agenda. In a week, I had given myself the gift of self-care in a way that seemed like a pure indulgence. Each act of self-care rejuvenated me in a way that felt like, “Yes. My body is important to care for. My spirit is important to nourish. Thank goodness I can move slowly and be kind to myself.” When I look back, none of those actions were longer than 90 minutes and took way less than the time I had given myself space for by removing the non-essential meetings.
  3. I reignited good habits. I meditated, did some form of physical activity and cooked the most delicious meals with my husband every night. These, again, seem like a luxury to me when I do all three in one day – let alone all three for weeks straight each day. These habits are direct reflections of my values and things that always make me feel centered and on a good path whenever I regularly activate them in my life. I just didn’t think I had space for them, all in one day, before. I was so very wrong.
    Having done these 3 things literally changed my life. It helped me to realize my values more deeply, appreciate the supportive people in my life and make space to cherish the memories of my grandfather.  In a time when we are all working so damn hard, it’s hard to push pause. But when you do, your soul thanks you.

I spent nearly two weeks making room for grief, which felt like I was swimming in warm molasses – in the best possible way. In a matter of minutes of making these executive decisions in life, I gained immense clarity and gratitude for the gifts in simplicity.

I am always saying, my goal is to “live a simple and purpose-filled life. The last gift my Poppi gave me was the realization that I can have that now. I am the one getting in my own way of making that a reality and that was an epiphany that I will take with me as I build the life I want to live.

So while I offer these suggestions as a possible guide in grief, we must remember that at the end of the day, grief is a walk alone. Others can be there and listen but you will walk down your own path, at your own pace, with your own pain. You will come to your own peace, in your own time, in whatever way makes sense for you. My experience is not yours and it is not a suggestion that one size fits all. It’s far from that when it comes to loss.

I was reminded that grief is the last act of love we give to those we loved. Where there is deep grief, there was great love. And that’s what my life has felt like lately. Fueled in love, reflection and gratitude. The grief isn’t gone, it’s just taken a new shape for me. One that I never knew was possible, one that I wish for everyone to experience if they’re able to make space for it in life.

MaryBeth Hyland, founder of SparkVision, believes that when you connect people through purpose, there’s no limit to what they can do. Her organization helps multi-generational teams who need an unbiased partner to identify the gap between their current and ideal culture.  Grounded in her BA in Social Work and MS in Nonprofit Management, this millennial leader is sought after for her ability to create movements that resonate. MaryBeth has been honored in Maryland as ’Innovator of the Year,’ ’Women on the Move,’ ’Top 100 Women,’ ’Top 100 Millennial Blog,’ ’Civic Engagement Leader’ and ’Leading Women.’

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