It’s been quite a while since I wrote a post on my blog. I tried all kinds of tactics to get me to put “pen to paper”… even giving myself a whole day to write…. well let’s just say the house is really clean and all the blinds have been hand washed. Still no blog.
My mother died. Last year. It was such a shock, so sudden. I felt like an onion; every day a new layer of grief, of retrieved lost memories would unfold. It was all I could do to just keep going. And as an entrepreneur one has no choice. It’s my business, if I don’t work, I don’t earn. I had no choice but to keep going.
This is a very personal blog. And I guess that’s why I have written nothing, or next to nothing in over a year. How personal does one go with a professional blog? Would it be of relevance or interest to readers?
I think it is. A good percentage of my clients are people who have, or are going through, grief. It could be the loss of a loved one, but it could just as equally be the end of a marriage or career. And the majority of my clients are working professionals who run their own businesses. I can tell how long an individual has left it before seeking help just by the type of chaos that accumulates. It could be months, a couple of years or a decade. It’s usually a decade though. A decade of things building up, dreams being put on the back burner and health issues being ignored.
I remember the moment when it first hit me that my mother wasn’t just ill but was about to die. It was like my whole soul turned to dust. I explained to my clients what was happening and that I would have to postpone our work. They were amazing and so understanding.
I knew from my experience of working with people who had lost a loved one that piles build up, things get lost and before you know it you are surrounded and engulfed in documents, To-Do lists and chaos. I run my own business, an organizing business no less. I could not afford to fall behind. I also wanted to be able to be fully with my family at this time and not worry about my business. The biggest struggle with being self-employed is creating boundaries between your personal and professional life.
And so, a year later I am sitting down to write this blog.Of course the loss of my mother will always be with me. A client of mine put it this way: “Grief is like this backpack you are carrying, that you will carry your whole life. It’s always there. Some days it feels like you are carrying a backpack of bricks and other days it’s just lip balm”. Up until now it’s just been bricks I have been carrying. I so appreciate the days when it’s as light as lip balm.
There’s all kinds of help out there when you are struggling with grief and loss. But there’s little or nothing about how keep the day to day practicality of living your life together. Or even what to expect, what to be on guard for. The following are just some tips that I think you might find useful if you have been through or are going through a deep loss and feel like you are loosing control of the basic skills in managing your life.
I found that my memory was no longer reliable (actually it’s still goes blank occassionally) and this causes enormous anxiety and problems…. particularly if you have arranged to meet someone, a potential client say, and you have no idea where you wrote down their number and address, to let them know you are running late (because you can’t find your keys!). It is important to keep everything in one place – a note book.
Get a note book. I like the one by Blueline (A9 Series) because it’s hard-backed and you can open it flat. Then get some of those tabs Avery sells called Note Tabs. In the front of this book you will write any messages, conversations, addresses of where you need to go, phone numbers etc. There is a space at the top right hand of the page for putting the date – make sure you do this every time you start a new page. Then halfway or so into the book put a stick-on tab that says “To Do’s”. This is where you will write your To Do’s. Again when you write a To Do list date it at the top right.
I also have an app on my iPhone for shopping because I would go blank when I got to the grocery store and come home with the oddest things. This way when I entered my drugstore or supermarket I would check my shopping list app and see what I needed.
If you have everything in one place then when you forget, which you will do a lot of, you know where to look.
Another major problem that affects even the most mundane moments. It’s quite amazing how hard it is to make a decision when you are in a fog. Create some rules for yourself. Here are some that helped me.
At the beginning of every month go through your fridge and kitchen cupboards and dump anything that is past it’s sell by date. Don’t “if, and or but” yourself over this just do it. The goal here is to prevent a situation getting out of control. You don’t want to labour it – it’s a rule and a routine – do it and move on.
This is a hard one. Housework never ends but during times of grief and loss it quickly gets out of control. If you don’t have a cleaner and can’t afford one then each week focus on one room, deep clean it and maintain it that week. Then the next week focus on another room. Maintaining a tidy house is easier if you know the deep cleaning is being done on a rotation basis.
Not only could I not decide what to wear but I couldn’t decide if I needed to wash it, iron it or purge it! I am not usually this anal but when you can’t decide what to wear because you don’t know how you feel because you are not sure that last time you felt anything then pulling out the “Martha Stewart” is not a bad thing. I did this simple thing in my wardrobe that really helped me. I categorised my wardrobe in the usual way one would (trousers, skirts, dresses, shirts etc) but then I organized them by colour. I did this with everything and it really helped me put an outfit together on the worst of days.
If you can’t face doing your laundry then drop it off somewhere to be done. It comes back all sorted, folded and perfect looking – and seriously you can’t put a price on that.
Paper and document management is a massive problem for everyone so its even more challanging during these times. You need to have a system in place for paper management. I can’t stress this enough. It is neigh on impossible to manage papers when you are in emotional upheaval let alone make a decision about them. Spend the money early on, on getting someone in to put a filing system in place. If you can’t find what you want in five seconds the method you are using is not working. If you do this early on it will be a fraction of the cost financially and emotionally than doing it two, five or ten years later. Opening up old wounds when you have finally found peace is doubly heartbreaking and takes ten times longer to sort (and therefore ten times more expensive). So get a paper management system in place.
When mail comes in break it down into two categories. One will be “Actionable” – i.e. a bill that needs to be paid, an event that has to be scheduled, a letter mailed. The other will be “Filing” – i.e. bank statements, manuals, warranties, cards etc. Don’t make it any more complicated than that. It’s hard to make a decision about something you don’t have a feeling for. So don’t. You just need to be able to find it. When the filing tray is full then file it away (which will be easy because the system you have in place takes care of that). Every day go through your actionable drawer/box and do what makes sense that day to do.
Newspapers, magazines and fliers:
Keep them one month and then recycle. I know you think you would like to read them when you have more time, or they’ll be good for future reference, or you think of someone you want to send the article to. But you won’t and you will just add to your sense of overwhelment and guilt. The grieving process can take years. And you need to put yourself first here… not something that really belongs on a “one day” To Do list. Again, the goal here is to prevent something getting out of control. Every month recycle newspapers, magazines and fliers etc.. that you have had a month.
I had no sense of time – at all. Also I would get to the end of a day and it would seem like I had done nothing. When it came to scheduling clients I miscalculated how long it would take to get to their businesses. Or I would show up on the wrong day. I remember waiting in a doctors waiting room for over two hours before I realised I had come on the wrong day! I was so sure I was meant to be there, I never properly checked in – just said “Hi” and sat down.
Day Timer – doesn’t matter whether you have a smart phone or a wall calander – write it down. Then at the start of each day check to make sure you know what day it is. You can confirm this via your computer or smart phone. Sounds horrifying but time kind of morphs and you do have to make sure you know what day it is. Once you know the day and date then look over your schedule so that you get a spatial awareness of what’s ahead.
Also I found writing everything I did into my schedule very useful. Because I would forget how long ago I had spoken with someone. Even if I was just out and about doing errands – I would mark it in my schedule. If I got together with a friend, I would put it in my schedule (even after we met). It’s just difficult to tell what happened recently and what happened…. well a year ago.
This has got to be a well oiled machine. I invested in a great invoicing system that is web based and very user friendly Freshbooks. I would not have been able to stay on top off things had I not had such a system in place. My billings went out on time, clients got billed for the right days, times and supplies and I could do it from anywhere.
It’s hard going through loss but when you have to run and maintain a business on top of that… well it’s really hard. And I can say that now from personal experience. I was fortunate that I knew from working with and organizing individuals that I would have challenging times ahead in keeping my business running smoothly. So I got all my systems, processes and environments in shape and today my business is thriving, my clients are happy and I was able to take personal time out for myself, my family and the grieving process and still maintain “business as usual”.