My content marketing business is in a rapid state of growth. I’ve taken on several new clients, doubled my workload, and seen every blog and social-media metric surge beyond my goals. I’m recently married and had my first child six months ago, plus I’m forging new personal and professional relationships in my hometown where I returned three years ago after a 12-year absence.
Basically, my life is on a pretty kick-ass trajectory and I feel darn optimistic about the future.
I couldn’t say the same thing, however, six years ago or even two years ago. That’s because at each of those points, I experienced crippling grief from which I thought I might never recover.
Losing a sibling
The first and most shocking setback of my life came nearly six years ago, on July 4, 2010. That morning, my dad called to tell me he had some “upsetting news.” My younger brother had died a few hours earlier from a heroin overdose. (“Upsetting” was understating things a bit.)
I’ll never forget a moment of that day, which played out like a blur of frantic activity around me as my own brain seemed to move in slow motion.
Driving around until I could find someone to comfort me (a friend’s mom finally answered her door). Falling to my knees in a pile of tears as I said the words aloud for the first time. Waiting while my friends packed my bags and asked me to pick a funeral outfit. Seeing the world whiz by while my friend drove me six hours to my hometown. Hugging my mom and feeling her immeasurable pain. Hearing the gut-wrenching wail of a 10-year-old girl learning her daddy was dead. Then hearing my mom say she had no reason left to live (um, what about me?!).
At the time, I was 35 and my freelance writing business was five years old. I had recently hit a professional slump due to the changing economic landscape (I was doing mostly magazine writing at that time and magazines were a dying breed). In the months and years following my brother’s death, however, things went from bad to worse.
I stopped looking for new assignments and began missing deadlines for what little work I still had. I didn’t even bother to tell many of my editors why, burning every bridge imaginable. I was simultaneously going through a divorce (I suffered death, divorce, and losing my home all in less than a year) and began making really self-destructive decisions about men. I was drinking too much, sleeping too little, and burning through my savings account with reckless abandon.
Two months after my brother’s death, I was out of money and took a sales job that was absolutely not a fit for my skills nor in line with my passions. It paid the rent until I found another gig as an office manager that, again, made no sense for my career path.
I still did some freelance work, but treated it like a hobby at best, not a serious business.
After two years of acting out and scraping by, I finally reached my breaking point. I realized something had to change, so I packed up my belongings and moved back home with my mom — a humbling experience for a 37-year-old woman.
For the next year, I spent time writing about my grief, exploring a healthy relationship, and repairing the bridges I’d burned with former clients. By 2015, I had found love, moved out of my mom’s house, and started making a living wage as a business owner.
It took a long time to claw my way out of the nearly bottomless pit of grief, but I finally found my way back to the sun and felt so good about life that I was ready to create a new life. We decided to have a baby.
Losing a child
In March of 2015, we learned I was pregnant. On Mother’s Day, we excitedly told our families the amazing news. Two days later, during a routine visit to my OB/GYN, I learned the baby no longer had a heartbeat.
The entire episode lasted 10 weeks, but the loss was no less real. Once again, my grief sent me spiraling. Facing hefty medical bills from the experience, I panicked and took a full-time editorial job. It was a better match than my previous attempts at day jobs, but I knew in my gut I was meant to be my own boss.
This time, I quickly decided not to let grief consume my life. I allowed myself to cry when I needed to, and reached out to friends and family for emotional support. I was honest with the freelance clients I still had and asked for extended deadlines. I started a weekly mastermind group and got serious about building my business so I could quit the full-time job.
Four months after starting, I gave notice at the 9-to-5 gig and focused all my efforts on growing my content marketing company. I clarified my marketing message, rebuilt my website, and bumped up my social media presence.
Now, one year later, I’ve never been busier or more profitable. Oh, and I got pregnant again and had my baby boy last May!
What I learned from surviving and thriving after loss
- Death and loss affects everyone at some point. Grief feels exceptionally lonely, but it’s actually our most common bond. Whatever you’re experiencing, take some comfort in knowing someone else has already gone through it. You’re not alone.
- Seek out a community. Whether it’s friends or an organized support group, seek out a group you can talk about your situation with and find those who can be truly empathetic. Sharing with others who’ve had miscarriages, and later writing a blog about my experience, helped me get through this experience in a faster and healthier manner than after my brother’s death.
- Allow yourself to feel your pain. Take the time — however much you need — to experience the very real feelings of grief. Running away from the emotions only delays the inevitable.
- Treat yourself with grace. During our darkest hours, it’s likely we will make some mistakes, drop some balls, and say some stupid things. Forgive yourself for these moments.
- Be vulnerable. When you do fall down and upset or disappoint a client or friend, be honest and tell them why. You may be surprised by the outpouring of love and understanding you receive.
- Ask for help. It’s okay to admit you are overwhelmed with your situation. You may need to ask your friends and family for emotional (and even financial) support. This doesn’t make you a failure. It makes you human. Be grateful you have people in your life who love you and thank them for helping.
My hope is that everyone will have a perfect 2017. Unfortunately, the reality is many of us will suffer a loss or otherwise experience grief in the coming year. While we can’t control what happens to us, we can be responsible for how we respond. If you fall on tough times, I hope my tips will help ease the pain, even if only a bit. And if you need support or advice, my (email) door is always open.