Dealing With Grief as a Business Owner

Business

I am writing this as I sit at the table of the little trailer house on a hilltop overlooking Long Lake in a tiny little town called Hubbard, about 7 miles from Park Rapids in northern Minnesota. This spot has been my heart for as long as I can remember, and probably since before I can remember. My grandparents grew up up here and spent their summers here for the better part of the last 40 years. I was lucky enough to be able to spend two or more weeks out of every summer alone here with them for nearly the entirety of my life thus far. What this left me with is seemingly a lifetime of adventures with two people I admire and adore.

I also grew up just 10 blocks from them down in Austin, so the time spent with Grandma and Grandpa throughout my life has been plentiful. I count myself extremely lucky for that. The impression that has been made by this place is so deep, I know the history of our family, the history of my Grandparents, the flowers, the fish, the birds, the trees, and of course the local tall tales, courtesy of my Grandpa who was the master of “fish stories”. I sit and look out the window and can vividly picture Grandpa hanging up the little red wooden swing in the towering oak tree that I spent so many days on as a child, or him grabbing his old broom handle with a bent nail on the end and a grocery bag to walk down to the boat landing and swimming beach to collect trash left by so many over the years, of course he found the occasional “treasure” too and those are all displayed on the screened porch still to this day. I miss his whisker rubs fiercely and haven’t seen a joke clipped from a newspaper in months. 

As the days and months have gone on and the missing him stays the same, I keep rolling the same thing over in my head, and that is how much I wish that grief was talked about more within the business world. As entrepreneurs we try and have that stiff upper lip, we don’t want to look weak, even if we want a relatable and personal brand, when sad things happen, we post the out of office notice for the funeral and that’s it. I’m tired of that.

My business IS me. If you are my client, you are my inner circle, and most of you end up my dear friends.

So why did I feel like I couldn’t speak up to say simply how devastated I was? 

The man who taught me to fish, and how to tell a fish story, took me to dance and gymnastics lessons and requested several performances of “Boil The Cabbage Down” on my first violin as he clapped along had died. How did I explain to anyone how much that man meant to me when I still can’t figure out how? There weren’t any words that felt profound enough to explain it. 

In September when he passed, I still had a significant amount of weddings on the books and instead of taking some time to just be sad, and to see my family, I tried to plunge back into work. This, it would seem, has been extremely detrimental to my mental health and my heart. At the time, I felt like I couldn’t stop, I felt like people wouldn’t understand. It wasn’t as if I had lost a parent or a sibling, it was my Grandpa who was, after all, in his late 80’s. I felt like people would expect that I should expect him to pass and that maybe I was making an exaggeration of our bond, I mean after all aren’t most people close to their Grandparents? I was still at the beginning of my first year as a full time entrepreneur and still was chilled with fear that I was going to fail. I didn’t want to feel like I was blurring the professional line too much and I didn’t want people to think that I was lazy or overdramatic, so I plowed ahead regardless of how much I wanted to just be still. Reflecting now, I know there are several emails and calls that were simply not returned, because I was just not in the mental place to take on more work. Did that hurt my business, maybe, maybe not, who’s to say? I know for certain it hurt my mental state at the time because it made me that much more overwhelmed knowing I was possibly harming the business I had worked so hard for but also felt like too much time had passed to send any response to those emails. Surely no one would understand the way I was feeling.

Friends, you just cannot do your best work and give your best service to your client if your head and your heart are elsewhere. You simply can’t.

What I’ve come to realize after the last 8 months is that it doesn’t matter what or who it was, it matters how you feel. It matters that you are a human being, and that you have compassion and can hurt very deeply. 

We are not put on this earth to go through life alone, and even though my business is successful, that doesn’t mean I have to be a CEO that is all business all the time, and you don’t have to be either. We can communicate with our clients, we can be real and personal. Wouldn’t you rather stop in the store of the lady you like to chat with every once in a while instead of the one where you never see the face of the owner?

The most successful businesses are built by the relationship they form with their clients and potential clients. For so long I feel like the chant has been professionalism, professionalism, professionalism…well. I’m over it. I am absolutely able to plan and coordinate and design a wedding and do a really good job of it. But I am also human, just like you. We need to speak our minds and our hearts and to let people know that we are HUMAN (I mean except for when I strap on my super hero cape and save a wedding day of course). 

Grief is real, it happens, and it needs to be dealt with.

But here is the other side of the coin, I’m sitting here, praying the LTE service of the iphone my MacBook is tethered to doesn’t go out and I can get this blog posted, surrounded by the memories of my Grandpa, and I am working. WORKING. And working through the loss. With Grandma, who is here to spend the summer, for the first time in a long time. And that makes my heart so happy. If I worked a day job, I wouldn’t be able to spend the next 10 days with her here.

But..

Because I am an entrepreneur and can do so. 

Because I have given myself permission to feel and to grieve. 

Grateful and blessed. 

“Grief is a nasty game of feeling the weakest you have ever felt and morphing it into the strongest person you will ever become”- Windgate Lane

XOXO, Amber 

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