by Judy Bloom
As the bright sun of spring continues to settle in, I am taking a moment to be present to and reflect on the hard work of journeying, both in community and in solitude, through change, loss, and grief. I can honestly say this past year was one of the most challenging on record, starting with the death of a dear friend, the ending and beginning of business partnerships, and the launching of my children.
Then, three months ago, my dad passed away.
My dad was 89 years old and had been suffering from a neurological condition that, over the past year, placed him in excruciating pain as it robbed him of his independence and his ability to move. He needed round the clock care, and my mom (who is 85 years old) and I were his primary caregivers.
Each week, I spent more and more time managing their health care, paying their bills, running errands, schlepping them to doctor appointments (with wheel chairs and walkers), eventually hiring and managing paid caregivers, working with their hospice team, taking care of just about everything and anything on their behalf. There were times when I was angry, resentful and exhausted by the relentless phone calls and increasing needs. My kids were launched, finally I could commit to my own career, and now all that time I was going to spend on my own business was being snatched away by needs of my parents. And yet, hearing the wrenching mix of “I’m so sorry to bother you” and “HELP! Do something now!!!!” in my parents’ voices as they called with small errands and frightening emergencies, I frequently reminded myself that I chose this responsibility. No one said I had to do it. I decided to take this on from love and I always said “yes”. I am grateful that I had the capacity to be there for them even when I was challenged by the requests and the tone in which they were communicated. I know in the end, I did my best and that is tremendous comfort to them and to me as well.
The death of my dad was not the hardest thing; it was the experience of all of it.
My dad was ready to die and though I miss so much about his presence in my life, I do not miss watching my parents suffer. The unstoppable illness, the agonizing pain, the loss of independence. The exhausting work of caregiving, the weight of impending loss, the anxiety. The hours lost to to pain, to fatigue, to innumerable details, to the onward march of illness unto death.
When a loved one suffers through a terminal illness, life becomes about time. Caring takes time even as time runs out. I am grateful that I have my own business and my colleagues and clients have been extremely supportive and understanding about the difficulties presented to me this year. I was given a wide berth to leave meetings early, come late or forgo attending events.
Though I rarely cancelled a client appointment due to my parents’ needs, I was intentional about the energy I brought to my coaching and was diligent about maintaining practices to keep myself clear and present for my coaching clients. I have years of practice bringing my whole self to my coaching, and I have my own coach who has been a powerful angel on this journey with me. I utilized my own support structure and engaged my community of family, friends and colleagues to help me during this time, which taught me so much about the gift of receiving.
All of this created space for me to observe myself in these challenging times. Caring for my dad through his illness and passing was a life-changing experience. His death has left me with love, forgiveness, understanding, compassion and completion. In all of it I am present to gratitude and purpose.
However, I often wondered about all the people, some 40 million in fact, who are out there, caregiving, supporting, managing and surviving.
As I work with organizations on presenteeism and well-being, I wonder… are we, as owners and business leaders, doing enough to support those at work who are caregivers for their aging parents, chronically ill spouse and sick or disabled children?
What would this year have been like for me if I worked on a factory line, in retail, at a tech call center ? What if I was a manager for a large company, a teacher, a nurse, or a truck driver? How would I have managed emotionally, financially and spiritually?
As a business coach, I want to support leaders to engage in the conversations that impact their employee’s lives and create engagement in the midst of life’s challenges. A difficult, transformative journey such as moving through caregiving and loss, living in and through grief, can, if supported, bring wisdom to work. My commitment is to bring the rich experience of the past year to my work, to support the value of having a whole, integrated, authentic life at work and at home, as one. I am committed to empowering businesses to have their employees create from their experiences an “owning” what is real for them, even in the context of work and the demands of productivity. This is an opportunity to have the experience be one of choice and power rather than victim of circumstance.
Many businesses have some resources in place, but are they enough? Family paid leave is great, it is a gift for those who need it and can use it. The challenge for those who have access to it is that family leave is intended for short-term events and coverage is typically up to nine months. On average caregivers are needed for 6 years (and that is the average). What about those with no access to family paid leave? How does a person survive, earn a living, take care of their own families and most importantly themselves? What else is possible for organizations that empower employees to get their needs met so that they can be engaged and present to take on life’s challenges while being productive at work? Can we as leaders, peers, workmates be sufficiently authentic, integrated, supportive and whole to be there for our people when these circumstances arise?
I have been pushed by my circumstances to observe the challenges of this year, feel the pain and sadness, accept support and love, and move forward in the midst of all of it. This is life. All of it. For those of us blessed enough to experience it all, even the stuff that tears us into pieces, moving forward in the midst of it is not only helpful but is essential to our capacity to thrive.
This is a personal and a professional observation. We are perhaps most familiar with the idea of moving through grief as private, personal work. But what if, as business owners and business leaders, we bring to work the wisdom we have developed as we have lived through caregiving, pain, and loss? What if we acknowledge the impact of caregiving and loss, and build into our companies more pathways for support and well-being?
In other words…
“What if the sun continues to shine bright even in the midst of darkness, and spring is ever present and ongoing, even when the days feel short and the wind blows cold?”
Consider that impact. It’s easy if you are willing.
Mom and dad