Nearly a decade ago, I learned an important lesson about grief.
I’m putting that lesson into practice now for the first time since.
On March 4, 2012, I said goodbye to Frank, my forever dog. He was my heart and losing him broke my heart into a million pieces.
That was a Sunday night. I took Monday to mourn. But Tuesday through Thursday I had my team coming in for a strategic planning meeting, and I felt the show must go on. My team was aware of what had happened–I was transparent with them–but I didn’t feel I could adjust our plans or not be present.
I am very skilled at compartmentalizing, to the point where it’s an art form. So I SHOVED SHOVED SHOVED my grief into a mental box the night before the meeting, and I SHOVED the box onto a mental shelf far out of sight.
We had a great meeting.
Two months later, I felt numb. I’d felt numb for the entire two months. And it was impacting me emotionally, mentally, and physically.
It was through a wonderful therapist that I realized that I’d SHOVED my box so far down and hidden it so well on a shelf that I hadn’t processed it. I hadn’t really mourned Frank since the day after his death.
With that understanding, I took steps to open myself to my grief and to process my loss. The pain was so deep, and the release was the catharsis I needed.
I made a commitment that I would never push down my grief again, especially in the name of “leadership.”
That lesson is front of mind as I write this, as this weekend we helped our beloved pup Andy transition to his final sleep. Our wonderful boy, the Goodest Boy, is pictured here (in his younger days).
Everyone who met Andy loved him. Friends who only knew Andy through social media loved him. He was an incredible dog who was larger-than-life. He chose us as his people and gave us over 10 amazing years of love and laughs. It wasn’t enough time. It’s never enough time.
Since we said goodbye to him on Saturday, I’ve been reflecting on the lesson I learned with Frank. I am not, and will not, push my grief into a box. I’ll be working this week, and also giving myself permission to take time when I need it to cry or take a walk or hug my husband. I’ll take some extra time away. I’ve let my clients know and asked for a bit of extra time on some deliverables. They’ve all graciously agreed.
I will give Andy the respect of grieving him as he deserves. And I’ll give myself the grace and space to let that grief flow.
A few months after we lost Frank, I heard an interview with someone who had lost his daughter. The interviewer asked him “Does the grief get easier?” What he said stuck with me, and I repeat it often.
“Grief doesn’t get easier. It just gets softer.”
By opening myself to the grief, the softening begins.