Bereavement and Finding Your Way Back to Work

You're running your own small business; it's ticking along and you're feeling quietly confident that you have control of all aspects of your work: the daily social media management, freelancers, deliveries, meetings, design and artwork, deadlines and even though you and only you are controlling all of these tasks, they will inevitably end up controlling YOU if you don't find the right balance between your work and your life.

Alright so your work/life balance is suffering a bit, okay a lot, but it'll get better right? You work hard to find that 'better' stage that you keep going on about. You keep telling yourself and the people around you, “yes things are going well thank you, I've got this meeting setup, I'm attending that expo, I'm starting a new section of the business to grow that side of things, it's all going to happen this year, I know it”. That famous 'Only Fools and Horses' one-liner then comes to mind, “this time next year Rodney...” and you spout it and make yourself laugh. But in truth, it's a struggle, isn't it? Juggling kids, your partner, work, weekends with the family and ferrying your kids to their school and activity events. You endure and your patience and mental state are put to the test.

I was running my own magazine for close to 3 and a half years, juggling all the duties that came with it but gradually my health and my family life inevitably started to suffer. I made the choice to be self-employed after my son was born so that I could raise him and go to work as well; as so many parents do. But while running my magazine I had no idea until now that while it was growing, it was gradually taking over my whole life - seven days a week. I wasn't sleeping, I had constant chest pains, which led to trips to A&E, caught bug after bug because I was so run-down but still, I kept going. I kept telling myself, it'll pick up soon so that I can take on more freelancers to free up my time to be with my family and take some time to rest from the stress.

But then, suddenly, the worst possible thing that can happen to your family happens... bereavement, followed by grief, pain, lack of motivation, consuming sadness, fear and loss.

I received a call from my partner early one morning asking me to stop my magazine deliveries and get over to my parents’ house as soon as possible. I asked him if everything was okay because I could hear in his voice that something was clearly wrong. I wondered if someone was ill or worse, so I immediately made my way over to my parents’ house where I saw my younger brother's work van parked on their drive and I thought, GREAT I'll see Steve when I go in, haven't seen him in a while, brilliant! Steve worked all the time, another self-employed hero like me, that believed he was untouchable. That's how we were brought up. Work hard, reap the benefits and be successful, done, easy, just like that. But when I went in, I called out as I usually do and asked where Steve was and then my Mum, in a terrible state delivered the news.

My little brother had died. 

My Dad well, I never want to see my Dad in that state ever again. As my Dad held me in his arms he told me that Steve had died the previous night of a heart attack. He was alone when he died and since his tragic death, I now know that he'd actually had enough of working for himself and he'd taken on a new job, just that week in fact, so that he could get away from the stresses of running his own business but sadly he was too late.

It was then that the world changed for me and my family and my work was instantly no longer as important as I believed it to be. After we told my son the awful news, he sat for a moment staring at me and then said “this is a wake-up call for you Mum, I don't want you to end up the same as Uncle Steve” and he burst into tears. My parents agreed and so how could I continue running around like a busy fool trying to maintain a very demanding business that, let's face it, a team of people would usually run?

I took take time out to help my family arrange Steve's funeral and contact everyone concerned to deliver the tragic news. As well as this I had to inform colleagues and customers that my business had to go on hold for the foreseeable future. Well, this is a life lesson isn't it, when bereavement hits your family like Thor's almighty hammer you must stop what you're doing and try your best to put your life back into perspective and realign your priorities. Grief and trauma take a very long time to come to terms with and while you're running your own business it's even harder. That's the time when you pack it in or gather strength from those around you who help and 'muck in' with day to day tasks, even the most simple ones like getting up each morning and getting your kid to school.

Months later I closed the doors on my magazine and I've since gone back to doing what I enjoy, commercial graphic design at a digestible pace, as well as continuing as a Kung Fu Instructor with my partner. Kung Fu, in fact, has helped me calm my mind and focus through the fog of questions. Why didn't Steve get checked by a doctor sooner? Why didn't he slow down? Why didn't he come to us if he needed help? And a million others.

Steve was such a talented mechanical engineer, but what I found out after his death was that he was also, a magnificent artist. He built and made models and structures from stainless steel and other metals. He made a beautiful owl which now lives in my parents’ lounge. He made a replica of Thor's hammer, flowers, bespoke garden heaters, all by welding and shaping metal. We all miss him so much, his friends, family, work colleagues. Everyone was so shocked to hear what had happened. He was only 41 years young.

If you run your own small business and your health starts to deteriorate and your work/life balance is out of sync then take a step back, prioritise. You don't want your family members and friends to be struck by grief. Take some time out and think about what's important for you, for the sake of your health, your state of mind and ultimately your family.

Work will always be there tomorrow; tasks can wait. Life won’t. Time won’t. So don't waste it.

By Samantha Hallam.