Grief. That word sucks. Nothing good comes with that word. "Hey, do you want a grief cake?" No thanks. "What about a grief sandwich?" Sounds terrible. It's not a word used when you win the Powerball. Even the words "Good Grief" is an acceptable 'G" rated curse word used by our mothers and grandmothers everywhere, followed by an eye roll and a resounding "no."
"Grief is Love but nowhere to go with it" - My Mom.
Grief: defined in the dictionary as a feeling of deep sorrow, primarily that caused by someone's death. It can be applied to many factors outside of losing someone close. We all go through grief at some point, maybe at different times in our lives- younger or older, different experiences- sibling, parent, grandparent, or different circumstances- sudden or sick for a while. Grief is love with nowhere to go. And it's all difficult and hard to make sense out of. I experienced grief young, and tragically so my life was consumed by it due to its effects.
Here are two things I have learned about grief:
Most have heard of the five stages of grief.
I think the fantastic Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (P.I.R) helped distill an infinite range of emotions into digestible categories. But the question has always been, what can you do with grief?
Will it drive you into a ditch or empower you to do the thing you never thought you were capable of doing? And what can drive the difference between the two outcomes?
LYFETYMES the Digital Marketplace where busy moms go to plan celebrations and parties and make happy memories..was really born out of grief. Strangers say to me: "You have a tech company dedicated to celebrations? You must have had Huge Birthday Parties!" I just smile because my family didn't. In fact, the LYFETYMES journey of coming to be was a bit of out of something folks don't expect.
Most people don't know three things about me. One being I didn't Celebrate Holidays or Birthdays due to religious reasons when I was growing up. I became obsessed as a child with what Christmas was or what a Birthday Party would be like. I never experienced it through the lens of a child. I didn't start celebrating milestones until I had my boys, and I experienced them as a busy mom trying to pull them together.
Two, growing up, we moved around a lot during our school years due to my dad's job. We didn't stay in one place long enough to make long friendships, so my sister and my brothers were my siblings and my friends. We may not have had traditional celebrations, but we had many get-togethers growing up, tons of love around us, and being with my siblings are my favorite childhood memories. But I was not afraid to walk in a room and be stared at for being the new kid, and I think that started building some confidence at a young age.
Three, I had lost all three of my brothers by 40, one of which I was in a horrific car crash at 17 that killed my brother Josh (15) and a friend when we lived in a small town. We lost a lot of kids in crashes over the years for a small school. Then my grandfather unexpectedly died a year after Josh. So grief was such a presence at such a young age, personally impacting my life. The only thing that ever helped me cope was the memories of those get-togethers and hope. People use grief in different ways, I knew I was young and had hoped I could still build a great future, so I went to conquer life. I got married. I started a family. I started a corporate career. I did well. I put tragedy literally behind me. I had used grief to push me to motivate me. I survived for some reason, I told myself. It worked for a time. But when my first son was born premature and in the NICU for a month, the fear of losing him because I had witnessed it happen to my mom, was overwhelming. We got through it, but it was not fun.
Fifteen years later, looking around, I think I've done ok for myself and the family. I made my way through the hunger games of Corporate America so far. I am Head of This or That. I have looked at death in the face and conquered.
Life hasn't been perfect, but what is?
At 40, the kids are older-kinda self-sufficient (somewhat), you feel you should be hitting autopilot switch on the career in the next decade, you can go out to eat without checking your bank account first, you feel like your shit is together and BAM...
ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE. Well, at least it did for me.
Out of the blue, my 17-year executive career ended with my company, which felt like a divorce, and I treated as such. Fast forward almost exactly one year later, I had no idea that wouldn't be one of the hardest days. My youngest brother; the last one left and my best friend died. I was an adult and a mother now. I couldn't even imagine what the hell my parents were about to go through. Again. This kid we loved so dearly was gone. I can only explain it as uncontrollable pain. The emotional pain felt physical and hurt so badly inside. I recognized it from the accident.
It is one of the things you can't get back or buy back- they are gone. I skipped Grief stage 1 real quick and proceeded and stayed at Anger for a long time. I took another six months off to cope and help my parents get vertical after losing Jeremiah. By then I was starting to develop anxiety triggered by thoughts of losing something else in my life. I went back to work for a while but being away from my family, traveling Sunday-Saturday, and missing my son's Senior Year was not what I could do anymore or was willing to do. I took a step back- I wasn't happy- I was making decisions based on who had the closest life raft and didn't care whose boat I was jumping in. I was unfulfilled.
After a while, I started thinking about Jeremiah's funeral, and I started thinking about life celebrations. Specifically how that the average funeral is $9,500. It's a terrible burden on a family -and I want the cost driven down and completely disrupted. At the same timeframe, I volunteered to host a baby shower, which was chaotic with co-hosts, and it became clear to me that outside events and weddings, there was not a clear digital solution to plan with. I got excited with the research, the roadmap, design. I was smiling and laughing again. Charged up with a skip in my step.
I'd seen it again. It wasn't becoming a CEO, or dream of being a millionaire or tech famous. I'd seen hope again. A hope that I could take an opportunity I would be good at, apply my technical expertise and do something I care about, and feels good doing while addressing a gaping hole in the market.
We decided to start with traditional celebrations like birthdays, baby showers, etc., and are releasing life celebrations soon as well. Coupled with the loss of my brothers, I know how short life is and how important it is to celebrate every milestone and treasure those family memories.
I am humbled to be just a small part of making it easier for busy moms like myself to celebrate those milestones and make memories. I just got lucky enough to have experience and a passion that matched an opportunity in the market. If I didn't do it, I would regret it. I don't want to live with that.
Grief is tough to write about, but I can recognize it, and I go towards it now. Here is a note I direct messaged to a parent that lost a child recently. I think it's important to share because grief does not stop at the funeral. My ultimate goal is to create a foundation where we can help plan life celebrations for parents that have lost children.
You don't know me from Adam, but I read your post on xxxxx. I wanted to send my thoughts and prayers to your family after losing your beautiful child. I haven't lost a child, and it's a pain you don't know unless lived, god forbid, and it's not something that anyone would wish on your worst enemy. I've lost all my brothers and watched my parents lose all three of their sons, all young and unexpectedly. I'm incredibly close to my parents and have seen the agony. I understand from proxy of my parents the terrible emotions- second-guessing, guilt, regret -the "what if"- and the concern for xxxxx's siblings and how to cope, the fact that after the funeral and everyone goes on with their lives and the distraction of having people around helped and going back to the day to day routine is actually the hardest. That even having one moment of happiness is met with immediate "how can I smile" and that the only improvements are you might cry a little less, not every second, not every minute or five minutes and time does help....but not in the beginning..not ever you just learn to live with it somehow. But I do believe in what you wrote, talking about your xxxxx, keeping their memory alive- no matter how uncomfortable it makes people (not because they are morons, but they just can't rationalize that kind of pain)- and your message is that only actual currency we have is time and how we spend it is powerful; and will ensure that xxxxxx spirit marches on and inspires everyone. There is truth to the fact there are no words to express how sorry I am to hear of your families loss and no doubt you will go through the terrible year of "the firsts," but you and your wife's expression has touched my heart as I'm sure the hearts of everyone. I know offering to do anything is hallow because nobody could answer that call of bringing xxxxxx back. I sent this to my mom, who called me crying because she thought they were so beautifully written and wanted me to pass on her sincere thoughts and prayers for you and your beautiful family.
WRITTEN BYKatie Cunningham