Working Through Grief

Author: Laura Madaio

Communications is at the heart of what we do – its in our name! Though we focus on the tools and hardware to help you communicate clearly, we never forget the human side of communication and collaboration. Communicating with colleagues and employees can sometimes be clouded by things in our personal or professional lives that may not be clear on the surface. Our very own Laura Madaio has shared what it’s like to continue working after suffering a tragic loss. Her insights are a great reminder to us that we must be mindful of what could be happening behind the scenes and learn how to communicate in ways that work for us.

On Monday, August 13, 2018, I opened my cabinet for a coffee mug and all of the shelves collapsed.

Tracing my steps and text messages back to that moment, it probably happened at about 9:45am.

The police report estimated my Dad’s accident occurred at the same time.

“Somewhere just before 10:00am on Monday, August 13th, 2018, a crowbar came through the windshield and struck him in the head. His Toyota veered off the road, hit a curb and an unoccupied car. The Toyota continued over an embankment before coming to a stop.”

In the same moment that mugs, plates and bowls fell onto my kitchen counter and floors, and shattered into a huge mess, so did my life. Everything had, quite literally, fallen apart.

Laura.jpgMy Dad, my best friend and the backbone of our family died in that horrible car accident. He was only 62 years old.

At the time, I was working as head of marketing at a small company and was fortunate to be working for an incredibly supportive and wonderfully thoughtful manager.

Like my Dad, he is a very invested father of two girls. Also like my Dad, he thought very highly of me. He was never shy in letting me know he had an enormous amount of trust in my abilities.

Because he had more of an open mind to hear my constructive input, I could be candid with him and I even felt that, overall, I had more license to act a little bit more like a peer than his subordinate.

He gave me as much time off as I needed and was slow and patient with me.

He was transparent in telling me that a loss of this magnitude had never happened at the company before, so a formal bereavement policy hadn’t truly been established yet.

When I called him some days later to let him know I would be returning to work, he told me he wasn’t expecting me back yet and that I should take a bit more time.

That time off was very generous, my mom told me, given that most companies only allow for three days of bereavement.

When I did return to work, I felt different.

I felt like I couldn’t relate to my colleagues anymore.

I felt like anyone who looked at me- looked at me like I was broken, fragile and ready to fall apart at any moment.

I felt like these unspoken thoughts hung up in the air so heavily I could reach out and grab them.

It’s normal to face grief and anxiety after the shocking, premature and unexpected loss of a loved one.

It seemed unreal for a long time- and still does- that his absence would be permanent.

I was overwhelmed by the sadness of it all, and it was difficult to imagine finding passion and enjoyment in anything again, never mind at work.

My company handled my situation as best as they could.

They asked me to take on more responsibility, a new project, travel. I slowly started to feel more useful, more approachable.

Mundane activities started to feel like small victories- I was working through my grief.

But, alas, I still felt like I had lost my spark.

I was always so impressed by my Dad and I lived to make him proud.

He came from nothing, put himself through college and law school. He was self-made and proud of it. I was so proud of it.

I dreamt of climbing the corporate ladder, doing so exceptionally well that he and my mom would get to retire earlier than planned and enjoy themselves.

He never mentioned it as an expectation, or ever held it over my head, but I just always wanted to return the favor. I wanted to take care of him the way he had taken care of us.

It’s incredibly painful to come to grips with the fact that I will never get to do that for him. He will truly never reap the rewards of his, or my, hard work.

This made me question my purpose, my motivations and my goals for quite some time.

Just 3 months after his death, a former colleague texted me about an opening on her team.

“I would hire you in a second,” she finished her note with. I interviewed 2 days later. And was offered the job that week.

Leaving my former employer, especially one who stood by me and my family in the worst of times, was not an easy decision.

I wasn’t unhappy in my former role, but I was feeling as though I needed to take on a very difficult task and establish a sense of liveliness and excitement again.

This career move gave me an opportunity to start fresh, at least in one aspect of my life. The glimpse of that spark in the distance gave me hope.

I remember telling my boyfriend, “I think I should train for the marathon. Go to business school. Open a restaurant,” all in the same breath.

My Dad’s death had, somehow, motivated me. Perhaps I could still live for my Dad and achieve the same goals, but now with a different meaning.

The new opportunity was going to be a challenge.

Throughout my career, I’ve always had a willingness to take risks- but my Dad’s death and this new outlook was certainly the main reason to consider accepting this role.

Whenever you encounter a new type of challenge, it’s almost always a chance to develop a new set of skills and grow.

In my case, I knew that by working in a totally new industry and somewhat new function would require me to do a whole lot of learning. And fast. The team needed someone to come in, guns blazing, and make an immediate impact.

If you could paint a picture of what they were looking for- you’d imagine someone high energy, self-motivated, incredibly organized… a frequent traveler, impeccable people skills, a willingness/openness to frequent change…

Though grief takes on many different shapes and sizes, this is certainly not how you would generally describe someone dealing with the grief of a sudden death.

Trying to live up to these traits, though, has helped me to work toward becoming this person again, an even better version of who I once was before his death.

It’s been said a person’s grief will become a vehicle for transformation, renewal. That doesn’t mean it’s been a journey without intense pain and sadness.

In fact, I think this strength and motivation only exists because of the distress I’ve gone through.

Losing my Dad had thrown my world off its axis, hindered my life long-term.

It wasn’t just helpful for me to take on this new role and new challenges, it was essential. As crazy as it sounds, it has helped me to survive.

This role, and company, and team has forced me to reenergize myself from the inside out. It has forced me to show-up and bring my best to the table every day. It’s allowed me to find purpose yet again.

It’s allowed me to paint a picture of what I want to look like.

His death destroyed my foundation and now I must put it back together, but better this time.

The truth is, somedays are better than others.

Somedays I hit the gym at 6am, grab a coffee and get into the office early.

Others, I can’t drive to work without reliving what happened to my Dad.

Somedays I bring incredibly strategic thinking and have a breakthrough in a meeting.

Other days I’m running on no sleep and forget my laptop at home.

It’s important for companies to recognize that just because people have come back to work, doesn’t mean people don’t still carry these things with them.

The ways people experience grief can vary, but grief can certainly affect the brain. For me, that includes things like brain fog and difficulty concentrating.

The good days are starting to outweigh the bad, but it’s a constant ebb and flow. Because of that, I’m incredibly grateful of the work-life flexibility I have within this new role.

“Work-life balance” is a term that has certainly evolved for me over the last year. Maintaining this balance helps reduce stress.

My company and leadership prioritizes work-life balance without sacrificing productivity, and a flexible work environment, which ultimately promotes a healthy lifestyle, both physically and emotionally.

For anyone going through difficult times, this is incredibly important.

My Dad raised me to handle the toughest of times, and although I never imagined going through so much of life without him- I’ve dedicated every day, every workout, every project here on out, to him.

I would recommend that anyone struggling with crippling grief think long and hard about ways to rejuvenate. For me, it has started with getting back to a place in my career where I always keep my Dad top of mind.

I can acknowledge the impact he had on my life, gain perspective on the turn my life has taken since his accident, and ultimately allow myself to now make more meaningful, purposeful choices because of it.

…… I read somewhere once, “Grief is a nasty game of feeling the weakest you have ever felt, while morphing into the strongest person you will ever become.” I’ve read a lot about grief this past year, but nothing has been as true as that.

Losing my Dad was my worst fear coming true, and it couldn’t have happened in a worse way or at a worse time.

And sure, I’ve done a lot of trying to pretend everything was normal. On the outside, things seem “normal.” On the inside, I am still a bit of a mess.

Will I ever be 100% whole again? Probably not. But, taking on new challenges, keeping my mind working and occupied has been therapeutic in a way that continues to give me some hope for the future