Living Full Out - Embrace Your Grief- Go beyond What You Thought You Could

by Janice Giannini

With a deep mastering at the intersection of IT and business strategy, consultant, board adviser and former C-suite executive, Janice has been harnessing the true power of IT for more than 30 years. An Executive and Board-level digital strategist at the intersection of risk and IT, she enhances competitive position through vision and equity with large-scale risk identification, quantification and mitigation in an ever-changing marketplace, generating long-term value for clients. She engages with senior executives and teams, particularly in complex businesses where misalignment is blocking their desired success, to develop and execute practical business strategies and plans. Clients have found her especially helpful when they recognize they must integrate an eagle's eye and worm's eye view in order to identify and remove obstacles. Janice has consistently taken on those challenges that others chose to run from. This typically involves those challenging times when failure is not an option and integrating business, technology and people changes must be accomplished simultaneously. As a result, many of her clients are complex organizations who won't settle for anything less than developing widespread professional competence.

My husband died about six years ago. At the time, I was overwhelmed with conflicting emotions overlaid on my need to regain my physical, emotional, and psychological health.

When you are faced with a traumatic event like that, it takes what it takes to heal. Many grief counselors say it takes five years or so to re-establish oneself and integrate the grief and consequences involved with losing a loved one. At the time, five years seemed like an eternity to me. Surely I can do this more quickly, I thought.

Today, it seems that five years was a good estimate. My life is definitely different than the one we had envisioned, but I have successfully transformed half of a shared life into a life as a whole human being. Along the way, there were a few passages and poems I read and re-read that helped me understand what I needed to do.

Here is a passage by Elizabeth Gray Vining that the funeral home sent to me. "Gradually, I learned one more thing, quite simple and obvious to many but hidden from me at first: that grief is not something to overcome or escape but to live with. It is always there, as perceptible as a person who will not go away in spite of hints and plain speaking, but one can make room for it, recognize it as a companion instead of an intruder, be aware of it but not possessed by it; one can continue one's work, one's occupation, even one's joys in its presence. Somehow we must learn not only to meet sorrow with courage, which is comparatively easy, but with a serenity, which is more difficult, being not a single act but a way of living."

This piece helped me understand that my grief will always be a part of who I am. By embracing it instead of denying it, I was able to move forward with my life, holding my husband in my heart if not in my arms.

I think there are important correlations between our daily life and this larger life lesson. As I look at the harsh, economically fragile, occasionally violent times in which we live, I wonder if part of the reason for this is grief for what we:

  • Have lost
  • Have not yet attained
  • See as possible but not attainable through current methods and means (the way we have done things in the past or currently)
  • Feel are unmet expectations (for self, customers, family, community at large)
  • See as the unfairness of the world
  • Failed to give our best effort to
  • Are afraid to face, leaving us grieving our abandonment of our values

Everyone who walks the Earth grieves something or someone. Whether it's loss of health, home, promotion, job, contract, client, or love, no one is untouched by grief. Grief comes in an almost unlimited number of forms, from a child grieving for the bullying they endure to an adopted person grieving the loss of his or her biological parents.

The question is how can you make room for this grief so you can become whole again (or for the first time)? Put another way, how can you avoid engaging in non-productive actions that get in the way of your goals, possibly putting your health and safety at risk?

Consider how making room in your life for grief might enable you to successfully achieve your expectations of yourself. A few questions to consider:

  • Do you truly understand the source of your grief and the resultant non-productive behavior?
  • How much of the situation is objective and how much consists of the meaning you imposed it?
  • What does grief look and feel like for you and for your team members (whether work or home)?
  • What might "being whole again" look and feel like for you and your team members?
  • Is having a positive outcome important enough to you that you will persevere? How long will you persevere? Why will you persevere?
  • What support structure do you need to create this positive outcome?
  • How do you put that structure in place?
  • How will you know when you get there?
  • How will you keep a mindful eye on yourself so you continually make room for grief?

Although my life is very different from the vision I had of it before my husband's death, I am far more at peace today than I have ever been. Indeed, doors opened that I might never have considered entering before. I look at life differently now. For example, many people use euphemisms because they are afraid of the word death. I am no longer afraid of that word.

As you step back to view grief in a business setting (like a failed expectation), are you looking through the lens of curiosity, awakening, and growth about what else is possible? Are you open to total or partial upheaval if that's what is required for you to move to the next step? As uncomfortable as it might be to embrace your grief, is the opportunity of a better outcome worth you letting go of the pain?

When your personal or business expectations are not being met, consider what might happen if you viewed the situation through the lens of grief. Grieve the old phase and consider the possibilities of the next phase. It will be time consuming and feel like heavy lifting in the beginning. You may experience physical, emotional, or psychological pain as you adjust. But could it be worth it for you?

A few years after my husband's death, I wrote the passage below in my journal. I wrote it about him, but I find it applies to many circumstances in life. I share it as food for thought.

Somewhere along the way:

  • The crying stopped
  • My heart no longer physically hurt
  • I started sleeping again through the night
  • The nightmares stopped
  • The guilt is gone
  • The pain is more profound sadness than pain
  • I stopped saying good night baby luv you and reaching for your hand
  • I started looking forward to getting up and enjoying the day's activities
  • I started thinking about the future, the people I want to meet, places I want to see, and things I want to do
  • I am no longer angry with God
  • I realized my life is not over-it's certainly not the plan, but it's exhilarating some days
  • There is a profound sadness at the realization of what I have lost. There is also hope and joy. I am okay.

May you be as blessed as I.