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Grief, Loss and Showing Up as a Personal Brand Business Owner In Difficult Seasons (I’m Back)

June 25, 2024

This is a story about grief, loss and how to navigate it as a personal brand.

Almost two months ago now, I lost my beautiful mum. 

(It hurts to type that). 

It feels like my security blanket has been ripped from under me.

I feel alone, exposed and honestly? Just so very sad. 

Here’s the thing as a personal brand business. 

Personal things happen. 

They bleed into business. 

And as a result, running a very front-facing business in challenging times feels extra challenging – something that has absolutely been my experience over the past while. 

Today, I want to share a little about my experience navigating profound loss as a personal brand.

It feels very important to me to navigate this sensitively and to honor it appropriately. 

With honour, and grace. 

Without trying to come across as the expert (I don’t have all – or really, any –  of the answers, and I don’t pretend to).

And without speaking through a flood or tears or sharing things that really are best placed for a conversation with a therapist (this has been deeply traumatic for me, but I won’t be sharing the depth or breadth of that here). 

And so, here’s the deal: 

This won’t be perfect. 

It won’t read beautifully. 

But, it will be real and I think sharing my experience will be helpful both for me AND for anyone that finds themselves in a similar place in the future. 

In the past few weeks and months, I have spent many hours soul-searching and seeking solace in hearing about the experiences of others in a similar place to my own.

My hope is that sharing my experience similarly helps others who, either now or in the future, find themselves in a similar season of grief.

Not because your grief will or has been the same – I have lost MY mum, that feels deeply personal and not shared with anyone else. 

But rather, because losing someone you love whilst running a front-facing business is a unique experience.

It’s been nice to know I’m not alone and I hope sharing this will one day help someone else feel the same way, too. 

My Personal Experience of Grief

Two years ago, my beautiful mum was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Her story isn’t mine to share, and anyway much of the story is too painful to share publicly.

What I do want to share is a little about our relationship; it’s one that I am so proud of. 

My mum was my north star. My security blanket. And my “other half”.

We were also partners through her illness (I wouldn’t have had it any other way, and I know that if the tables were turned she would be there in the same way for me). 

Personally, I had a front row seat to her experience.

I was there when she received the phone from her GP.

When, at nine months pregnant, she came to tell me about her diagnosis  – and to reassure ME that she would absolutely still be at the birth of my little girl (and that was so typical of my mum, always caring about us first). 

When, with so much bravery and of course fear, we attended her first chemotherapy treatment.

The invasive surgeries. 

The hard news. 

The appointment after appointment after appointment. 

Our Thursday chemo dates, where we would sit together for hours whilst she received her treatment. 

(I will actually miss those the most, in a funny way I yearn for them).

And, most painfully of all, the day the doctors told me to drive her to the hospital and the weeks and weeks after where I slept beside as she navigated her most difficult final days.

We were “in it together”.

The doctors and nurses called us the A team, and the dynamic duo. 

And so, the thing I have found most difficult of all now that she has passed is that I am left alone to navigate the grief of not having her by my side.

That I need to do it without her – the one person who would always comfort me. 

Ultimately though, none of this is about me. 

What I hate the most is that my mum doesn’t get these days.

Ultimately, we all pass “in media res” – in the middle of a story. 

There were still so many memories to make, and beautiful mornings to wake up to, and park hangs with the kiddies, and Sunday BBQs, and life to live. 

Knowing that she won’t get to experience them when I know how much she wanted to is the thing that hurts the most. 

Seasons of Grief and Loss (My Experience)

Grieving the loss of my beautiful mum right now is big (so very big), and it hurts like hell. 

Actually though, it’s just one of a few seasons of “grief” that this journey has taken me on. 

Each season has felt challenging in different ways.

Here is my experience, and how I have personally navigated it – not (in any way) from the perspective of an expert, but rather simply sharing my experience in the hope that it will help someone else one day 🤞

Season One – Diagnosis: Alignment, Perspective and Purpose

The few times my life has been flipped upside down, it has come via a phone call. 

This one came on a sunny Autumn day. 

My mum was watching our little boy whilst I worked – probably on a course, or a funnel, or prepping for a launch. 

I heard the muffled conversation, and I knew. 

The strained tones. 

Her face. 

It wasn’t good. 

A week later, we were sitting with the oncologist and so the merry go round began. 

There’s nothing good that comes from the C word. 

I hate it, and I hate everything that came after. 

But, there was one beautiful silver lining and that’s the story I want to share today – because this is a business podcast, and I am sharing my experience of grief through that lens. 

At the time we received that call, I was running a BIG business and it was growing bigger every day. 

I’d started my business three years before a few years after losing my Dad.

At the time, I was inspired be the very real sense of my own mortality and the fragility of life that experience gave me and a determination to make the most of every day.

Over time though, I can see that I lost that sense of perspective .

Three years in, I had swapped alignment for “more”. 

As I have shared in the past, I ended up with a model that didn’t feel entirely aligned.

Receiving that diagnosis was a very real reminder of the thing I already knew: 

Our time is limited. 

Over the months that followed (and always with the unwavering support of my mum), I scaled my business down significantly. 

I knew I wouldn’t be capable of being present in the way I needed to be in that season with the model I had been running. 

There were doctors appointments, and chemo treatments, and a sense that I needed to make the most of our time and treasure the memories. 

I feel proud of the changes I made in that season.

The best business and life decision I have ever made was the one where I decided to prioritise my family and time over money. 

I will never get that time back, and I feel relief knowing that I spent it well. 

I’ve spoken about those changes before. 

To summarise, they were: 

  1. Business model shifts

The more I found myself needing to hold space for my family, the less I was able to hold space for others inside of my business.

To be clear, this was also related to having small babies. 

I simply couldn’t work in the way I had previously, and nor did I feel it was the most valuable use of my time.

The first big change was winding up my very high touch, high staff, high commitment, group coaching program.

I found myself moving into a season where I wasn’t able to hold space at the level and volume that I had when I’d launched it.

My family needed me, and my calendar didn’t allow me to be there in the way I needed to.

  1. Difficult decisions

The second big change came as my care-giving responsibilities increased.

Behind the scenes, I was working with the most incredible course creators in a mentorship capacity.

Coming into 2024, I knew that the year would be challenging (even though I hoped it wouldn’t).

I made a difficult call to stop working in that higher touch capacity

Again, seasons.

I fully intend to pick this work up again but I’m proud of my ability to honestly assess my ability to hold space for others and adjust my capacity accordingly.

  1. Adjusting expectations

And the third big change was in my own personal goal-setting, planning and expectations of both myself and my business. 

One of the most difficult parts of supporting my beautiful mum through her illness was the need to release control.

For all of my researching, and advocating for my mum, and really becoming the expert in her illness so that I could help to give her the best possible chance of fighting this thing, I also knew that there was also much I couldn’t control.

On a personal level, that made me feel helpless. 

On a business level, it meant being comfortable with adjusting my expectations.

I didn’t make big business goals at the start of this year.

Nor did I last year.

I didn’t make plans to write my book.

Or travel.

Or hit a certain revenue goal.

I made peace with enough, and in return that gave me a huge sense of peace in what otherwise felt like a very tumultuous season. 

Season Two – Anticipatory Grief

Often when we think of grief, it is related to something we have lost in the past tense. 

For that reason, the thing I wasn’t entirely prepared for is the sense of anticipatory grief I have carried for the past two years. 

Imagine a stormy day, with clouds and rain and wind and not knowing when it will pass. 

Or more accurately, knowing that one day they would pass only to be replaced by something worse.

That’s what anticipatory grief felt like for me.

There is a lot of trauma for me there, but also some thing I am grateful for that helped me with navigating what felt like the constant threat of rain.

These are things that I genuinely want to go back and thank my earlier self for having the foresight to priortise. 

I know from speaking to others that it’s sometimes only with the benefit of hindsight and perspective that some realise how important each of these things were, usually in circumstances where they didn’t prioritise them. 

I’m so thankful I did. 

Quality time

The worst thing about a terminal diagnosis is not knowing what the future will hold.

The best? Knowing that every second is precious and being giving the foresight to know the prioritise it.

Over the past two years, I have so many happy memories because I prioritised making them.

I feel mostly at peace about the decisions I made in this season, knowing that I prioritised quality time with my mum always – often over friendships, business growth and the like and safe in the knowledge that those things would always be there later.

I imagine that if I’d approached that season differently I perhaps wouldn’t have felt that way. 

Quality conversation

I was able to have some very meaningful and special conversations with my mum over the past two years.

Some of them were really confronting and difficult, some were fun and light hearted as we shared special memories.

The catalyst for me to start these conversations were two-fold, and I want to share these resources with you in the event they serve you.

The first resource came from a previous client, Lucy Perkins, who shared with me resources for conversation starters with loved ones.

The second was a list of questions Brendon Burchard compiled when his own dad was sick with cancer.

They are beautiful prompts, and I think intentionally have some of those conversations can feel really special and something to cherish later on . 

Making hay whilst the sun is still (kind of) shining

Everyone tells you that you should have emergency business buffers in place for a “rainy day”.

The difference for me is that I was very aware that a rainy day would be coming for me.

I wasn’t ever sure how I would cope when the day came that I lost my beautiful mum, but I DID know that I would really struggle and likely would find it impossible to carry on with business as usual.

So, I was very conscientious in building up a years worth of “business buffer” in better times.

Now that my “rainy day” is here, and it has been enormously helpful to be able to grieve without the weight of money also resting on my shoulders.

The same is true of content buffers.

As a personal brand business, we usually need to create a LOT of content.

Often when rainy days come, it’s very difficult to focus enough to create anything worthwhile or to “show up” online”.

For that reason, I built a “content buffer” of podcast episodes and content over time.

Of course, this should have been longer, however there were quite a few weeks where I have been offline caring for my mum where my content “emergency bank” has been rolling out so that no-one would ever know.

I think it’s smart to create something like this if you are a personal brand business, particularly in seasons when you feel unable to show up as the face.

Season Three – Caregiving and Difficult Times

This is the season I find the most difficult to speak about. 

I knew for a long time on a practical level that my mum was unwell, but my brain really did a good job of protecting me. 

I never quite believed it, and there were always glimmers of hope. 

I joined Facebook groups where people would share their stories of years and years in remission.

I researched clinical trials, and there was always the hope of the next big breakthrough on the horizon. 

We paid thousands for genetic research, to find different avenues and paths.

Looking back, I can see that my hope was false. 

One day my mum was doing so well, and the next she wasn’t. 

The next little while – much of the start of this year – was so very difficult. 

Watching your loved one struggle with a mind so sharp, and a body failing them, is so difficult – and I have a lot still to process.   

For me, it meant dropping everything. 

In the final weeks with my beautiful mum, I spent every day with her and most nights sleeping next to her at the hospital. 

I didn’t see my babies. 

I hardly showered. 

And in retrospect, I didn’t look after myself at all. 

I still feel depleted from that season, and I replay a lot of it in snapshots as if time slowed down.

I feel grateful that I was prepared, and that I’d scaled down into a model that would allow me space. 

Specifically, over the past 12 months I set my offers up without live calls because I knew I wouldn’t be able to commit to them.

I also reduced all responsibilities where I would need to hold space on a deep level for others, because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do so.

I’m grateful for that. 

I don’t have tips or tricks for this season, but I AM grateful to have had a business that allowed me the grace to drop everything.

I am, in fact, even MORE grateful  to have a drop everything business than one that gives you all of the shiny things you see on Instagram.

Season FourGrief and Loss

There is nothing that truly prepares you for the season I am currently in. 

Without doubt, it is the most difficult I have navigated. 

I want to share a little of my experience – without “answers”. 

I don’t have them, but one thing that has helped me immensely in the past few weeks is simply hearing of the experiences of others. 

They make me feel less alone, and I hope that simply sharing has the same effect on someone else, too. 

Physical pain

One thing I wasn’t prepared for is the intense physical pain I feel most days. It feels like an elephant on my chest.

It makes doing most things difficult.

Lack of focus and extreme fatigue

My ability to focus on deep work has been severely impaired. Today, a month after losing my mum (note that I am writing this a few weeks prior to its release), is the first time I have sat down for any extended length of time.

I’m incredibly tired, without doing anything at all.

I listened to an incredible podcast my friend Louise Henry who lost her beautiful Dad last year sent me, and which was incredibly validating to listen to.

In it, the podcaster (who I will personally thank!) talked about this, and how it makes sense considering the amount of processing your brain is doing and how many tabs it has open.

My brain is constantly flip flopping from disbelief, to intense sadness, to numbness..

And there isn’t much space for anything else. 

Waves of intense grief

These have been washing over me most days.

It’s actually quite cathartic, because crying comes after remembering and that makes me feel close to my mum and as though she is still with me.

The administrative load

One thing no-one prepares you for is the “business” of losing someone you really love.

In the most difficult personal season of your life, you are tasked with so much administration – much of it so heartbreaking that it feels like losing them all over again.

I haven’t yet mustered up the courage or ability to prepare or think about packing up my beautiful mums life.

It feels so painful, but its one of a long list of “to dos” that come along with losing someone you love. 

You’ll notice I don’t have “answers” for any of this.

I don’t think there are any.

One thing I have learnt from previous experiences losing people I truly love is that grief is something that you carry, and that becomes part of you. 

It’s not something that you “get over” and I’m not going to sit here as a guru pretending that I have tips or tricks to help you do it.

It’s hard, and messy, and I wish it was different. 

Little things that help me include simply getting up and getting dressed, remembering to eat (even when I don’t want to), taking supplements and drinking water. 

Simple things, but they honestly feel like little mountains I am conquering right now.

I take some solace in knowing that the intensity of these feelings will diminish in time, and that when this happens it won’t be any reflection on the intensity of the love I have for my mum.

Season FiveThe New Normal 

This isn’t the first time I have lost someone I love more than life itself. 

What I have learnt is that although things feel so very painful right now, the pain will lessen in time and there will be silver linings – no matter how bittersweet. 

Here’s some personal lessons that will stay with me. 

Lesson One: I’m reminded of the preciousness of it all.

It breaks my heart to say that my mum wasn’t ready to go, but she wasn’t. 

She was in the middle of her story, and that’s what I hate the most.

There was still so much to do, and selfishly, so much more I wanted us to do together.

It’s not fair but that’s kind of the point – no-one ever said that it was. 

We all think we have so much time, but the truth is that we were NEVER promised 83.5 long, healthy years.

Sure, if we’re lucky we might get there, but we need to open our eyes that there is a very really chance that some of us won’t. 

It’s morbid and it sucks and it’s heartbreakingly sad, but it’s the truth. 

The only good to come from losing my very favourite person has been the realization that life is happening now, and that I must be grateful for every single day that the sun rises.  

This season is another massive, there’s-so-much-at-stake slap in the face reminder of how precious, short and unpredictable life is – every second of it, the good and the bad, the mundane, the fun, the tough, all of it.

I hope it doesn’t take losing someone, or a diagnosis, or something equally debilitating happening for others to realise how precious it all is.

Because it is. 

Lesson Two: I’m more lit up by my mission than ever.

This isn’t a podcast about my business. It’s not a sell.

But I do want to mention that I feel more lit up and fulfilled to serve others than ever.

I re-built my business based on my lessons over the past few years, and my entire ethos is on building a lifestyle business.

Defining your enough.

Serving well, and in alignment with what lights you up.

It’s the most worthy of messages, and I feel privileged to share it.

Lesson Three: Burying grief in work and wine doesn’t help – space, time and grace is the best (and only) medicine.

This isn’t the first grief I’ve navigated.

I was 27 when I lost my Dad.

For several years after, I felt frozen in time.

As though time moved on, but I was still stuck at 27 trying to make sense of it all and move through my pain.

I didn’t deal with it well, or maybe I did – because it got me through.

My approach was to regress, drink a lot, party a lot and I did a lot of that for about six or seven years after.

I have gone through so much personal development since then, and I can see with a sense of perspective that a lot of actions were me trying to deal a level of pain that was beyond my means.

This time, it’s different.

Instead of masking, I’m trying to deal with it head on.

One thing that I know for sure is that burying myself in something else – like alcohol, or diving headfirst back into work – isn’t the solution.

It’s a bandaid that won’t serve me in the long run.

I need to be real with myself.

This is going to hurt for a long time, and trying to mask it won’t help.

Trying to build the new normal around what will always be a big, gaping hole is something I need to tackle head on.

For me, that means feeling it and not trying to bury those feelings in work.

It means not diving headfirst into work and launches and showing up and doing all of the things.

It means simply doing what I can, and taking time to breathe.

My intention over the next few months is to recalibrate.

To spend quality time with my beautiful babies who very much need their mum after quite a few months where I have been mostly absent from them.

I’ll be travelling, which I am gratefully to have built up the buffer to do and which I feel on a visceral level that my soul needs right now.

I need a complete disconnect, and a break and to fill my mind with beautiful memories to stop it playing the more difficult ones on repeat.

And, I’ll be working.

Because, I DO find solace in it.

I love my work, and I want to continue doing it. I will continue serving my students, and creating content when it feels good – without putting undue pressure on myself to “show up” all the time if it doesn’t feel good.

One thing I have realised after seven years in the game is that business isn’t “linear”.

There are seasons.

Early hustle seasons. The seasons where your business is on an upward trajectory. The seasons of maintenance and calibration. And the seasons like right now, where its okay to take a little step back.

I know that doing this will help me heal which will serve me when later in the year I am ready to move into a different season.

As a personal brand business, I have found navigating my grief and what to share very, very difficult.

I am the face and fabric of my business and so much of me is intrinsically enmeshed into it.

Never has that been clearer – or more confronting – than it is for me in this season.

For that reason, I’ve found it difficult knowing how much I “should” share. 

And, in general, feeling the weight of “shoulds” in general. 

I “should” be showing up. 

I “should” be launching. 

I “should” share this, or not share that. 

Ultimately, I’ve made peace with simply doing what feels best for me right now without the “shoulds”.

For example, writing this right now? 

It feels right – because I know that other similar pieces have served ME. 

I also feel that sharing honestly in this season will help with providing more clarity around how I do or do not show up over the coming weeks and months.

If you know someone navigating something similar, please pass it on 🙏

Helpful Resources

There have been friends and resources that have been really invaluable for me over the last few weeks.

To Louise Henry, thank you for letting me share with you and for helping me with your experiences. You are a true business friend and I am grateful to you. 

To my business friends who reached out, messaged and personally let me know that they were thinking of me – I am so, so grateful. One truth I heard in a podcast is that in grief, you often WANT people to reach out but you also don’t have the capacity to interact.

That has been me to a tee. Simply knowing you care, and that you have repeatedly reached out means I will never ever forget you and will repay that favour. There are some good eggs, and I am truly grateful. 

Here are some resources that I have found incredibly helpful:

Insanely helpful conversation: 

Navigating Grief [ft Therapist Gina Moffa] – With Sam Vander Wielen. I resonated with so much of this. It talks about personal brand businesses in particular, and listened twice.

Feeling seen:

Motherless Daughters – Grief support for mother loss. Simply scrolling through these has helped me a lot, the posts are real and reflect a lot of the things I think myself. Simply knowing I am not alone has helped immensely.

Questions and conversations with loved ones:

List of Questions for Interviewing Your Loved Ones – Brendon Burchard wrote this list of questions he asked his Dad.

Lucy Percy at Head and Heart Estate Planning  sent me some Legacy of Love conversation starters (not sure if she is offering these, but her Instagram is useful also).  

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