You determine how professional you are at work. You decide how much money you invest and save. You choose your attitude every second of every day. But what you have no control over is death and a death that hits close to home can seep into your professional life and, if not handled properly, can affect you personally, professionally, and financially for years down the road. So how do you handle something that hits hard but that you have no point of reference for? Well I don’t have a cookie cutter answer but I do have some suggestions that will make it easier when that happens.
Our generation has picked up a very interesting trait: we keep working through everything. That doesn’t sound that bad. Usually it isn’t. But in the context of dealing with the passing of a loved one, if you fail to take time to grieve on the front end, many problems will arise from it on the back. There are situations in which we feel that the death of someone close to us is pending and we can begin to brace ourselves. Then there are times when it happens suddenly and we have to deal with both the emotional and material aftermath unexpectedly. Unfortunately for me, I’ve experienced both since graduating from college in 2011. Fourtunately for those of you going through it right now or bookmarking this article for later reference, I’ve experienced both in the past half-decade and can provide some relevant insight. Though all of these suggestions do not directly affect your level of professionalism, the impact of death can cause every area of your life to deteriorate, which includes your professional life. So a healthy process for dealing with it is necessary for you to continue moving forward.
First of all, even before death is a thought in your mind, make sure you’re working your backside off at work. Give it your all. When companies know you are an asset, they want to do everything they can to keep you around. So when you let them know that your parent has fallen terminally ill and you need to work from home for a few months (or not work at all if that is the case), you’ll have a better chance of them considering that as a viable option than you would if you were doing the bare minimum. No one feels compelled to make exceptions for the person who is pulling up in last place. But that person who is giving their all to help the company succeed is a great person to have around and strengthens the brand.
Have a solid emergency fund of at least 6 months of your living expenses in place that is liquid. I just lost a member of my family this past August. My fiancée and I moved when we knew that the disease was terminal. I had saved up enough to survive for around 4 months but that was better than I had when I experienced previous loss of a loved one, at which time I was living paycheck to paycheck, saving little to nothing. If we had not saved, quitting our jobs and relocating to be with family would not have been an option. At best, we would have had to part ways for a while and one of us would’ve continued working. But that sacrifice we made to establish emergency funds put us in a position to be able to have peace of mind when time proved itself to be more important than money.
When death comes, as it will for everyone at one time or another, let it hit you. I was the first child that my parents had and much of the responsibility fell on me to handle the funeral arrangements for my father and calling family/friends and speaking at the funeral service (mind you I was traveling back and forth to Charlotte at the time interviewing for positions). Right before the funeral service, I got a call from a job and would be starting that position within a few weeks of his passing. So I just kept moving. And I didn’t grieve. And, when this new job started, I wasn’t at my best. I went to work and did what I needed to do but I hadn’t dealt with the fact that I just lost someone I had known for 23 years. And not handling that when it happens caused me not to be as focused as I needed to. So I truly recommend that, when death comes, you cry if you feel like crying. If you need to call your best friend and head to a bar and have a beer, do it. And, even if you don’t feel that you need to, figure out a therapy that works for you. Whether it is seeing an actual therapist or writing in a journal or beginning a workout plan, take ownership of your feelings. It will help in the long run like you wouldn’t imagine.
Lastly, get back up. Have you ever heard the saying “One monkey don’t stop the show”? It’s true. When my father passed, my uncle put it a different way: “The world is going to keep moving and if you don’t keep moving too, it’ll drag you along with it.” Yes, you have to grieve. It is healthy and necessary. It will reduce your level of stress and allow you to enjoy a longer life. But all processes have a purpose: either to strengthen or weaken. If your process has no purpose, you are simply wallowing in pity. So set a timeline and benchmarks. Decide that you’re going to take a couple weeks off to reflect and, when you get back, you’re going to ease yourself back to your regular pace. But make sure you get back to your regular pace. I’ve seen the aftermath of death affect some people’s professional lives nearly two years down the road because they did not keep moving with life and that can be a career killer.
I’m no therapist. I’m not anyone’s pastor. But I know that, if you want to succeed professionally, you have to prepare for those things that no one else is willing to prepare for. This is that uncomfortable topic that we tend to ignore, though it makes 100 times more sense to brace ourselves, our bank accounts, and our professional lives for it, because it is pending even when we don’t know it.