I’ve long touted the merits of freelancing.
It’s given me incredible freedom to work where and when I want. And it’s been a fun, educational ride.
But in the last 6 weeks of 2019 (and the first quarter of 2020), it did something more: it saved me.
My Life Stopped
On December 10, 2019, I endured the greatest loss of my life.
My father died, at home, after battling a brief, but intense illness.
Nearly 5 months later, I’m still learning how deep the ripples of pain will go, still finding new jagged edges of regret, anger, and sorrow.
My father was my biggest fan, an enthusiastic cheerleader, an understanding confidant. I like to think he still is, from his new digs in the great beyond.
An entrepreneur himself, he planted the seed in my mind long ago that there was more to life than making money — but since we have to, there are better ways to do it other than being chained to a cubicle.
That belief gave me the courage to start my business after my grandfather died — I vowed that I would never rush the mourning process again.
Unfortunately, I got to keep that promise to myself too soon.
I Avoided the Bullshit
But as hard as this loss has been, one typically major concern was a non-issue for me: employment.
When I learned my father was ill, I immediately contacted my clients, told them I was going to be largely unavailable indefinitely, and hopped on a plane to fly home.
I’ll spare you the full timeline – Lord knows I don’t want to relive it.
But the gist is: I did pretty much no work from mid-November until April 1st — and I still have my business. I came back to instant income-making opportunities the moment that I was ready for them.
And NONE of my clients gave me a hard time. These amazingly understanding and supportive people told me to take all of the time that I needed. And they assured me that if they could assign work to me upon my return, they would.
Some of my clients even checked in on me, asking if there was anything that I could do. I was, and still am, absolutely blown away by their compassion. I’m blessed to have such high-quality relationships with them.
If I was still working a regular office job, chances are, I would have been terminated or forced to quit. What employer is going to let an employee pretty much disappear for nearly 5 months and then welcome them back as though nothing had happened?
Pretty damn few, I’m sure.
My last office job boss would say she was sorry (and would actually mean it) and she’d try to be flexible with me, but there’s only so much she could do.
I probably would have qualified for FMLA when I was taking care of Dad for a short time before he died. Or, maybe even when I fell into the deepest depression I’ve ever experienced in the weeks that followed. If I was really lucky, I might have qualified for short-term disability.
But these things take doctor’s visits, paperwork, and near-constant communication with your employer to get in place and maintain. I was NOT in the right headspace to have to deal with it.
Thankfully, I could skip the bullshit and focus on what really mattered.
What Freelancing Gave Me
Freelancing gave me the ability to hit pause on everything that seemed unimportant in the moment. It let me focus on my father and my family.
Between mid-November and the end of December I was able to:
- Fly home to MA at a moment’s notice
- See my father in the hospital
- Take him to see his doctor
- Be part of his hospice care plan meeting
- Help my mother get the house ready for hospice care
- Help my mother take care of him when he was home
- Get his medication at the pharmacy
- Get him his favorite foods from the grocery store
- Pick up his contacts so he could see again
- Have those precious last conversations which will haunt and inspire me forever
- Be by his side when he took his last breath
- Help my mother plan his funeral
- Help my mother get his life insurance and 401k payout
- Help my mother get social security survivor benefits
- Mourn with my family at the funeral — and for nearly 3 weeks after he passed
But that’s not all freelancing did for me.
When I returned to FL on December 30th, I stupidly thought that I was going to be able to start working again right after the New Year.
I failed miserably. I couldn’t focus. I cried a lot.
So, I took a nearly 3-month sabbatical to try to heal and renew. I went to therapy, took a short road trip, and tried to make sense out of what had just happened.
I’m still struggling with that last bit. I think I always will.
I truly believe that being a freelancer, owning my own business, saved me.
It spared me from worry when I couldn’t afford to take on another care.
It spared me from struggling to find work when I became well.
And it gave me the gift of being present with my father and with my family during the most difficult period of my life.
I was able to support and be supported. To grieve and to relieve the grief of others.
To say it’s priceless is true — but an absolute understatement.
I’ve never been more grateful — except for the gratitude I have for 35 years of my father’s love. A love I know endures.
How am I now?
But – I’m back in the saddle again. Writing new content for clients. Plotting how to expand my enterprise.
Dad wouldn’t want me to contract. He would want me to grow.
So I’ll do it for him.
And I’ll do it for me – and everyone else that I love.
Sorry for your loss, Laura. I’m so glad your business gave you the flexibility you needed during that impossible time.
Thank you, Sandra!
Thank you for bearing your heart. I am so thankful for you having space to mourn and heal. Keep putting one foot in front of the other; don’t become paralyzed. Keep giving plenty of grace to yourself. It is now fifteen years since my mama passed; so I can say that The intensity of the sting dims- but I still think of her daily and mourn things regularly. You are in my prayers.
Thank you so much, Sara! 🙂
I know to take the time and space to mourn is never convenient or easy, but your post spells out exactly why it is so important to do so. I love how you shared these very private moments – very few are able to recall and relay events surrounding pain and shock. In this era of COVID, I am sure your transparency will help many who come across this beautifully written post. My mother died of Broken Heart Syndrome early in the morning following the news that my brother’s firstborn had died during labor. She died a couple of days before Thanksgiving in 1981, and not a day goes by where I am not reminded of her beauty, warmth, kindness, and sharp intellect. There is still sadness and pain for sure, but I am extremely independent, determined, and so very grateful for all I have in this life. I suppose these are the “gifts” one receives for having to move through life after a significant loss. Thanks again for writing such a beautiful post.
Thank you for taking the time to write such a personal note. While the loss of a loved one is heartbreaking, you’re right: it can shape us into better, stronger versions of ourselves so that we may live in a way that honors them.