2013-10-26

Learning from loss

Personal loss is horrible, and hard to imagine until you have experienced it firsthand.


You may think you know how to deal with it, imagining what it feels like, even playing with the emotions. But until you have experienced the full blow of losing someone close to you, you will have virtually no idea of how you will be affected.

This summer, I sat beside my father as he passed away, finally giving in to his fight with his illness. It was surreal and unfathomable. It was the most beautiful summer evening, complete with birds singing in the trees outside of his room, calm, peaceful, and absolutely horrific.

Fast-forward a few weeks, after all the things that had to be done were indeed done - and these are things you normally don't know about, or want to know about for that matter, I ended up back home with a number of boxes with my father's belongings. So many in fact, that I had virtually no floor space left in my living room for weeks, while I tried to sort out everything else in life, including doing a lot of work preparations for the fall, which I had expected to spread out over a full month, in just over a week.

The most prominent thing to emerge from my father's stuff was his photo collection. He was an avid hobby photographer, who kept meticulous notes of his pictures, date, location, weather, that kind of stuff (much as we get for free in the EXIF data of digital photos today). I have estimated it to be around 8000 negatives of pictures he has taken over the years, skillfully documenting both our family, but also our home town, and our holiday trips. Of these pictures, me and my mother have seen approximately half of them, as paper copies were expensive and time consuming to make, so in a sense, I will discover a lot of pictures from my youth for the first time.

While my father was becoming increasingly weak and ill during the spring, two close friends of mine also passed away, seemingly at random, making one sorrow lead into the next.

Being an introvert, I have dealt with the grief by becoming more reticent, pushing away people close to me, and worse, at times I became irritable, fighting over trifles and it sometimes became difficult to relate to other people's irritations or frustrations, as they seemed small compared to the things that were happening to me this year. Which of course is unfair, emotions can't necessarily be compared.

All of this was unexpected. I thought I would deal with these matters in a rational manner, and keep my composure. Which I did, for most of the time, but I did not detect the shift in my behavior, which became clear once I was confronted with it, and indeed when I could find out how to deal with the loss of my father and started regaining all my energy that was strangely absent during most of the year.

When I finally realized of all this, it came as a new shock. I suddenly understood why I had felt detached, tired, uninspired (and a bit angry) for about a year's time, in spite of this being one of the most exciting periods of my life. I had dealt with the loss of my father in anticipation, unconsciously preparing for the worst to come. And added to that, the grief over my two friends as well.

This is why you need someone who knows you well enough to spot the difference in you, and alert you to what is about to happen. Someone who can understand that grief or pressure is taking its toll, and you need to remember who you really are. This someone can be your spouse, or a close friend, but it can be difficult to request this from them. I would advocate a coach. Not all persons close to you may be prepared to deal with the change.

What I learned, is that the best way to move forward, is to think hard about their legacy. What can you learn from the people you lost, what did they bring to your life, and how can you use that knowledge to help others improve?

In that vein, I would like to dedicate three upcoming posts to my two friends, and my father, sharing with you what I learned from them, and how the knowledge and wisdom can be used in our work, and indeed life. And that is about as agile (or lean) this post will become.

To those of you who met me over the last year and feel you got the short end of the stick: I am sorry. I did not live up to my own expectations.

But I'm back now.