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In our time of grief, we choose to be better or worse off

Women, money and style: It's coming up one year since the passing of my grandmother. This was a woman who clearly had my corner in life, my biggest cheerleader in every situation.

It's coming up to a year since the passing of my grandmother. This was a woman who clearly had my corner in life, my biggest cheerleader in every situation. A simple chat with her could restore me back to my positive, cheerful, happy self.

When I was a child, she bathed me, cared for me and fed me the special vegetable meals I loved (I was a kid who adored steamed veggies). She was unconditional with her love and taught me how to love in return. But it's in her absence that she taught me probably the greatest lesson of all: gratitude.

A child's relationship with their grandmother is like no other. Unlike the disciplinarian role of the parents, grannies can be more generous, more forgiving and more understanding. My grandmother took on a much larger role though - she filled the void when my mum, her daughter-in-law, left this world. At a time when she must have been dealing with her own cycle of grief and mourning, she became like a second mother to me. Through her love and empathy, I knew that I belonged on this earth. My faith in her made the grief and pain of losing my mother almost bearable. With her by my side, I knew that I could survive anything.

And so, as the anniversary of her passing looms, I find myself grieving again; this time for both of my childhood matriarchs. In her work entitled On Death and Dying, the Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross divided the process of grieving into five distinct stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I cannot say for certain where in this cycle I currently am, but I am clear on one thing - I need to move past it in a way that is less painful than before - and the cost it had on my life.

I look at my life today in comparison with the girl I was eight years ago when my mother passed away. Following her death, the sudden absence and loss of our once-inseparable family unit was all too much for me. My basic reaction? I ran away from it; first to Sydney and then again, within one year, to Dubai. In many ways, the change of environment helped me to live and laugh again.

Today, eight years on, my priorities and my perspective have changed. Seeing my life with the advantage of hindsight, I realise what a costly effect grief can have on our lives - both financially and emotionally. In a column for The New York Times entitled "The Trauma of Being Alive", the psychiatrist Mark Epstein points out that, when it comes to mourning, there is no such thing as normal. "Grief is not the same for everyone. And it does not always go away," he says. "The healthiest way to deal with trauma is to lean into it, rather than try to keep it at bay."

But what cost does it have on your work life - not being able to deal with grief?

You only need to go to Google and type in "the cost of grief in the workplace" and hit the "enter" button. You are likely to find many articles quoting the cost of bereavement for the corporate sector. The most reliable study, conducted by the Grief Recovery Institute in the United States, estimated grief costs American companies more than US$75 billion a year.

Many companies only offer up to five days of compassionate leave for individuals. In this short amount of time, mourners must organise a funeral and deal with the legal ramifications of death. As a result, they're likely to feel depressed, overworked and misunderstood upon returning to their jobs.

Grief does cost society at large.

Talking with my sister recently, I realised I am one step closer to discovering my own truth to avoid this personal cost. I told her I don't feel the pain anymore. Instead, I've found the answers I've been seeking through gratitude. Books have come into my life, which have made me reflect upon the things that I have, rather than the things I do not. I have started collecting my thoughts in a gratitude journal. I am OK without my mum and grandmother. I have so much else to be thankful for. Life may have dealt me a heavy blow, but I can choose to be worse off or better because of it. Since coming to this epiphany of sorts, I have felt the grief slowly start to slip away.

They say time is the best healer and I agree with that. The reality is most of us will have to deal with grief at some point. The key is in how we choose to receive it. As Mr Epstein says: "The willingness to face traumas - be they large, small, primitive or fresh - is the key to healing from them. They may never disappear in the way we think they should, but maybe they don't need to. Trauma is an ineradicable aspect of life. We are human as a result of it, not in spite of it."

My advice? Choose gratitude. This is a lesson that was passed on to me by my first teacher in life - my grandmother. And by living with kindness, generosity and appreciation, I know that she will never truly leave me as I live my life in honour of her and live rich.

 

Janelle Malone is a wealth commentator, writer and author. You can read her blog at www.womenmoneyandstyle.com

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