How I Used Grief to Launch a Career that Celebrates Life

5min read

Grief. That word sucks. Nothing good comes with that word. "Hey, do you want a grief cake?" No thanks. "What about a grief sandwich?" Sounds terrible. It's not a word used when you win the Powerball. Even the words "Good Grief" is an acceptable 'G" rated curse word used by our mothers and grandmothers everywhere, followed by an eye roll and a resounding "no."

"Grief is Love but nowhere to go with it" - My Mom.

Grief: defined in the dictionary as a feeling of deep sorrow, primarily that caused by someone's death. It can be applied to many factors outside of losing someone close. We all go through grief at some point, maybe at different times in our lives- younger or older, different experiences- sibling, parent, grandparent, or different circumstances- sudden or sick for a while. Grief is love with nowhere to go. And it's all difficult and hard to make sense out of. I experienced grief young, and tragically so my life was consumed by it due to its effects.

Here are two things I have learned about grief:

  1. I know that there is no way you can compare grief - I cannot judge my niece's loss of her pet, who right now in her young life, she likens to "her child" to what I have been through in my life at 44. Sometimes your bar has just been set higher. Not their fault, they haven't been through it. Be better, pray they never have to go through it.
  2. Whatever people have to believe in getting through it- as long as they are not hurting themselves or someone else- Let them. If they want to believe Uncle Merv is on a purple magic carpet, and they feel a little comfort from that. Let. It. Be. The only correct thing to say is, "I am so sorry for your loss. How can I help." That's it.

Most have heard of the five stages of grief.

I think the fantastic Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (P.I.R) helped distill an infinite range of emotions into digestible categories. But the question has always been, what can you do with grief?

Will it drive you into a ditch or empower you to do the thing you never thought you were capable of doing? And what can drive the difference between the two outcomes?

LYFETYMES the Digital Marketplace where busy moms go to plan celebrations and parties and make happy memories..was really born out of grief. Strangers say to me: "You have a tech company dedicated to celebrations? You must have had Huge Birthday Parties!" I just smile because my family didn't. In fact, the LYFETYMES journey of coming to be was a bit of out of something folks don't expect.

Most people don't know three things about me. One being I didn't Celebrate Holidays or Birthdays due to religious reasons when I was growing up. I became obsessed as a child with what Christmas was or what a Birthday Party would be like. I never experienced it through the lens of a child. I didn't start celebrating milestones until I had my boys, and I experienced them as a busy mom trying to pull them together.

Two, growing up, we moved around a lot during our school years due to my dad's job. We didn't stay in one place long enough to make long friendships, so my sister and my brothers were my siblings and my friends. We may not have had traditional celebrations, but we had many get-togethers growing up, tons of love around us, and being with my siblings are my favorite childhood memories. But I was not afraid to walk in a room and be stared at for being the new kid, and I think that started building some confidence at a young age.

Three, I had lost all three of my brothers by 40, one of which I was in a horrific car crash at 17 that killed my brother Josh (15) and a friend when we lived in a small town. We lost a lot of kids in crashes over the years for a small school. Then my grandfather unexpectedly died a year after Josh. So grief was such a presence at such a young age, personally impacting my life. The only thing that ever helped me cope was the memories of those get-togethers and hope. People use grief in different ways, I knew I was young and had hoped I could still build a great future, so I went to conquer life. I got married. I started a family. I started a corporate career. I did well. I put tragedy literally behind me. I had used grief to push me to motivate me. I survived for some reason, I told myself. It worked for a time. But when my first son was born premature and in the NICU for a month, the fear of losing him because I had witnessed it happen to my mom, was overwhelming. We got through it, but it was not fun.

Fifteen years later, looking around, I think I've done ok for myself and the family. I made my way through the hunger games of Corporate America so far. I am Head of This or That. I have looked at death in the face and conquered.

Life hasn't been perfect, but what is?

At 40, the kids are older-kinda self-sufficient (somewhat), you feel you should be hitting autopilot switch on the career in the next decade, you can go out to eat without checking your bank account first, you feel like your shit is together and BAM...

ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE. Well, at least it did for me.

Out of the blue, my 17-year executive career ended with my company, which felt like a divorce, and I treated as such. Fast forward almost exactly one year later, I had no idea that wouldn't be one of the hardest days. My youngest brother; the last one left and my best friend died. I was an adult and a mother now. I couldn't even imagine what the hell my parents were about to go through. Again. This kid we loved so dearly was gone. I can only explain it as uncontrollable pain. The emotional pain felt physical and hurt so badly inside. I recognized it from the accident.

It is one of the things you can't get back or buy back- they are gone. I skipped Grief stage 1 real quick and proceeded and stayed at Anger for a long time. I took another six months off to cope and help my parents get vertical after losing Jeremiah. By then I was starting to develop anxiety triggered by thoughts of losing something else in my life. I went back to work for a while but being away from my family, traveling Sunday-Saturday, and missing my son's Senior Year was not what I could do anymore or was willing to do. I took a step back- I wasn't happy- I was making decisions based on who had the closest life raft and didn't care whose boat I was jumping in. I was unfulfilled.

After a while, I started thinking about Jeremiah's funeral, and I started thinking about life celebrations. Specifically how that the average funeral is $9,500. It's a terrible burden on a family -and I want the cost driven down and completely disrupted. At the same timeframe, I volunteered to host a baby shower, which was chaotic with co-hosts, and it became clear to me that outside events and weddings, there was not a clear digital solution to plan with. I got excited with the research, the roadmap, design. I was smiling and laughing again. Charged up with a skip in my step.

I'd seen it again. It wasn't becoming a CEO, or dream of being a millionaire or tech famous. I'd seen hope again. A hope that I could take an opportunity I would be good at, apply my technical expertise and do something I care about, and feels good doing while addressing a gaping hole in the market.

We decided to start with traditional celebrations like birthdays, baby showers, etc., and are releasing life celebrations soon as well. Coupled with the loss of my brothers, I know how short life is and how important it is to celebrate every milestone and treasure those family memories.

I am humbled to be just a small part of making it easier for busy moms like myself to celebrate those milestones and make memories. I just got lucky enough to have experience and a passion that matched an opportunity in the market. If I didn't do it, I would regret it. I don't want to live with that.

Grief is tough to write about, but I can recognize it, and I go towards it now. Here is a note I direct messaged to a parent that lost a child recently. I think it's important to share because grief does not stop at the funeral. My ultimate goal is to create a foundation where we can help plan life celebrations for parents that have lost children.

You don't know me from Adam, but I read your post on xxxxx. I wanted to send my thoughts and prayers to your family after losing your beautiful child. I haven't lost a child, and it's a pain you don't know unless lived, god forbid, and it's not something that anyone would wish on your worst enemy. I've lost all my brothers and watched my parents lose all three of their sons, all young and unexpectedly. I'm incredibly close to my parents and have seen the agony. I understand from proxy of my parents the terrible emotions- second-guessing, guilt, regret -the "what if"- and the concern for xxxxx's siblings and how to cope, the fact that after the funeral and everyone goes on with their lives and the distraction of having people around helped and going back to the day to day routine is actually the hardest. That even having one moment of happiness is met with immediate "how can I smile" and that the only improvements are you might cry a little less, not every second, not every minute or five minutes and time does help....but not in the beginning..not ever you just learn to live with it somehow. But I do believe in what you wrote, talking about your xxxxx, keeping their memory alive- no matter how uncomfortable it makes people (not because they are morons, but they just can't rationalize that kind of pain)- and your message is that only actual currency we have is time and how we spend it is powerful; and will ensure that xxxxxx spirit marches on and inspires everyone. There is truth to the fact there are no words to express how sorry I am to hear of your families loss and no doubt you will go through the terrible year of "the firsts," but you and your wife's expression has touched my heart as I'm sure the hearts of everyone. I know offering to do anything is hallow because nobody could answer that call of bringing xxxxxx back. I sent this to my mom, who called me crying because she thought they were so beautifully written and wanted me to pass on her sincere thoughts and prayers for you and your beautiful family.



3 Min Read

Help! Am I A Fraud?

The Armchair Psychologist has all the answers you need!

Help! I Might Get Fired!

Dear Armchair Psychologist,

What's the best way to be prepared for a layoff? Because of the crisis, I am worried that my company is going to let me go soon, what can I do to be prepared? Is now a good time to send resumes? Should I save money? Redesign my website? Be proactive at work? Make myself non-disposable?

- Restless & Jobless

Dear Restless & Jobless,

I'm sorry that you're feeling anxious about your employment status. There are many people like yourself in this pandemic who are navigating an uncertain future, many have already lost their jobs. In my experience as a former professional recruiter for almost a decade, I always told my candidates the importance of periodically being passively on the market. This way, you'd know your worth, and you'd be able to track the market rates that may have changed over time, and sometimes even your job title which might have evolved unbeknownst to you.

This is a great time to reach out to your network, update your online professional presence (LinkedIn etc.), and send resumes. Though I'm not a fan of sending a resume blindly into a large database. Rather, talk to friends or email acquaintances and have them directly introduce you to someone who knows someone at a list of companies and people you have already researched. It's called "working closest to the dollar."

Here's a useful article with some great COVID-times employment tips; it suggests to "post ideas, articles, and other content that will attract and engage your target audience—specifically recruiters." If you're able to, try to steer away from focusing too much on the possibility of getting fired, instead spend your energy being the best you can be at work, and also actively being on the job market. Schedule as many video calls as you can, there's nothing like good ol' face-to-face meetings to get yourself on someone's radar. If your worries get the best of you, I recommend you schedule time with a qualified therapist. When you're ready, lean into that video chat and werk!

- The Armchair Psychologist


Dear Armchair Psychologist,

I'm an independent consultant in NYC. I just filed for unemployment, but I feel a little guilty collecting because a) I'm not looking for a job (there are none anyway) and b) the company that will pay just happens to be the one that had me file a W2 last year; I've done other 1099 work since then.

- Guilt-Ridden

Dear Name,

I'm sorry that you're wracked with guilt. It's admirable that your conscience is making you re-evaluate whether you are entitled to "burden the system" so to speak as a state's unemployment funds can run low. Shame researchers, like Dr. Brené Brown, believe that the difference between shame and guilt is that shame is often rooted in the self/self-worth and is often destructive whereas guilt is based on one's behavior and compels us to do better. "I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it's holding something we've done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort."

Your guilt sounds like a healthy problem. Many people feel guilty about collecting unemployment benefits because of how they were raised and the assumption that it's akin to "seeking charity." You're entitled to your unemployment benefits, and it was paid into a fund for you by your employer with your own blood, sweat, and tears. Also, you aren't committing an illegal act. The benefits are there to relieve you in times when circumstances prevent you from having a job. Each state may vary, but the NY State Department of Labor requires that you are actively job searching. The Cares Act which was passed in March 2020 also may provide some relief. I recommend that you collect the relief you need but to be sure that you meet the criteria by actively searching for a job just in case anyone will hire you.

- The Armchair Psychologist