My father died over Christmas. It was unexpected and brutal in its suddenness. Pneumonia, sepsis. Like Dylan Thomas' father. Like my own partner's father a month before. I had been in the middle of one of my most creative design periods. I had just finished designing a workshop on The Power of Play and was mid way through the design of a new process. My work has for a number of years revolved around looking at different ways to respond to volatile trading environments - finding ways for others to lead not through trying to go faster but finding more mindful and fresh eyed thinking for deliberate and impactful leadership practice. In the moments before he died I felt that I had reached some kind of fulcrum - that all of my thinking around Leadership Development was coming together in a beautiful synthesis. Using Play as a counterbalance to Command, Agility to Control, Curiosity to Plans and Energy to Time. I called it the P.A.C.E model and spent some time designing a day's workshop - Leading with P.A.C.E. - on how it plays out and what leaders can do to engage differently.And then he died.
Death has been an extraordinary element to throw into the mix. I think it deepens one's work because Grief does not allow much time for indulgence, or for focus on frivolity. It cuts things down to the bone. But what Death also does is to allow an appreciation for Slowness, for Recovery. I started writing this tumblr on losing a parent after my father died to help me deal with my ocean of grief. It has been helpful in creating a portal into my world of memory and sadness.
I wanted to write this post because I wanted to share some insights on dealing with Grief when one is also dealing with Design. For me, the nub of the question is how does one use one's creativity positively in a space of enormous sadness? How does one Create when you just want to drown?
I have had three key insights:
1. Create out your sadness - If you can somehow create something out of your intensity of feeling, it will really balm the pain. Grief cripples one. It makes one feel insecure and doubtful about everything. That rollercoaster of Grief will make you question the worth of your work and improve it. It will blur the boundary between you and the world and in that way allow you to be open to so many perspectives you haven't thought of before. Don't just sit in it, do something with it.
And if you can very slowly and quietly remember those moments of Play in gardens, under tented sheets when your sadness your fear your lostness disappeared, you will in that small space reimagine a life for yourself
dressed in colour and joy and at the very least, laughter.
If you can.
2. Take what you need - Grief is an extraordinary thing - an exquisite leveler. It creates a grainy telescope of understanding for the terrain of people in your life. There will be those who surprise you with their massive, all encompassing Love, others who torture you repeatedly for their one moment of giving and others who will just sit stonily and silently. Ironically your own grief will move you far away from everyone for a while. It will bleach out the colour of everything and make you want to seek out foreign lands - emotionally and physically. Take what you need from this time and from those around you. And if for now, you want nothing, that is also okay. But be clear about what you need for yourself, for your own healing however difficult it is to articulate. Do this. It will serve you well going forward.
3. Honour the dead - My father has been one of the greatest supporters of the work that I have done. I wrote a post on Gratitude for him in 2012 and those feelings remain. His dying has made me want to honour the belief he showed in me and I truly believe that I can honor him by creating my finest work.
There is a part of me that is terrified to feel better to know that I can cope without you
That me not wild with grief will dishonour my love for you and yours for me
But as I sit this morning in my own home drinking freshly ground coffee watching the moving light play so sweetly with the leaves
I realise that Living my life would be honouring so much of the Love you poured into mine.
At this I smile and try on a new year without You.
It is a month today after the death of my father. I am designing now using his lenses and my own. Knowing and trusting this helps me believe that the work I produce going forward will be a synthesis of both mine and his courage, insight and wisdom.
I will not go gentle into that good night, daddy.