A new kind of normal

Quick, write. Before I manage to distract myself with a job search or the Christmas newsletter I’m yet to finish and post.

This is a (very) personal post, not one I would normally write here but one I feel compelled to write to my professional friends who have shown their support on Twitter, and/or have had me in their thoughts and prayers over the last month or so.

For those who don’t already know, my life changed forever on the night of the 5th of November. An exact time, I don’t know. But I received news around 10.30pm. My Mum had suddenly passed away.

As I move the bag of packing supplies I purchased on Friday afternoon away from my desk to sit, it is another reminder of the task before me – packing up my mother’s life and home.

My Mum who I’d have a cuppa with, weekend paper strewn over the table. My Mum who cleaned the gym to reduce my training fees. My Mum who loved Christmas morning. My Mum who sat in a workshop I co-presented at NLS6. And took notes.

As ‘big sis’, I bear a lot of responsibility at this time. There is no manual or set ‘to do’ list, though as a friend pointed out today, I could probably manage to write one. I’m fumbling my way through. Mum, in ways made recently evident, always knew I’d take care of her no matter what happened.

I’m into my third week of returning to work and not quite at capacity yet. I returned to work on 27th November, the day after my birthday. I was looking forward to seeing the team who sent me flowers and just wanted to see I was okay. But my return was harder than I thought. As I walked up the pathway towards the door, my chest started to feel like it was caving in. I walked through the corridor and up the stairs to my desk cautiously, conscious of who might see me. I spotted a colleague of mine who had checked in on me every day since the 5th. She had a hug for me. The tears threatened and I started shaking. Another colleague-become-friend walked up to me for a hug…. I continued to shake. My chest hurt. Before anyone else could approach me, she had me downstairs in the tea room for a cuppa. No matter how I felt the previous day, the positive thoughts of returning to professional me, nothing prepared me for what I experienced as I stepped inside. I was little more than a zombie for the rest of the day but I made it through, thanks to members of my team.

One thing I really, absolutely suck at is leaning on others (no surprise to some). I have received incredible, generous support during this time. My best friend from primary school (whose life was also touched by my Mum) flew in from Mackay to stand beside me and turn the pages as I presented the eulogy to a full church. And yet I still feel I need to take all the burden on myself. My hands shook as I put flowers in a basket that I had decorated, minutes after the service but I did it. Mum’s day was going to go off without a hitch if I could help it.

One of my strengths however, is to do what’s required and get on with it. Find out if I don’t know how.

A few things have seen me through this last month:

  • Writing, journaling. As much as I can. It can feel like crap, but, better out than in.
  • Communication (and being honest) with others and what I needed. I’m fortunate to have an amazing partner, my travel companion and teammate of six years.
  • A small circle of people who looked out for me, checked in on me, while I was busy informing people, making phone calls and consoling others.
  • A workplace that is understanding of my mind wandering off, distracted from time to time.
  • Accepting help.

In the week before Mum’s passing, I had notified my manager I will not be signing a renewal to my contract in my current role beyond end of January. I still feel this is the right decision. Much like Amy Steinbauer has advised over at INALJ, job searching gets extra challenging during these times. Keeping the goals and what I want in sight is more important now than ever. I hope the new year will bring me meaningful work and a new stage to my career.

I will continue to write as I move into a new kind of normal. My posts here may be scattered for a while during this time, but writing this post marks a step in the right direction.

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