My father died three months ago today on April 18, 2019. Some days I cry. Some days I talk to the sky — in case my dad hears me and I often yell at him for leaving my sister and I like he did. Every day his death crosses my mind, but as a freelancer — the grieving process has been complicated because when you own your own business, the show must always go on…even when your father is on a ventilator with 0% chance of waking up again.
Many companies offer bereavement when you lose a loved one. Freelance life doesn’t come with bereavement. It comes with “Holy fuck, my dad is on life support” as clients call you while you’re on the line with the ICU doctor explaining aspirated lungs, sepsis, pneumonia, and the reality of the horrible nightmare of a situation.
Grief is hard. Grief makes you tired. Grief can overtake you — especially when you have no time to reflect, sit in, and process the death of your beloved father because your to-do list is a mile long. Grief isn’t a fleeting emotion — it lingers, it stays hovering over your shoulders … no matter what freelance website project you’re working on or what copy you’re crafting for a blog.
Death is a bearer of chaos. Even when a body is cremated and put into pocket sized urns, the chaos doesn’t stop…but you can’t turn a switch off to cut the chaos out of your life when you own your own business. You can pretend the chaos and the grief isn’t there, but in all actuality — it’s there and now it’s a part of your day-to-day routine.
I like to think I’ve done the best I can over the last few months given the situation, but even today — the chaos and grief from my father’s passing clouds my heart and looms over me as I try to pick up the pieces and push forward in my career and get back to my life, which I realize will never, ever be the same again.
A lot of people have told me to take a break, go on vacation, or just stop working for awhile. It sounds tempting. It sounds just like what I need, but when I’m responsible entirely for my own income — I can’t just take off to Costa Rica to sit on a surfboard in the ocean and process what it means making the decision to pull your father off life support. Also, my dad would hate me to just halt my life, stop my work. A phenomenal business man himself, he would for sure tell me: “Charlsie, get the work done. Keep moving forward. You owe it to yourself. You owe your grief over me nothing.”
With all this in mind, the voice in the back of my head — my Dad’s voice — has been a critical momentum driver for me to keep on keeping on. And his three most important life lessons have become a staple in just how I can move on (even on the hardest day), piece by piece…moment by moment.
Kick ass and take names — According to my dad, work is all about “kicking ass and taking names.” He always told me that if you kick ass at what you do, no one can stop you — no one can slow your roll. He always told me that if you kick ass and take names, you establish yourself as an expert and an authority figure in your field. Despite being lethargic and filled with sadness over his death, I have promised myself to keep kicking ass and taking names…because he would want nothing more. When I’m tired or sad or emotionally drained by the reality that my father is dead — I realize with a little patience, this doesn’t mean I have to stop from rocking and rolling and kicking ass on all the work I’m producing for clients.
Be a decent human being — My father had a wild streak of compassion in him that often surprised those around him (including me). Whether it was buying dog food for the homeless man down the street so he could feed his chihuahua or helping out a friend in need — no matter the cost or request, my dad believed that if you could wake up in the morning and be a human being to others through helping, listening, giving back, or just smiling at someone on the street … you were doing your job as a human being. My dad was a workaholic but despite his perfectionism in the workplace and his hard working mentality, he believed the best accomplishments he could make in life were the ones where he was “just a decent human being.” He never said be a “perfect human being,” instead he always said “a decent human being” is all that you have to do to truly get by and make an impact to those around you. Today, I wake up every day and hope that I can do something that would classify myself as a “decent human being” because with him gone, I still want nothing more than to make him proud.
And lastly, his favorite rule of all time…
Always have fun — Growing up, my dad always had one major rule (especially on the weekends)…and he’d say it like this: “There’s only rule — you gotta have fun.” Despite not wanting to leave my apartment or acknowledge that I’m 31 year old without a father as I go through the motions of his death, his voice has remained constant in the back of my head: “There is only one rule and one rule only — you have to have fun.” Mourning the loss of a parent is anything but fun, but knowing just how much it would mean to my dad to give myself some space for fun fills even my worst days with some lightness.
In a demanding industry with clients needing this and that and new business inquiries coming in and meetings here and there — freelancing is not forgiving when those horrible, life shattering moments happen in your life. Freelancing is constant. Freelancing is all encompassing. However, the rules my dad lived his life by have been top of mind and because of this … I’ve been able to break the chains, a little bit, from the freelance beast that keeps you in a seat with your laptop and an endless to-do list.
While freelancing hasn’t let me fully have time to digest what happened and how it happened and everything from A to Z that comes from a parents death, I have to say … the things my dad shared with me for the majority of my life have been running through my mind during all hours of the day and night as I work to accomplish my goals.
So Dad, thank you for believing in me when I decided to freelance and thank you for leaving me with three bits of wisdom that I will carry in my heart forever. I miss you. I miss talking business. I miss venting. But thank you for sharing your rules to success, even under such horrible circumstances — your wisdom has been a comfort blanket for the last 3 months and I’m forever grateful that those lessons will live on in my heart and in my work ethic.