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I'm sal robertson

I'm a 52 year old life + business coach, aspiring writer, entrepreneur and mother of three (ages 21, 18 and 14) plus a doting mother to my furry son, Milo.

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How do you grieve the loss of a parent during a pandemic?

April 2, 2020

 

The view of the New York skyline last Friday morning as I spent time thinking about my dearest Dad while his burial was taking place 3,000 miles away.  Is it just me or does that look like a broken heart above the Empire State Building?  It also looks like Woodstock on a skateboard 😉

Hello you,

Oh my goodness, how are you?  It’s a simple question that has taken on so much more significance in this crazy world that has so suddenly become our new normal.

This newsletter is supposed to go out on a Monday but honestly do any of us know what day of the week it is at the moment?

In my last newsletter, I talked about my Dad and how his health had declined very suddenly.  Sadly, he passed away on March 7th.  I had flown back to England to be with him almost a week before he died so I got to spend his final days with him which felt like such a blessing and privilege – increasingly so as more and more people are now dying without the comfort of family or friends close by.

I flew back from England on March 14th. I felt like I needed to be with my children for a week or so before returning for Dad’s funeral.  Once I was back in America, it soon became obvious to me that there was no way I could return for the burial.  It was a decision which would have seemed unimaginable just a few days earlier.

As the day of the burial got closer, I started to wonder what you are supposed to do when you can’t go to your Dad’s funeral.

I planned a day where I could immerse myself in my sadness and grief.  My sister and I had thrown ourselves into funeral planning the week after Dad had died and, although I had cried a lot, I felt like there was this untapped well of sadness inside me that I needed to honor.

The burial was taking place at 3pm in the UK which was 11am for me in America.  At 10.55am, I walked to the waterfront and stood by the Hudson River.  As I looked at the New York skyline, I listened to the playlist I had made for Dad during his final days – lots of bagpipes, John Denver, Rod Stewart and Dean Martin – and I remembered so many lovely memories of time spent with him. I had a wee dram of Glenfiddich malt whisky with me (one of Dad’s favorite malt whiskys) and raised a toast to his life and memory.  I sobbed my way though the songs and threw some thistle (as the Scottish national emblem) into the river.

I then went home and watched lots of Billy Connolly and Morecame and Wise videos and laughed/cried my way through them.  One of my earliest memories of my Dad is as a 7 year old girl watching Billy Connolly’s breakout moment on the Parkinson Show in 1975.  It was the first – but definitely not the last – time that I remember seeing my Dad laugh until he cried and could barely speak.

I also spent some time watching videos of Dad and I talking together from when I went home to spend time with him at Christmas.  It really felt like it was just the two of us talking together again and it made me both laugh and cry.

What I want to share is advice that I have always given to my clients and which I gave to myself this past week – it is SO important to really lean into all of your emotions.  I think that is true during normal circumstances but especially so during an unprecedented time like this when you are experiencing such a roller coaster of emotions.  It is obviously much easier to lean into happy feelings than sad ones but I believe – with my whole heart – that leaning into sadness, grief and pain is the ONLY way to feel any degree of healing or comfort.  I dedicated the day of Dad’s burial to my sadness and really leaned into it and immersed myself in it.  I felt the grief going through me in waves but each wave of sadness felt as though it was mixing together with all the happy memories I have of Dad. My grief at losing Dad and my love for Dad were blending together in what felt like an ocean of emotions. I accepted the sadness and heart ache as a consequence of having loved Dad so very much.  I’m going to make time in the weeks ahead to keep leaning into my grief as I know that I have only scratched the surface of it.

During the past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed messages about the importance of feeling everything including pain and grief in so many places – in the book “Untamed” which I read last week, in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy and in a podcast with Brene Brown.  It was as if there were reminders posted everywhere for me.

“I did not know that I was supposed to feel everything.  I thought I was supposed to feel happy.  I thought that happy was for feeling and that pain was for fixing and numbing and deflecting and hiding and ignoring.  I thought that pain was weakness and that I was supposed to suck it up.”
– Glennon Doyle in Untamed

“We give children stickers and lollipops after they visit the doctor.  We congratulate them for putting on a brave face. Here’s some candy kid, try to smile.  We do it to adults too. It’s considered impolite to discuss your cancer diagnosis at a dinner party.  You’re supposed to smile, make small talk, suck on the invisible lollipop. Because for some reason someone decided a long time ago that naming pain is impolite.  That hiding it and hiding from it makes more sense. It doesn’t. It’s a lie. A lie that both comforts and destroys us.”
– Meredith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy

“We run from grief because loss scares us, yet our hearts reach toward grief because the broken parts want to mend.”
– Brene Brown

As you navigate this new normal, please carve some time out to really feel all of your emotions.  Don’t try to push down the fear or sadness or stress.  Equally, don’t feel bad to feel joy or delight at some aspects of being forced to slow down.  Lean into all of the feelings rather than pushing them away or avoiding them.

What do you do if you’re not feeling anything?  If you are feeling numb, it can be helpful to listen to certain songs or watch movies that help you to cry or laugh.  Dad’s playlist instantly transports me to my grief and sadness but in a truly beautiful way.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by sadness, anxiety or stress, please reach out to a friend, family member or therapist for support.  These are incredibly challenging times – if you need support, please reach out to someone you trust to give you the support you need or to help you to get the support you need.

I’m thinking of you and your family and friends.   May we all stay safe and well and loved.

Take care,
Sal xoxo

Things that have inspired me or made me laugh or cry in the past week or so …

Books:
Untamed by Glennon Doyle. I read this book in two days.  I have SO much to say about it so I will be writing some blog posts and recording some podcast episodes about the aha moments and lessons I learned from this book.  I absolutely LOVED it!

Podcasts:
Brene Brown has just started a new podcast and it is wonderful.  I highly recommend the following episodes:

Glennon Doyle and Brene on Untamed – this is how I learned about the Untamed book.

Brene on FFT’s (f’in first times) – this had some truly helpful advice on navigating first times whether personal ffts or global ffts like the one we are all living through.

Videos:
I LOVE this video of a family’s re-imagining of One Day More from Les Miserables  – click here to watch it.

An extraordinary first dance at a couple’s wedding – it made me cry but also made me want to take dance lessons again once life returns to normal.  Click here to watch it!

TV Shows:
I don’t want to disappear down a Netflix/Hulu rabbit hole but I am choosing to really indulge in shows that I truly love.  I am SO enjoying This Is Us, Modern Family, Grey’s Anatomy, Liar (UK show) and The Good Doctor.  There is something very comforting about setting time aside to escape.

i'm sal robertson

I'm a 52 year old life + business coach, entrepreneur and founder of The Next Chapter Lab.  My mission is to encourage women in their 50's to make this next chapter their happiest and most meaningful one yet!

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