Lessons From Grief: Learning Worthiness and Priorities in My Career

Contributed by: Michelle Malawer, owner of Dating by Danya. Twitter: @MichelleMalawer @DatingByDanya

Two years ago, on August 5th, 2014, my mother died. It had come suddenly, a slow descent over what happened to be five months.

After a rocky start to my career, everything was finally in order I thought: I moved from D.C. to Philadelphia for a paid internship at a web design firm that would turn into job. Moving and housing arrangements were hastily made and I left to greet my future. But two weeks later, I had a choice: I could stay at the firm or come home. My mom was dying.

It had started as an emergency visit to the ER: my mother couldn’t breathe. It turned out a tumor was pressing on her trachea. She had stage 4 lung cancer. She needed a tracheostomy, then a ventilator, then chemo. Everything happened so quickly. She was in the ICU for a month, then a step down unit. It was not only difficult to know what to do, but difficult to know what she wanted to do: The cancer had paralyzed her vocal chords. She could not use her voice.

There were conversations. Several groups of doctors explained to us her options were rehabilitation and physical therapy or hospice. It became clear, however, hospice was the only compassionate answer.

There was no tug, no pull, no question that I would leave the internship in Philadelphia even if they could not hold it for me. It felt natural, and right, I should return home. Not that my mother and I had a smooth relationship - we didn’t. She always wanted to be closer to me than I allowed her to and at the time I didn’t respect her. But somehow I felt guided, and supported, by the universe - there was no doubt in my mind I was doing the right thing.

No matter how tough each day was - there was the day the hospice almost let her suffocate and the day she almost fell on her head - it felt like I was a higher version of myself and that I was plugged into the divine order of things.

It surprises me, but the most difficult part of everything was not her dying, or giving the eulogy, or standing at the burial. It is the aftermath. Building my life, and career back, day by day. Because I quit the web design, I needed to find another job. I found a job ghostwriting profiles that was remote and part-time. For a year after she died I allowed myself the luxury of working part time in order to spend the other half healing in the comfort of my home. Then a cousin suggested I start my own business ghostwriting online dating profiles and that’s what I’ve been doing for the past year.

The last five months I spent with my mom taught me important lessons, most notably that life happens outside the office. It showed me I would be best served with a flexible job so that I can show up to the important things in life, a key motivator in deciding to start my own business. It also taught me that unless I make a conscious, concerted happy to be happy, my mood will rarely be “pleased” or “happy” or “contented.”

And most importantly, though, it taught me that the universe has infinitely better plans for me than I can possibly come up with.

Building my business is a series of saying “yeses” even though I don’t know the outcome. It is highly uncomfortable and I don’t know whether I will succeed or fail. But I need to try because my mother taught me, in her dying, my worthiness. That I cannot deliver mediocrity, and unhappiness, any longer.