I’ve lost two loved ones to suicide.
For a solopreneur, keeping the business doors open after a loved one kills themselves is hard. And exhausting. But it’s possible.
Here’s My Story…
Over 20 years ago, Jill Whalen and I spoke at our first international event.
We had just started RankWrite, our newsletter about SEO and writing, and getting this speaking gig was a big deal.
The day after I flew back home to the States, my soon-to-be ex-husband emailed me a suicide note.
I immediately called 911 and asked the police to conduct a wellness check.
An hour later, a police cruiser rolled up outside my home.
My husband had shot himself.
Were there signs?
We may have been in the middle of a divorce, but we still talked.
Heck, he even picked me up from the airport.
He wasn’t talking about suicide, giving things away, or acting depressed.
Suddenly he was dead in one of the most violent of ways.
I had zero dollars in the bank, and no staff or family to help me.
All of a sudden, I was forced to deal with this big…thing… while still making my mortgage.
My first inclination was to work.
All the time.
I would head to my favorite Starbucks around 9 a.m., work for 10+ hours, and drink 5-6 lattes.
Jill was fantastic during that time (thanks, Jill!). Plus, I had a therapist and two wonderful friends who helped me during those dark days.
I don’t know what I would have done them – they kept me sane during a very insane time.
But, unfortunately, my two friends wouldn’t be in my life for long.
One friend died of ovarian cancer around eight years later. My other friend ended her life a few years after that.
It. Was. Devastating.
Just like with my ex-husband, there was no warning.
I knew she was going through some stuff, but I didn’t realize she was hurting that badly.
Our phone chats were mostly positive and upbeat. I had no idea she was thinking of checking out.
In fact, we had plans to see each other that month.
One second I was planning to drive up to Bellingham, Wash., to see her and surfing Airbnb listings.
The next, I was canceling my plans and trying to wrap my head around what happened.
The only connection I have with my friend now is an old voice mail. I still play it from time to time.
Slowly, I got used to the fact that I couldn’t call her anymore. Or see her.
And I healed. Mostly.
It’s taken years.
What Have I Learned?
Dealing with unexpected death – especially suicide – taught me some critical business and personal lessons.
Here’s how I kept my business going…
I Learned That Clients Do Understand & Want to Help
There were days when I didn’t have the brainpower to handle client tasks.
Before, I would have imbibed a lot of caffeine and pushed through.
Now, I know that it’s better to own what’s going on and let clients know.
And guess what?
None of my clients fired me or asked me to source another vendor.
In fact, they told me that they understood, and I could take my time. That support was priceless.
I Prioritize Having a ‘Just in Case’ Fund
There are times when working is impossible.
Having a “just in case” fund allows you to take time off to grieve, take care of a loved one, and recover.
Even a month of operating expenses can take the pressure off and give you the space you need.
I am a big fan of using automatic transfers to build a savings account – especially if saving money isn’t your thing.
It’s easy and painless and a fast way to build funds.
I Have Process Documents Outlining How to Do Everything
Let’s face it – the last thing you want to do is answer a customer service or client question after hearing devastating news.
If you’re a solopreneur, consider documenting everything you do so someone else can step in and take over.
Speaking of someone else…
I Don’t Try to Do It Myself Anymore
I had no help when my husband killed himself, and I ran myself ragged trying to do everything.
Today, I’ve learned to let go of the tasks that someone else can handle. I now have an excellent team of people who can keep things going without me.
I learned some personal lessons, too, like…
I’m Fully Aware That Life Can Change in an Instant
People can be here one day and gone the next.
This is both a life-changing realization and something that fills me with fear.
I don’t think I’ll ever get over the fear of someone I love suddenly dropping dead.
I’m Conscious of Making Sure I Connect With My Husband – Truly Connect – Every Day
Same with friends. Heck, even my cats.
Our time here is so short. I want to mentally record all the happy memories I can and – as Kurt Vonnegut suggests – think, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
I’ve Learned to Let Go of the Why
But it took me a long time to get there.
I spent years cycling through “why did they do it” thoughts.
Were they that unhappy?
What was the final straw?
Why couldn’t they come to me?”
I’ll never know.
Some questions in life go answered.
That’s hard for someone who wants data and answers and clarity. 🙂
Chances Are, You’ve Lost Someone to Suicide Too
I’m so sorry.
It’s important to note that the SEO industry has lost some brilliant friends to suicide. People who helped create search as it is today and influenced best practices.
For many, the pain and loss are still fresh.
Know that if you’re hurting because a loved one killed themselves, there is help. There are friends and support groups and Facebook groups. All you need to do is reach out (which can sometimes be the hardest part.)
Just know… there are people willing to listen. And help. And understand.