Navigating grief as a business owner: 6 things I learned

Inevitably, business owners will have to navigate grief at some stage.

It’s a matter of trying to keep your business afloat for the long term, when, not if, something bad happens.  

Business ownership is often described as a roller coaster: there’s the adrenalin rush of the highs, the disorienting twisty turns where you almost lose your lunch, and the constant momentum of moving forward.

And then grief comes along and throws a spanner in the works.

Some deeply sad, tragic or destabilising life event happens and suddenly the ride comes to a screaming halt.

That was my experience, and I’m still trying to find my way through.

My in-laws are elderly, increasingly frail and live in the UK. In some ways, with Facetime and video calls staying in touch with family overseas is easier than ever before, but nothing is the same as being there. And Australia is a L-O-N-G way from England…

Despite my sister- and father-in-law’s dedicated loving care, my mother-in-law’s health was deteriorating. It was obvious she needed specialised nursing 24/7 so she was admitted to a care home.

In January, our trip to Adelaide was interrupted by worrying calls from England. Carl felt the need to fly out to be with his parents.

We frantically booked flights 

I went back to work on Monday morning and packed a funeral suit in his suitcase on Monday night. He flew out the next day, after calling clients and postponing the next month of scheduled work, uncertain when he’d return to the country, let alone his business. It wasn’t the start to the new year that either of us had planned.

With an eleven-hour time difference, we’d go to bed on opposite sides of the globe and wake up to Messenger threads of the latest updates: him being called in to the nursing home, Mum’s long periods of unconsciousness, funny stories when she was still able to talk but misheard because she was so deaf, funeral planning arrangements and lots and lots and lots of waiting.

It was like living two lives  

The one where I slept in my own bed, got up, worked with my clients, cooked dinner for my boys, delivered training and paid the bills, and the English existence where I was at a bedside, living and breathing last moments, trying to plan what hymns would be sung and who’d do the eulogy, while the rest of my life was in limbo.

Clients were incredibly understanding. In all honesty, there’s nothing like the death of a parent to make people stop and empathise with you, extending the kind of grace, sympathy and consideration I’ve never seen before. And that’s something we are both truly, deeply thankful for.

When THAT phone call came, everything shifted 

The flight was a blur. We took our laptops over to the UK and I was planning to work remotely, thinking I could check in and manage things via email. I work in the digital space after all, so I’d probably be able to keep working, right?

Wrong. Honestly, I couldn’t even open my laptop. When I glanced at the computer, I knew deep in my gut I had zero capacity for any level of professional, logical conversation, let alone problem-solving or collaboration. 

Navigating the grief was debilitating 

This shocked me. I thought I could stay in touch with what was happening in my business, but I couldn’t. I was only able to face my inbox after the funeral was over, which was once in a three-week period.  It was certainly less than optimal business practice and not one that I’d recommend.

As business owners, Carl and I are 100% self-employed, which means when we don’t work, we don’t get paid. Factor in the true cost of extended leave, airfares, car hire, interrupted projects, shifted (or dropped) priorities, no leads in the pipeline and the impact on both our businesses has been significant.

Xero reconciliations didn’t get done. Bills were late. Insurances lapsed. Enquiry emails went unanswered, and I dropped off the face of the earth on social media.

All my mental and emotional energy was sucked into the vortex of dealing with the practicalities of the death of a parent: my grief, Carl’s grief, discussions that need to be had about funerals, wills, powers of attorney and care arrangements for my broken-hearted and physically ailing father-in-law.

It goes without saying this resulted in dismal business revenue. You’ve probably noticed I didn’t title this blog How to Navigate Grief and Still Make a Profit in your Business.

There’s no roadmap for this big life stuff. It looks different for everyone.

In this season of business, what was most important was not my business, it was my family. 

I’m no expert and next time grief makes an appearance, I’m sure circumstances will have shifted and it will look different.


1.  Not every season is one of growth, and that’s okay. Sometimes the best thing you can do in business is just to survive and come out the other side in one piece.

2.  Running my own business gave me the flexibility to do what was right for my family in a period of grief, and not have to ask for anyone’s permission to take leave.

3.  Structure life (& business) so there’s breathing room. I’m so glad we did this. It means there’s petrol in the tank, savings for a rainy day. We have Plan B, Plan C and Plan D for when Plan A doesn’t work out. We’ve built contingencies so we can focus on the important things, not just the urgent things. Working with my business coach has been vital in making that happen.

4.  Set realistic expectations with clients. We run our businesses on the principle that it’s better to under-promise and over-deliver. Clear communication where everything is down in writing means everyone can refer back to it and minimize confusion. Be honest with clients. Tell them what’s happening in your life. You might find that people are more understanding than you think. (And if they aren’t? Here’s How to Say No)

5.  Build a support network where you can. A couple of my most trusted business friends said ‘Let me know if you get stuck with anything while you’re away’. And I know I could have called those favours in if I needed to. Your clients will appreciate it if you can refer them to someone you trust if they are desperate or need something you can’t deliver in the required timeframe.

6.  Be kind to yourself. Everyone grieves differently. Since we got back, it’s been a purposefully slow re-entry into life and business, giving us both a real chance for recalibration. I want to move into the next season with purpose and reshape my business focusing on doing what I love, while still having flexible options.

I’m still figuring out how to process the sadness and loss. I’d love to know what helped you through a time of grieving or trauma, either in life or business. Drop me an email and let me know.