From Complicated Grief to a Thriving Startup: How I Overcame the Loss of My Mother

Complicated grief. It’s a thing. For those who have never lost a loved one, you may be of the thought that grief is as simple as black and white. I know I was. I had felt grief before, eventually coming to terms with the loss and carrying on as normally as possible, but after my Mom passed away in October 2015 it was like nothing I had ever experienced before.  The medical term for what I experienced is complicated grief and it was fucking hard. Like black hole kind of shit.

alone-back-view-blonde-247195My Mom will always be my best friend, my biggest cheerleader, my proudest supporter and, as she was for my whole life, a wonderful single mother. Myself; an only child, she and I conquered the world together and I was lucky enough to learn the ropes of life from her. My Mom was the kindest person I have ever met, she was caring and strong and she loved people. She loved helping anyone she could, she loved making people feel good about themselves. She especially loved me, more than anything, and she would tell anyone who listened about me (embarrassing when you’re a kid but am I ever grateful for that now). She was funny and smart and cool and she was beautiful on the inside and out. Her heart was big and her mind was bright.

I got my love of entrepreneurship from her, though I didn’t know it at the time. My early adolescence and teen years were spent with her in her office, filing folders in alphabetical order and pulling tracking numbers and shipping orders but mostly just fiddling with office supplies and writing stories on her clunky typewriter. My Mom owned her own international freight forwarding business, named Alishan Transportation- our names Alice and Shannon combined. Later, Alishan because Nahsila Freight Services, the original name backwards.

She worked hard. Long days in the office, nights and weekends lugging me to hockey practice and out-of-town tournaments, caring for my grandmother and my mentally challenged uncle who both lived with us. She volunteered. She ran for city council. She was the trainer for my hockey team one year and the treasurer another. She fucking rocked. And I had the audacity to call her a workaholic. I recently found an article that RBC did on her in 1999 and in it there was a quote about me saying she worked too hard.

Little did I know back then that her hard work was instilling the same thing in me; that her example of how to live a meaningful life without even trying would help me through my darkest days without her and would guide me to where I am today.

Losing my Mom was my darkest hour. Faced with being completely alone in the world; no siblings, no second parent, no spouse to turn to I fell into a darkness I couldn’t get out of. I have wonderful friends, I have other family members who care but for the first time ever in my life I came to the realization that I was no longer anyone’s first priority. Who would call me on a Sunday morning to make sure I got home from the bar okay the night before? Who would help me if I fell sick? But most of all, the worst of all, was that I no longer had my Mom. My person. My life guide. My role model.

And living became hard. Without her, life didn’t mean anything. Without her advice, without her calming voice, without her knowledge, without her laughter, without her guidance. Life was only a distance reflection of what I remembered it to be and I felt my positive, optimistic self start to disappear.

This went on for over a year and that’s when I realized it was deeper than regular grief. Complicated grief, again, is a real thing and my breaking point came the week before my second Christmas without my Mom. It was 4am and all I wanted was to be with her. I couldn’t bear living life if she wasn’t here. It scared me because I had never once in my life felt that way. In tears I called my best friend Lauren, as I lay on the middle of my living room floor in the middle of the night on the brink of giving up. She got me through it and two days later I got a call from the hockey team I was doing marketing for, saying that one of their players had broken his finger and would be taking on the role of Sales & Marketing Director. His name was Kris McCarthy.

Two days after I almost threw in the towel, Kris came into my life. Two days. And now I am here with him, together building our startup, FanSaves, and working harder than either of us ever have before. The first day Kris and I hung out our minds instantly merged and it was like we were the same person, literally finishing each other’s sentences. We have managed to navigate building not only a business relationship but also a personal one and I am lucky to once again feel like I am someone’s first priority.

There are things I do daily and business decisions that I sometimes make that seem to come from within me. Answers to questions I didn’t think I knew roll off my tongue as I recall the hours spent in my Mom’s office listening to her make important phone calls as she dealt with people all over the world. These are the days when I hear her voice and feel her in me.

I know she is proud of me and I know she is pulling some massive strings up there in heaven. From Kris coming into my world and literally bringing me back to life, restoring my drive and motivation, to the amazing things that keep happening for FanSaves which are a mixture of hard work, sheer luck and some higher powers pushing us in the right direction. Kris and I often look at each other in disbelief saying everything that has gotten us to where we are is too strange to just be coincidence.

Losing my Mom at such a young age made me realize just how short life really is and how every day is a chance to take life into your own hands and make your dreams a reality. My Mom always told me to dream big and I continue to dream bigger every day. I refuse to waste my life doing things that don’t make me happy, bring out the best in me or steal my sunshine. It’s an eye opening revelation I may have never taken seriously, had I not lost my Mom. Every day I wish more than anything I could call her and thank her for giving me the toolkit that has gotten me where I am today or ask her for business advice or just to say hi and tell her how much I love her.

It’s been two years since my lowest point and I still have hard days but I have learned to live and thrive knowing that my yearning to have her back will never truly go away. Thankfully, I have found my way out of the darkness and I was able to overcome my complicated grief, turn it into something positive and get my joy of life back. Along with some good old fashioned healing time and a strong support system, our budding startup FanSaves has revived my spirit, given me purpose and made me feel like me again… and I know that’s all my Mom would have ever wanted.

Dedicated to the memory of my mother, Alice Ferguson (July 10, 1951 – October 29, 2015) and to all those dealing with any type of grief. You are not alone and you are stronger than you think.

If you or someone you know is dealing with complicated grief please reach out for help: 1-800-273-8255. If you are in the Cornwall area, Bereaved Families of Ontario is an excellent resource, as well.

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