Last year my husband died suddenly. These are the life lessons I’ve learned from his death.

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My first conversation with Tim was during one of those silly ice-breakers at university. You know the kind: you learn a bit about the other person, then introduce them to the rest of the class. From the start, I was struck by his great sense of humour and sparkly green eyes.

Three months later he slipped a business card under my windscreen with the words “Wanna Go Steady?” on them. I still have it all these years later.

After years in corporate life Tim took a redundancy and happily nominated himself into his new role as “Dobby the house elf”. Tim delighted in his role as dad to our three little ones (a.k.a. Nutlets) and as mentor and advisor to his two older children. Our family motto was (and still is) “adventure”.

Tim was my best mate for 17 years and the love of my life. Late last year, he passed away suddenly, aged 54. This was so far from what I imagined for my family. I became a widow in my forties, and our world shifted overnight.

Now that some of the fog has lifted, I want to share a few things that I’ve learned, to offer hope to those trying to navigate through their own challenges.

coping with grief kate nuttal
Tim and Kate. Image: Supplied.

It’s a fine line between grief and resilience

I found the finality of death to be intensely confronting. There would be no more calls on my way home with my trusted partner, no more shared parenting, no more lovingly made dinners waiting for me after a day at the office.

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At the same time though, this feeling of finality stirred something in me. I have to step up, I still have a life to live and children to raise. From grief I’ve found an energy and a desire to readjust to these new circumstances and think about what options I do have.

I still have days where I am overcome with sadness and loss, but I can’t live in this space for long before grief gives me a kick in the butt with a “so what are you going to do about it?”

Sometimes you can’t fit your own oxygen mask first

When Tim passed away, all I could focus on was my children. I couldn’t find the space or desire to look after my interests until I knew they were OK. With a background working in the airline industry many people said to me – “Are you looking after yourself, you know you need to fit your own oxygen mask first, right?" I was eating and sleeping (and crying), but what got me up every single day was my kids.

I had to let go of my independence for a while and let others look after me, and I am so grateful for every hug, meal, school run, Facebook message and text that I received during this time. Communities and connection are important, especially in a time of crisis. I learned to be open to the support of others and to embrace every little bit of support that came my way.

Listen: The book anyone who has been touched by grief needs to read. (Post continues...)

The future can still be great

I’ve always been a note taker, and as I review my notes from my first weeks back at work it's an interesting cacophony of estate planning, shopping lists, funeral planning, sport registrations and recruitment requests and change management. In amongst it all, I found some scribble on a presentation I attended on “coaching through change.”  The facilitator shared the basic equation of Experience + Reaction = Outcome.

In this I saw opportunity to change the outcome and to use my energy and attitude to drive toward it. I could sit in a state of misery and grief for months (and many people, I’m sure, would sympathise with that) or I could change my reaction to ensure that I have a great 2018.

I firmly believe the year ahead can still be great, and that I have the capacity and choice to make sure the children and I make the most of what we have.

Your workplace can be source of support

I used to believe that companies don’t really have a heart - it’s the people who work for them that hold the heart. I never thought of companies having arms though. NAB, Air New Zealand and Mondelez, as current and past employers of mine, all put their arms around me and my family in a time of need and gave us a great big purposeful squeeze of support and love (yes love!).

As a HR practitioner I am intrigued by this, how do we capture that magic and replicate it in an authentic manner? There are many options already in play but do we make the most of them? Employee Assistance Programs, leave, flexible hours, meal rosters and just good old mateship – helping out a colleague in need.

So how have I applied some of my learning?

I’ve become extremely organised at home (I am still very much in learning mode with this one. I need to learn that I can’t be in two places at once!).

I take a moment to breathe and reflect before reacting.

I let myself be helped.

I pay it forward. I can do a few things for my community, at home and at work to provide the kind of support and love that I have experienced in my darkest time. I hope too, by being open about my own 'face full' of challenges in this article, that you can find some insight that helps you during your own.

Life is short, let’s make the most of it. Seek the next adventure.

Kate Nuttall is Executive General Manager, People at NAB.

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