10 ways grief has impacted my leadership style

I should have a 5 1/2 year old starting Kindergarden this September.

I have two incredible daughters, one 4 and one 2 next month…. but if on March 26th 2005 our first born  hadn’t died, I would have a daughter starting school this fall, in addition to my two younger ones being in pre-school.

How does this all relate to me as a leader? I’ll connect the dots in a minute for you- but first I’ll tell you about my journey.

In March of 2005 after a picture perfect pregnancy and routine delivery, our daughter Caitlin Anne was born. At that moment, holding my daughter, I felt as though everything in my life leading up to this moment was preparing me for this… the feeling of purpose, connection and readiness to welcome this little person and guide her through life. Unfortunately what was the happiest day my life a few hours later quickly became the worst of my life. Caitlin’s heart rate suddenly plummeted and medical staff fought to figure out how a 7.5 lb healthy baby was all of a sudden crashing every 20 minutes or so without any apparent flags or clues as to what was causing it all to happen.

Long and terrible story short, Caitlin passed away at BC Children’s early the next morning… and so began a journey of the likes I could never have prepared myself for. The best and worst day of my life all in one.  Yet even in a haze of grief I knew something. I knew that I was a different person from the person who went into Lion’s Gate on the 25th to deliver a baby. Becoming a mother just heightened and deepened everything I felt passionately about. Losing my daughter took it to another level.

I took four months off after Caitlin died and in those early days, JP and I spent time with family and loved ones and counsellors and doctors… but the time that was most significant was the time we spend on our own. We took off to Tofino and spent time with the wild west coast of BC and just paused. We were not escaping, we were certainly not trying to forget, we weren’t angry, we were just being and away from everything seemed to just feel like the best place to just be .

Right from the start we talked about Caitlin and what happened to us and it seemed just the natural thing to do… not to bury the grief but to face it- in all its wild rollercoaster of emotions that accompanied it. People had no idea how to approach us, how to make it OK for us, but most wanted somehow to just connect.And in their own ways, people found incredible ways to connect; Those tiny gestures were the ones that helped us in those first weeks: Colleagues getting together and sending us a little glass angel with a thoughtful letter; food in our fridge when we got home with loving notes from friends. Cards and emails and handmade bracelets and charms and voicemails. It was incredible.

In the first weeks home, we gravitated to those who had reached out to us, not because we needed to lean on them necessarily, but because we felt comfortable to just be ourselves. And to talk. I realize now that my STORY was important to me to tell… because it wasn’t just my story, it was my daughter’s as well.  Listening was one of the greatest gifts we got from those around us.

The maze of tests and research that went on that spring and summer to try to find out what had happened so catastrophically to Caitlin came up empty… and finally the conclusion was that she had suffered from an untraceable metabolic disorder that didn’t allow her to thrive outside of the connection to MY metabolism.

The journey we have been on since 2005 has been significant in many ways, but as I reflect 5 1/2 years later, some things have really landed with me. I realize who I am as a leader, an entrepreneur and business woman (not to mention wife, mum, friend and other hats I wear but will leave for other posts) is the sum of all my life experiences to date, but most significant in those has been the birth and death of my daughter Caitlin…so here are my beliefs about how grief has made me a better leader

1) I “pausefrequently:It’s about mindfulness and stepping outside my busy life to “notice” what I notice; to pause and reflect on the present… to help confirm or reframe what the future looks like

2) I listen to my “what’s important in life” internal barometer: Losing Caitlin has left me with an invisible but incredibly powerful barometer inside me for what’s truly important in life.  That barometer guides decisions at all levels, personal and business

3)I have an appreciation for others’ story: We all have a story. We have several stories. Stories and experiences have the power to connect total strangers, and deepen ties between the best of friends. I am fascinated by the dots that get connected when you take the time to hear the stories.

4) I am OK with some things not having an answer and certainly OK with me as a leader not always having the answer. Sometimes it’s “let’s figure it out together” and other times it’s “I just don’t know the next step: let’s talk about our options”

5) I am more transparent: Prior to 2005, I was quite careful about the crossover between “Christine the Leader and Christine the person” and that has all but disapeared. Authentic leadership… leadership where people can connect to the humanity inside you, is what builds the strongest ties. I feel much less pressure to be anything else but “me” at all times.

6) I am way more comfortable with white elephants: Perhaps because I have experienced it firsthand, I tend to not shy away from conversations I would never have started 5 years ago… even if it’s just saying something like “I’m so sorry about…”we make all sorts of assumptions about how people will feel about us asking questions or noticing something about us, but my experience has been… the opposite is true. People appreciate you noticing… and if they REALLY don’t want to talk about it, easy enough to steer the conversation away.

7) The best laid plans can go terribly wrong… : I know where I am headed, but am much more comfortable deviating from the plan if circumstance demands it

8) My Time is the most valuable thing I can give someone: Time is not a quantity thing. It’s a quality thing. How you SHOW UP for someone, for something, can be incredibly significant… even in a moment. Time I now see as a gift- something I can give to someone else, and something I am conscious of more living in the “present”. It’s about mindfulness.

9) No regrets: Whenever I am faced with a big decision, I think through the outcomes; if I can live with the worst outcome knowing there is a way to move forward from there, it’s usually a big filter for me. I don’t want to look back and not have gone for it.

10)I think even bigger than before: Something in me today believes in the possibility of things that I never would have had the courage to think about. I have experienced firsthand the tremendous power and brilliance of people connected with a purpose and I believe people can accomplish incredible things together

And so here I am, Sept 2010 reflecting on some of the countless lessons my daughter Caitlin, even in her short time with us taught me about myself. I know the lessons will continue to reveal themselves moving forward. As my doctor Karen said in a card to us that spring of 2005…. try not to be sad she is gone, but happy she was here. It’s hard not to be sad, but I have to say it is EASY to be grateful for the incredible lessons I have experienced.

PS- for those who have joined the Impact People Practices Facebook page, you know that $1 per fan is going to BC Children’s Hospital Foundation to the Caitlin Anne Memorial fund… just another way that I know we are honoring someone who has proved that IMPACT is not correlational to size or time spent on the planet.


  1. Kim Houlahan on November 25, 2010 at 5:13 am

    Christine…just read your post about how grief has impacted your life. Very moving. It’s incredible how you have emerged from this. Two of my dearest friends have lost children. Your words pierced my heart. Your resilience has reminded me of their resilience, and their continued resilience. Thank you for sharing this story, it’s given me a great deal to think about.

    • christine on November 26, 2010 at 4:01 am

      Thanks Kim- every experience in our lives changes us in some way… I think of our little angel and would love more than anything for her to be here today, and yet I have felt all along she is on this journey of life with us- very much so… we just can’t see her here the same way we see everyone else. All around us we meet people who have undergone incredible hardships- and my heart feels bigger and more connected to that somehow now- to feel a deep empathy- for the mum or wife who has lost a son or husband at war, for parents who have sick kids in hospital, …… we all live “loss” in some way. It could be loss of life, of limb, of health, of relationship, of job…. and it makes us all connected somehow… because the thing is, we can EACH of us make a difference for someone who has gone through a hardship- in sometimes tiny, imperceptible ways. Needless to say my capacity to be “present” in each day of my life has increased exponentially- and my understanding that THIS is life.. it’s the sum of all our exeperiences- some of which we design and others we are hit head on with- but they are our exeperiences, our badges, and we accumulate them and hopefully get wiser as we go to the interconnectedness of it all.

  2. Alex Hugessen on June 25, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    I was scared to read this but glad I did. One of my biggest fears in life is that I have yet to suffer a tragedy like this and I can’t help but think I am due (messed up thinking, I know). Thanks for sharing and I’m glad that you have healed enough to do so.

    • Anonymous on June 27, 2011 at 5:33 am

      you are not messed up Alex… a few weeks ago I went on a ladies’ run clinic
      in Tofino and I had a bad dream the night before about one of my kids
      getting hurt that weekend and I was so close to cancelling the weekend
      away.. I didn’t but I texted my husband more than a few times checking
      We all have our journeys and we figure out ways to move forward when we get
      hit with what seem like insurmountable roadblocks.. it’s not always tidy or
      pretty… but we do just that…. move forward. We never leave behind our
      grief, I think the best thing is to take it with us and imperceptibly…
      over time… it becomes less “achy” and more like a badge we wear that
      defines our strength. The minute I became a parent, I wanted nothing more
      than to be the very best me I could be… and three times over I have
      reasons to think about that every day.. in EVERY aspect of my life.

  3. Gstroud1 on June 27, 2011 at 9:14 pm

    Thank you for sharing your stories of courage to carry on. I am proud to say that I worked with women and their children from abusive situations for many years. From them I learned about true courage and resiliency. I learned what being truly non-judgmental as I really don’t know their story. They are the true heros, because against all odds they carried the vision of “hope”. Hoping life and believing life would be better for them and their children. They gave me the inspiration to make some of the hardest decisions to let go of the small stuff and focus on what is most important to me and and individual.
    And Yes I can’t agree more to permit and allow people who have had major challenges to speak and share their story. Often we forget their broken heart or spirit because it is unlike a broken bone-it is unseen!

    • Anonymous on June 29, 2011 at 6:54 pm

      WOW- that is a whole other series of painful issues… and such different
      pain from what we experienced- Everything surrounding the birth of our
      daughter was to do with love… and recently I have come to understand more
      statistics in the area you speak of- of women who have fled abusive
      relationships to protect their kids… and truly this is such a different
      kind of strength- the strength those women require to overcome the FEAR of
      what could happen if they left (or if they stayed), some of these women not
      having a penny to their names… is SOOO incredible.
      when you are a kid likely you have had a parent or adult tell you “what
      doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”- the older I get the more I see that
      over and over to be true. So glad we connected Gail : )

  4. Twylah.com-Kelly Kim on September 3, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    Thank you for sharing this journey with us, Christine.

  5. Sharon Eden on September 23, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    Powerful, deeply rich and inspiring.  Thank you Christine!