by Christine Macleod
This is a guest post by Christine McLeod CHRP. Christine is the founder of Impact People Practices an HR & Business consulting firm that will turn everything you think about people on its
head. Be prepared for innovation, new tools and a fresh approach to HR,
training, branding, engagement & authentic relationships with the people
around you. It’s HR of the Future.
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 doctorsвЂ¦ 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
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 tellвЂ¦ 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
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
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 pause frequently:It’s about mindfulness and stepping outside my busy life to notice what I notice;
to pause and reflect on the presentвЂ¦ to help confirm or reframe what the future
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’ truly important in
life. That barometer guides decisions at all levels, personal and business
3)I have an appreciation for other 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
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
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
My Time is the most valuable thing I can give someone: Time is not a
quantity thing. I’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 fundвЂ¦ 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.