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  • Hannah Duncan

Freelancing and grief ๐Ÿ’™

Updated: Nov 22

On Wednesday 7th September at 9 pm, I stopped breathing properly. My grandfather's neighbours - who are sort of like family - called me to say that they'd found him face down on the floor, unable to get up. My heart flipped and plunged. No sleep that night.


Trying to care for a loved one and freelancing


The next morning, I was bombing it down the M4, trying to steady the steering wheel despite my shaking hands. I remember it was raining like hell. I also had a bunch of articles due. I vaguely heard on the radio that the Queen died. But somehow none of that registered.


When I got to Carmarthen, I screeched up his drive and hurtled up the stairs to his house. Seeing Grandad trying to get up from his armchair to answer the door was agonising. It hurt to watch. He was so scared of falling again, he hadn't eaten a single thing for two days straight.


I couldn't leave his side. For the next eight days, every time he moved or made a noise, my heart lurched. It felt like a stone was dropping through my body. For over a decade, Grandad had lived with prostate cancer, but it had never really affected him before. This incredibly frail man wasn't the same person as last month.


Just a few weeks ago, he walked a mile every day to collect his newspaper.


Just a few months ago, he'd been jiving into the early hours with his neighbours.


Just a few years ago, he was wearing a hard hat, building volunteer railway lines and dismantling the greenhouse.


This was the man who built my bed, my bedroom and was the most solid rock in my life. Now he couldn't walk up a single step without effort. I couldn't believe this was happening. And I couldn't breathe.


Unfortunately, that was also the week that I was supposed to start writing for The Banker. It was a career-defining moment. I'd finally become an FT Writer. Sucking all the internet out of my phone, I desperately tried to type. But it's f**king hard to care for someone you love and write about finance at the same time. Your fingers won't move and your brain won't think. Instead of inflation rates, you find yourself wondering if you have enough stock cubes for soup later. Or if that noise was a snore or a cry.


Battling stress, sleeplessness and deadlines


Oh yea... And there was this whole other side. I was staring at my open laptop trying to write anything sensible when I looked up and saw someone I hadn't seen for nine years. A face I recognised so well, and yet at the same time not at all.


Family members I thought I'd left behind a lifetime ago resurfaced. People who have hurt me more than I ever thought was possible. Suddenly I have to face them. Make them a cup of tea FFS. And be strong about it. Protective. It's hard. Really hard. It opens a can of psychological worms. And two articles are due today.


Physically and emotionally, it was heavy.


On day seven, my brother, Grandad and I sat in A&E for 21 hours. It was freezing. I was with him during heart-wrenching conversations. I had to explain what "Do Not Resuscitate" means. When Grandad said, "Do you mean die normal?", I made a noise between a laugh, gasp and cry. "Yeah, that's exactly it", I replied. "Would you like to just die normal?". He said yes.


Working-not-working


Over the next month and a half, I moved between Carmarthen and London. Client meetings were replaced with hospital calls. Desk chairs became plastic blue waiting room seats.


Even when I was "working" at my desk in London, I easily could spend upwards of four hours on the phone with nurses, occupational therapists, social workers and palliative teams in a single day. As the weeks passed, my money fell to almost nothing. I didn't even earn enough to pay my mortgage. My savings expired. The stress was mounting.


The weekend before Grandad was due to come home, I trundled loads of bedsheets and duvets to Carmarthen for family and carers. We'd moved the world to create a kind of mini-ward in his living room. But he never left the hospital.


Five days and nights in hospital


Holding hands for five days

Over the last five days of his life, time stood still. The two of us were in a bubble, far away from the real world. He was unconscious, with a syringe driver full of morphine, flying high above us. And I was living off fear, adrenaline and the surreal trance-like state that happens after days of no sleep. How long have you gone without sleeping? I managed just three hours in five days and five nights. Door handles moved up and down on their own. Music made shapes. And the garbled WhatsApp voice notes I left my family sounded like I was drunk.


The nurses were so incredibly kind. Neither Grandad nor I could have coped without them. They gave me toiletries, clean clothes, blankets and pillows. They gave my grandad dignity and a pain-free death. I will love them forever.


At 4.20 am on Thursday 20th October, he died peacefully. I was stroking his hair, kissing his cheek and saying thank you. Have you ever seen a loved one die inches away from your face? It's not as scary as you'd think. Just like we might shut our laptop at the end of a busy day, or throw our jacket on the sofa after work... Grandad just stopped breathing.


Trying to carry on...


Calling all the family wasn't easy. Packing his stuff was really hard. Driving his car home was almost impossible. And getting to his house alone was super f**king painful. I vaguely remember something on the radio about Liz Truss resigning but it didn't register.


In the weeks that have followed, as a freelancer, I haven't had the luxury of grieving. I still can't breathe properly, and I think it might be something to do with my workload. It is INTENSE. My clients have been amazing, extending deadlines and forgiving some lateness... But I still have more than 40 articles on my plate. And that's just some of the work. And I'm so broke now. It's crazy.


Since I was in the hospital with Grandad, I missed the VAT return date. So now, I have to pay a 15% fine too. Oh yay. I'm contesting this in a small claims court, which is another massive headache. Honestly, everything hurts. I have no savings anymore, nothing in my business account... But ยฃ4k is overdue in VAT. No matter how much I work, it will be a while before I can spend the money on something for me, or take a break to rebuild my soul.


Being a freelancer is TOUGH. There is no denying that. You've just got to carry on. Keep going.


Right now, I need to find my way back. Get back to writing my blog, and wanting to explore the world of finance with passion. I still can't breathe properly. The past two months don't even feel real. Just this strange sad numbness. I lost my grandad - my rock. The person I would usually turn to when I need support. He's gone.


I don't know how other freelancers manage


This experience has filled me with admiration for freelancers who deal with heavy things all the time (probably much better and more professionally than I did!). I think there are a lot.


A high proportion (14%) of the UK's disabled workforce freelance. And the number is growing every year. For five days and nights, I decided not to leave the hospital. But imagine if it wasn't my choice, probably vast swathes of freelancers must balance serious health challenges with work every day. That must be incredibly hard.


I've also heard of or spoken to a number of parents who chose to freelance because their child has special needs. People like freelance writer Lisa, for example.


I wasn't sure if I should write this blog. It's a bit personal, isn't it? But I wanted to explain why I haven't been posting recently. I'm really humbled and grateful to everyone who reads my blog... So you are allowed to know why! :D


I guess my takeaway message is this .... Be kind to freelancers. The same way you'd be kind to your workmates. We're tough cookies, but sometimes the world is even tougher โค๏ธ



Thank you to my clients, editors, readers, friends, fam and hunky boyf for sticking with me over these past weeks. โค๏ธ

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