You've struggled with it, taken risks for it, poured your heart and soul and dreams into it. It's your company. Your business. Your "baby."
Now it's failing -- near death. You can't meet your payroll or pay your bills. You can't buy materials or adequate insurance coverage. You can't get more credit. Every day you go to work filled with desperation, but what shocks you most is how heartbroken you are -- and paralyzed.
You can't find the energy to rise to this final crisis. You can't bring yourself to notify your few remaining customers or cancel your lease, see the people at the bank or tell the people who work for you to start looking for new jobs.
Instead, you stare at the phone, willing it to ring. Or you cry until you're sure you have no tears left, then cry some more. You can't eat, or you can't stop eating. You can't sleep, or you can't stop sleeping. You can't feel much of anything one minute, then suddenly feel so sad and angry that you want to break out walls.
The one thing you can't seem to do -- and the one thing you must do -- is accept the inevitable, walk away, and get on with your life.
If your company is one of the more than 75,000 small businesses the Small Business Administration estimates will fail this year, it may help you to know that your feelings of shock, depression, grief, anger and despair are perfectly normal.
Most people in your situation go through all the stages of grief that we experience after a divorce or the death of a loved one: shock, denial, bargaining, anger, grief, depression and, finally, acceptance.
"I'm coming out of the denial stage, I guess. A year ago, I'd have killed anyone who hinted at the possibility that my shop might fold," said a friend whose one-of-a-kind-jewelry business is folding because too many of her best customers also are feeling the effects of this recession.
"I've certainly been bargaining -- with bankers and creditors and my landlord and my suppliers -- and with myself," she added, rubbing eyes red from nights spent crying instead of sleeping.
"I tell myself, 'If I can just pay off a few more bills, then I'll be ready to close up shop,' or 'If I can just get one more big contract and pay off some old bills, then I'll quit,' or 'If I can just hold out a little longer, maybe I won't have to quit after all.' "
When it becomes clear that bargaining won't work -- that the RTC divorce or death or failure of a business is inevitable -- numbness usually sets in, followed by -- or coupled with -- grief, anger and depression.
"I haven't felt angry yet, but I'm incredibly sad," said my friend. "I haven't cried like this since my divorce, and I haven't lost a loved one or gotten a divorce; I'm just going out of business!"
What's important to remember, if your business has become a casualty of this recession, is that all grief is about loss, and losing a business into which you've poured your hopes, dreams, energy, assets, pride and identity is a terrible one. It's also important to remember that grieving is a process, and that it will end one day, as unlikely as this seems now.
"I know I'm grieving, but when do I get to the acceptance stage?" asked my friend through her tears. "When is it going to be possible for me to let go of this damned company and get on with my life?"
The answer is painfully simple: When you've done all the denying and bargaining, crying and raging that you need to do.
"At least it's good to know that I won't always feel this terrible," she added with a lopsided smile. "It's good to know that I'll be able to pick up the pieces one day and find something else to do. It's good to know that I will stop hurting this much -- eventually."
The best way to ensure that you'll stop hurting -- eventually -- if your business is dying is to neither edit your feelings nor second-guess and judge yourself, but to experience each stage of the grieving process in your own way, and in your own time.
Universal Press Syndicate