Two months before my world went supernova, I got laid off from my job. At the time, we laughed about it. We were just married and just post parent-cancer-scare. Brian was himself post-operative (hernia), and my pregnancy was troubled. Oh, and it was Christmas. So of course I lost my job. Ha, nice one, Universe! What else have you got for us?
We found out, of course.
But then I was so grateful to be out of work. I couldn’t imagine going to an office every day – facing other human beings who knew who I was, and what had happened. Who, God forbid, needed something from me. Lilly, my stepdaughter, was the only person on the planet allowed to need something from me then. I appeared in public only at her school recitals and soccer games, wearing Liz Taylor sunglasses and carrying a bag of knitting projects to bend my head over.
I tried to imagine myself in dress slacks with an armful of file folders where a baby should be and felt nothing but relief at the idea of letting my career slide into oblivion. I collected unemployment. I found freelance work. I stayed home.
* * * * * * * *
There are mile markers on this grief trail. Anniversaries, firsts, a certain number of good days in a row. They exist, I think, to light my path towards some sort of normalcy, and to let me know I’m not out here on the road alone. But when I see one of those markers coming up I just think: No, no, no, fuck no! And I try to slow myself down, but it’s no use. The clock ticks, and my body zips by.
But my heart is torn out all over again—it’s back there in the dark behind me, heels dug in, staring down that marker, refusing to budge. No way. No, sir. I am staying right the fuck here. Because who wants to move one single inch, one single second, further from the last moment they held their baby in their body, in their arms?
So I curse and cry and stomp around for a few days. Eventually, mysteriously, my heart lets go and, in slingshot motion, snaps back into my body, and forward we go. Because, oh hell, there’s nothing we can do about it anyway, and someone’s got to get dinner on the table.
* * * * * * * * *
I did not want a job. I wanted to be home with my baby. With that option gone, I stayed home with my grief for two years. What do you call that? Stay-at-Home-Griever? So when Brian showed me a job listing over Thanksgiving, my reaction was: No, no, no, fuck no! Mile marker ahead.
This was a job I could probably get. And if I got it, there would be no reason not to take it. The hours and pay were good. The commute was short. The organization did nice things, like feed homeless people. And it had been almost two years, after all. So I began:
Resume updating (reluctant). Phone interview (heart with heels firmly dug in). In-person interview (denial: I don’t think they liked me). Call back for second interview (Dammit, tears). Job offer (There’s a recession on, so who I am to turn my nose up?). First day (Actually, this could be good).
Thus I have a new job. It’s part-time, with some hours from home, which suits me nicely. The place is chaotic and full of well-intended people who know almost nothing about me, which suits me too. There are no dress slacks to be seen, but I do wake up and put on my game face, and pour a to-go mug, and schlep out into the snow to get some work done in the service of another cause. And it’s kind of fun.
I do worry about my bad days—about being productive through tears, about looking like a mad woman, about one day waking up and being unable to get out of bed. Failing them spectacularly at some critical juncture seems inevitable. And I feel a little guilty—like I am putting my daughter into Griever’s Daycare.
But overall I thought this would be harder. I thought taking a job meant I was putting more of her behind me, or trying to get back to a time before she existed. Then again, I always think that sort of thing when I pass a marker. My heart panics, but when it catches up with reality, everything becomes clear: she is still with me, she is still gone. No more, no less. Wherever I put my heart and my energy now, it is because of her and what she has made me. She can’t possibly be left behind.
* * * * * * * *
How long did it take you to go back to your job (or, unpaid work like volunteering, helping your church/synagogue, sitting on boards, etc.)? How has loss changed your relationship to your work? Has work been a respite or a burden? What your strategies for coping with grief at work?