Reflections on finding comfort in change and living with loss
With four days left to work and plans to start a new job a day later, I got the call that would irreversibly change my life. My mother had a massive brain aneurysm and was placed on life support. I dropped everything to fly 3,000 miles across the Atlantic to say my final goodbye to my advocate, my best friend, my mother. Two weeks later, I started my new job and tried to get on with life as best I could.
A year later, it would appear little has changed. I am once again ‘between jobs’ and facing the possibility of moving home again to find work. From immigration status, to employment security, to emotional well-being – I have had few certainties. When I wrote my book What I Know about Jumping, I could not have anticipated that life would continue to be unsettled two years later!
As I face another major crossroads, unlike last year, I feel unsteady on my feet without my mother. She was my anchor, instilling me with confidence and keeping me grounded in purpose.
But that’s how change works.
It can be seen and unseen!
Having come through the worst part of grief, I can now appreciate the vantage point that time has afforded me. From this tearfully won position, I can clearly see how the experiences over the past year have resulted in continual opportunities to learn, develop and grow.
So to move forward, I have gone back to collect the learnings from this past year. I share these learnings with hope, that they too may help others find comfort in change and learn to live with loss. As always, take what works for you, leave what doesn’t.
1. Life goes on, even when we have a personal crisis
When we experience a personal crisis, we can’t Stop all the clocks and cut off the phone‘ as W.H. Auden would suggest. We live in a fast-paced, 24-hour world, where our personal pain does not protect us from the realities we face each day. Hours after taking my mother off of life-support, I sat at her kitchen table finishing a job application before the closing deadline. While it was almost impossible to focus, what I still can’t comprehend today is why I didn’t just forget about that damn job application! Was it the right thing to do? Who knows? But for those few minutes, I was transported from the hellish nightmare I’d been suddenly thrown into.
Today, it is a personal reminder that life goes on,
no matter what happens.
2. Learn from others that share your experiences
With a new job waiting for me to start, I felt pressure to ‘go back’ to work sooner than I would have had I been returning to an existing job. It also happened that David Goldberg, CEO of SurveyMonkey also unexpectedly died, just three days after my mother. It was the first time I heard of David, or his equally famous wife, Sheryl Sandberg. I found myself following their tragic story in the news and later, found immense comfort in reading about Sheryl’s decision to return to work ten days after losing her husband. Her very public loss and decision to return to work, privately gave me the confidence I needed to start my new job fourteen days after my mother’s death, coincidentally, on the same day as Sheryl.
3. Unspoken benefits of new jobs
Change on top of change, can be doubly challenging, but it can also be a positive. Despite my fears, there were some unexpected comforts in starting a new job after my compassionate leave ended.
On the surface, the new surroundings held no reminders of my loss. Physically, I was happy to be at a new desk, one that I hadn’t sat texting my mother several times a day, nor did it have a ‘spot’ for my iPhone – so I wasn’t unconsciously looking at the ‘spot’ expecting a text from my mom any minute. More profoundly however, was that my new co-workers did not have an emotional investment in my loss. When they saw me, they just saw me. Unlike my former co-workers, where the bonds of friendship were strong, the sadness in their eyes brought floods of tears within a single glance.
4. Cry until you don’t need to
While the new office became a sanctuary from my grief, providing a mental break from my emotional loss, I did not allow it to prevent me from fully grieving. Most of the time I was able to hold back the tears at work, however, I gave myself full permission to cry anywhere and everywhere else outside of work – at the grocery store, in the car and at home.
I cried as often and as much as I needed, until I no longer felt the need to cry.
5. Be honest, starting with yourself
It is not uncommon for people suffering grief to experience intense emotions (anger, doom, guilt, pain) or to display unusual behaviors. It is easy to be embarrassed or feel ashamed that we are not ‘old ourselves.’ However, ignoring our grief or trying to be ‘strong’ will not shorten the grieving process.
The traumatic nature of my mother’s death, and my subsequent job change, in many ways ‘short circuited’ my memory. For many months, I could not remember a thing! After realizing what was happening, and finding myself unable to remember names, or other details, I began warning co-workers and apologizing often. It was important to me that my new co-workers knew that my extreme forgetfulness was not a reflection of how I valued them, but was a result of my grief. Being honest, starting with ourselves, helps us through the grieving process and adjusting to our new loss.
And, practicing the art of apology goes a long way with our relationships with co-workers.
My experience has taught me that starting a new job provided me with a level of comfort that I had not anticipated after my mother’s death. Whether returning to an existing job or starting a new one after a painful loss, we may find ourselves behaving, feeling and thinking differently. It may seem as though we have to re-learn how to work and live again. Today’s fast-paced world encourages us to be in constant motion and does little to truly acknowledge our pain (We don’t ‘lose’ our mothers – the reality is more violent than that). Death changes the living, so acknowledging this important lesson allows us to do so again.
Having been on this yearlong journey to this new crossroads, I’m taking these hard won lessons with me. So whichever path I do follow….
I will make sure to keep a steady foot
and go gently ~