No relief

I am sitting here doing what I wanted to do all day – crying.  Crying about what isn’t, what is gone.  I am an emotional wreck because today was the first day of school.  This would have been the first day of the new school year since Kevin retired.  That fact really hit home when I went on Facebook and saw a picture of one of Kevin’s co-workers sitting in a lawnchair in her pjs, a cup of coffee in her hand, in front of the school that she taught at with Kevin.  This was something he would have done, laughing and calling out at his friends as they went into the school.  I woke up to this image and it brought back painfully how much I loved him, liked him and needed him –  he was the centre of my world.

Unfortunately for my co-workers it also set the tone for the day. The self-talk that went through my head today was all negative.  Nothing was good enough, right or made sense to me.  It was a day where I should have worked in isolation, but instead had to interact at a level that was beyond my reach.  Better to stay silent than say anything – which is exactly what I tried to do – put my head down and just get through.  I just want this day over.  How many times have I said that in the last 17 months.  Far  too many, too many days where I’d like to pull the bedsheets over my head and avoid everyone and everything.

It’s been almost a year and a half but that doesn’t make the hurt go away; it provides the time to compartmentalize, to package up the pain and hide it away so it is not bare and exposed, but it doesn’t go away.  Like today, today it was in every thought I had.  I saw no joy today, only sorrow.

 

Equal Opportunity

I innocently overheard a conversation at my workplace last week. It was between two of my coworkers; they sit fairly close by. There is no ego shortage in my particular area of work. We all have our strengths and weaknesses and we all have strong opinions. But I hope that we all have the capacity to accept others’ input, thoughts and ideas. What I overhead suggested that maybe we don’t. We talk at length about stereotyping, systemic barriers and racism, and we all try to watch out for it in our language. But there are those times when a simple statement should be examined, when we need to sit back and say, wow, did I just say that? That’s not right.

It’s those dismissive statements we make, assumptions about a person based on how they present themselves. When a person is sized up and judged on appearances. When someone is dismissed as offering less in the workplace because of their educational background or the type of work that they do. When we make judgments without knowledge, statements without facts. You never know what a person has to offer. Appearances can be deceiving. What a person knows can’t be measured. There are all sorts of contributing factors that help build a person’s knowledge base. Universities can and do churn out thousands of MBAs, PhDs and the like, but having the head knowledge and firing up the neurons to make meaningful connections between that information and the real world, the practical application – for some it just doesn’t happen. For others, even without formal education they will make the connections, they can do the job. It takes all kinds.

So what was it that I overheard? It was a comment related to a job competition and how administrative clerks where applying, and how they should know their place. And yes, I weighed in with my thoughts, they got my input. I started off in the admin pool, I could list off at least six other people now in much higher profile positions than me that started off as admins. I also told them about a young man I worked with 15 years ago, he started as an admin – now he is a director in a division with hundreds of employees. Even with formal education in a specific field you sometimes have to take what you can get and then start down the path to where you want to be. Just because someone is presently acting in an administrative position doesn’t mean they don’t have the knowledge, skills and abilities to progress outside of the clerical realm. It’s called equal opportunity.

My Screensaver is Death

Truly it is.  The screensaver on my computer at work is about death.  It is a visual of a small child in a state of despair overwritten with a message about speeding and those we leave behind because of our irresponsible behaviour.  Death is not written out as a word, but the innuendo, the unspoken, is about loss – DEATH.

I work for a large organization with thousands of employees.  I work at the main office and my computer is part of the centralized network.  In the last week someone in authority okayed the use of the screensaver as a broadcast mechanism to relay this message.  Ticks a box of sort I suppose.  I don’t go to work to think about death, dying, loss or any of that stuff.  I do that well enough on my own, especially this week.  The last week of March brings what would have been my anniversary; it also marks one year since Kevin’s death.  Needless to say, I am thinking about death a lot.  Work provides a distraction where I can immerse myself in activities that take my mind off of death, loss, dying – all those sad and sorrowful thoughts.  At least it did.

After the first day or so of “the message”, I emailed our technical department to politely ask to have it removed from my workstation.  It is upsetting, morbid and, personally, I find it quite stressful.  Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if it only popped up first thing in the morning, but it doesn’t.  It pops up all throughout the day; every time I lock my screen, whenever I don’t utilize the computer and it is dormant up pops that screensaver.  Unlike a television channel I don’t have the option to turn it off or make it go away.

I have learned over the last few months that there are triggers that can start a downward spiral.  I know, for example, that if I go into Kevin’s art room I will invariably cry.  I may choose to go into the room but I don’t have to if I don’t want to.  When I do, I accept the consequences of my actions, I am prepared.  Mentally prepared; I either steel myself emotionally because I want to work in the room, or I may open myself up because I feel the need to be close to my late husband.  At the end of the day I have a choice.  This silly little screensaver does not give anyone a choice – you can’t hit escape to get rid of it.

My request to the technical department was acknowledged but identified as a low priority item – for them.  For me it is not.  How dare they take away my safe space!  I found myself so angry this morning when I had to go in and face that messaging yet again.  I had a meltdown and ended up with my manager at my desk telling me she’d do the best she could to remedy the situation. Admittedly I am a bit out of sorts and I knew I’d have a tough week, but work had factored in as part of the solution to getting through this time, not as part of the problem.  The busier I am the faster the time goes; I am using the head down and get through it approach.

I don’t need a screensaver to serve as a touchstone to loss, sorrow, sadness.  Really, who does?  Does the employer think that the employees feel good and positive after viewing this message? For the normal person it’s a downer, for me it’s an emotional brick they keep throwing at me.  Truthfully, I am strung so tight right now, I feel if I have to face that message again tomorrow morning I may just head back home.

 

What’s In a Job?

Today I had a job interview.  Still within the organization that I work for, but different job, different department.  One of the perks of working for a large size employer is the opportunity to try new things.  This is something that I have done many times over the years, moved around, tried new things – some worked some didn’t.  If I didn’t try though, I wouldn’t know.  Usually I opt for temporary assignments, it gives me, and my new boss, a chance to size each other up and to see if we are a good fit.  I also believe it makes me a better employee by increasing my awareness of other areas, of ‘who’s who in the zoo’ – who the decision-makers are, and why and how things get done.

This job interview was actually a major step for me.  Since Kevin died I haven’t felt comfortable with pushing any boundaries or taxing my ability; his death literally wiped me out.  Besides the emotional ups and downs, there was an associated fatigue that seemed to seep right into my bones. There was brain fog, a cloudiness that descended on me, possibly my mind’s way of coping with Kevin’s loss and aggravated by lack of sleep.  These things made it hard to think and even to express myself coherently. Consequently, it became a challenge to do even the familiar which was frustrating and served to increase the pressure I placed on myself.  I would find myself measuring how the ‘old’ me worked versus how the ‘new’ me did.

My physical stamina was a concern, particularly on my return to work.  Even a phased return, with minimal hours, left me absolutely spent at the end of the day.  After I returned to work full time I still had to be mindful and accept that my capacity was diminished.  This meant standing down on multi-tasking and ultimately reverting to methodically doing one thing at a time.  Then I began to increase my workload; to return to where I thought I should be, able to do what needed to be done.  The end goal was to get through a day of work and still have some energy in reserve to focus on other activities outside of work.  I believe I am finally getting there.  I must be, since applying for a different job is something the old me would do routinely.

Kevin called me a ‘job hopper’.  He would show me our red vinyl book of telephone numbers for family and friends and say, “Count ’em, honey.  Count how many phone numbers there are in there under ‘Mom’s Work’.”  Truly, I have to say, there were a lot. The job hopping ended completely when Kevin was diagnosed with cancer.  After his death, and when I was able to start back to work, it was comfortable and necessary for me to go back to the familiar, to my ‘home’ position where I felt safe, to work on regaining my capacity. It’s a good indicator that my capacity is back when I start contemplating trying something new.  So, whether or not I am successful in this most recent hiring process I still feel like I accomplished something – I buffed off and shined up a part of myself that has been lost for the better part of two years.  If I get the job, for old time’s sake, I might write it in the red phone book and just imagine hearing Kevin say, “Geez, honey, at some point you have to settle down.”  Nope, no I don’t.

It’s A Two-Way Street

Today I had an appointment with my GP.  It was a routine appointment required by my employer, as I am on a graduated return to work.  It hasn’t been as easy as I thought, getting back to work on a full time basis.  Fortunately, I have a good employer and I know it.  This was part of the conversation that I had with the GP today.  I realized, however, that it’s not really the employer that I am referring to when I speak about a good return to work experience.  In my case, my employer employs thousands of people, and is simply the larger body that holds the policies.  My return to work has been ‘good’ because my immediate manager has people skills.  In my working life I have had good managers and not-so-good managers; at this point in my work life I have good managers.  It makes all the difference.

It’s a two-way street, this street that I am on – from manager to employee as well as employee to manager.  This is where the Lessons From Kevin that I am so familiar with have become invaluable.  Throughout our marriage there were several maxims that prevailed and could be applied to just about any situation:

  1. Never assume anything.  Ask questions until you get all the information you need to make an informed decision.  If you don’t then you have only failed yourself.
  2. If it’s important, then let me know.  Any communication, good or bad, is better than none.
  3. Most things in life don’t go away if you ignore them, deal with it before it really becomes a problem.
  4. Don’t test me.  If I don’t know what you want, how can I possibly deliver?  You set yourself up for disappointment and me for failure.
  5. Family comes first – always.  Work may pay the bills, but you only get one family.

It’s not hard to transfer these rules to my workplace.  Number 5 may seem disconnected but it actually guides all my decisions.  It is my responsibility to look after myself to ensure I am healthy and well and here for my family.  All the others are self-evident and can really be distilled down to effective communication and personal responsibility. (He was a teacher after all….)

I miss him.  He had a line for everything under the sun.  ‘I’d read your mind but I can’t read print that small.’   Have a problem, deal with it – ‘don’t make your problem my problem’.  When he was caught violating one of his own principles he’d shrug it off and say, ‘So?  I believe in hypocrisy.’  He was shameless.  Life was to be lived. He could push too hard sometimes, but somehow he’d be able to make things right.  He was predictably unpredictable, something he delighted in – you want off the wall, he’d deliver.  Ultimately he was faithful, to himself and to others.  His classic signature line was ‘love and peace’ and his most often delivered counsel to the children growing up was ‘love is the answer’.  How could I not miss him?