Posts tagged “returning to work”.

Work

I wrote this entry back in March and for whatever reason, never uploaded it. Probably too busy with work! So much has changed since then, but rather than rewrite this, I’ll just let it stand on its own, representing the person I was four months ago …

It has been a long seven months since I wrote last. Returning to work was hard. Welcome in some ways – work provided order to the emotional chaos of grieving – but also very draining. For about 12 hours every day, I live, eat and breathe the fight against cancer. It is good and meaningful work but it is not a small job.

I must rigorously follow the news, keep up on the latest trends in communication, and not just be aware of, but understand and be articulate on the latest cancer developments and how they shape our work. To do all of this, I lead a team of 14 professionals who crank out a lot of work with very few resources. (And, by the way, that 14 is down from 26, two years ago, thank you very much, Great Recession.)

I say all of this not to complain or even position my situation as any better or worse than anyone else’s but to put some context around the fact that success in this position is an all-or-nothing scenario. And sometimes I can’t give my all. On a typical day, I give it my almost-all, then go home and give everything that’s left to Nora and Henry. Then I put my head under my pillow (sometimes literally) and try to recharge for tomorrow. (This post can serve as an open apology to Steve, who really gets nothing from me Monday to Friday.)

But the hardest part of working is not the work. Because I love my job. It’s exactly what I want to do. I love leading my team and contributing to the leadership of an organization that I can still say, after almost seven years, I really believe in. No, the hardest part of working is not the work and the stress and the pressure. The hardest part of working is the physical separation from the people who are the center of my world.

Now, every minute we spend together is far from pure bliss. (I mean, last Saturday Henry had a temper tantrum through a megaphone. Literally. It was one of those days that I understood how hard it is to be our neighbors.) But when such an epic loss strikes a family, the interconnectedness of each to the other is magnified. The loss of Anna was quickly multiplied by how many other losses there could be. What if I lost Nora … Henry … Steve. And now I know that this is the greatest risk to sanity: standing on the edge of the chasm of great loss, and knowing there will be more.

I followed this line of thinking one day: when can I let go of the gripping fear of losing another child? I must get past the fragility of infancy. Genetics, disease, infection. I must get them through the accident-prone toddler years. Choking, drowning, poisoning. I must protect their childhoods. Predators, allergies, accidents. Then I will navigate them through the bold teenage years. Alcohol, drugs, driving.

And then, after all that, is there a sigh of relief? No. There is still irrational risk-taking, random sickness and disease, tragic accidents, heinous crimes. For a parent, there is no finish line. There is no time when losing a child is bearable. Not at three months, not at three years, not at three decades.

There is no end until my own end. I am certain that I would not survive another devastating loss. And yet I cannot live waiting for my own death. So the only answer is to let … it … go.

Here is the giant truth: Any of us could die at any moment. And there is nothing anyone can do about it. So, we just have to let it go. Ignore the specter of death lurking behind every corner. Forcibly return to ignorance. Forget.

When I went back to work, only six weeks after losing Anna, I had not yet forgotten. Leaving every day, there was part of me that was sure I would never see any of them again. At first it was really intolerable. As the weeks and months passed, it got better. The forcible forgetting was helping. The acceptance of complete and utter lack of control was kicking in. But there were days that brought it all back full force.

In January, Steve and I went to Paris for a week. I almost had a nervous breakdown at the airport. Both ways. In February, my friend and colleague’s daughter got very sick and I was reminded that Anna’s death was not a one-time deal. Those I love, those I care for, those I don’t even know … we’re all living on the edge, a heartbeat away from tragedy. Just last week, Nora came home sick from school and I wasn’t there to pick her up, cool her fever, soothe her fears. I was working. I tried to keep the specter at bay and finish the work at hand, but eventually I all but ran out of there, and got home to hold my sweet, sick girl.

I know there will continue to be days when this particular aspect to losing Anna – eating from the tree of knowledge and seeing death as the true yin to the yang of life – will again rear it’s ugly head. Perhaps it will get easier as I lean less on forcibly forgetting and more on embracing balance. I don’t know.

So tomorrow, it’s back to work another day. Back to the frenetic pace that forces forgetting. Back to workplace drama that is now completely off my arc of what constitutes emotional investment. I will do my best, give my almost-all, and hope that it will be enough.

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