Grief is an odd thing. Most of us associate it with death, but it’s actually a bit broader than that. Death is, of course, a common cause of grief, but it can certainly be experienced due to lesser experiences than the loss of life. Loss, versus death, is really the key word when it comes to grief.
Dictionary.com defines grief this way:
[A] keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret.
If this is true, and I believe it is, we likely experience grief at some degree more often than we imagine we do. I believe many of us view grief as an intense experience, thus we don’t label it as such when it’s happening at a lesser degree. Maybe if we did, we could be more gentle with ourselves in times of grieving; no matter the level of grief we are experiencing.
Right now I am grieving, but not at the loss of the life of someone I loved and cared about. No, the cause of my sorrow, does not nearly meet the level of one who has lost someone dear, but I’m still grieving none the less.
Yesterday I was laid off from my job as part of a massive reduction of staff. I was just shy of 12 years of when I started working for this company. And if truth be told, it was probably about 2 years too long.
I knew then that I had reached a logical end point of my career at this particular place, but I simply didn’t want to step out into the unknown and begin again. You see, I was really good at this job. It could be stressful on occasion, but I had developed the skills to manage those situations. I could do it without making myself crazy and get the job done efficiently and effectively. Then there was the fact that I was within walking distance of my place of employment. All together, it simply made it too easy for me to continue taking the path of least resistance.
But sometimes life does for us what we can’t, or won’t, do for ourselves. And that’s what happened to me at about 9:35 AM on the 6th of March in the year 2014.
The layoffs were of no surprise to anyone. When knew they were coming. We even knew in advance when they were happening. But because I was such a high performer, and because the work I did supported several ongoing projects, I hoped that I might have been spared. When I opened my work email from home on the night of the 5th, however, to find a meeting scheduled with my boss’ boss at 9:30 in the morning, I kind of knew what was coming my way.
So I’m grieving my loss, even though it was clearly time to go.
Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced the 5 Stages of Grief in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying. They are:
denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance
And as I’m sitting here looking at these words in front of me, I am realizing that I began the grieving process even before I ever learned my eventual fate.
When I initially saw the meeting request, and that it was only for 15 minutes, I kept telling myself that this wasn’t enough time to go through the process of laying someone off. They had to build in time for emotions and reactions, didn’t they? I mean, wouldn’t it take longer than that just to explain the exit package? And why would they be getting rid of me? The type of work that I did wasn’t going to stop, and I preformed with utmost efficiency and timeliness. The internal customers I supported all raved about me after all. I know that to be true. Nobody, including my managers hid that fact from me.
Yet it wasn’t until I opened the door to that conference room and saw a Human Resources representative also present that I truly knew my destiny was sealed. But I also understand that this is hope. And without hope, most of us simply wouldn’t want to go on.
The anger came today. But anger often comes easiest to me. I really took the whole situation personally. It also wasn’t’ so far fetched. The man who gave me the news and I didn’t always see eye to eye and I’ve never been the shy demure type. So his demeanor and the words he chose seemed particularly harsh to me. It wasn’t until I spoke with a colleague, who worked for Human Resources and had been laid off the day before, that I understood that everyone who had to deliver the bad news was trained to do it exactly as he had done it to me.
The bargaining came to me in the form of a dream last night. It involved my coworkers and this man I was so mad at. And in that dream I was being allowed to stay on and train others to take on my responsibilities. For me, the bargaining was more about being released in a way that I found more respectful of all of my time and efforts over the years. And I think that it’s coming in dreams because on a conscious level, I am fully aware there is no going back.
Depression is something I will try to avoid. I realize I will feel sadness. I already do. It comes in waves and passes on. But with the right support and actions on my part, I will work very hard to keep it from devolving into full on depression. This isn’t about death after all.
And acceptance I welcome. For it is through acceptance that truly lasting change comes about. By accepting a thing, meaning to see it for what it is without all of the emotions and judgments attached, I can only then fully see all of my options and choices. Let’s face it; this is a time and situation where I really do need to clearly see every possibility. For this is an opportunity if only I choose to make it one.
So back to where I started; grief is an odd thing. Most importantly, it is a thing that I cannot escape simply because I don’t like it. And by going through it fully, and consciously, my hope is that it guides me to the next best thing.
There’s no need for pity. It was truly time for me to move on. Yes I will grieve because it’s simply part of the human spirit. But I will be okay. I already am okay. And when it’s all said and done, I will have learned some things about life and myself and be better prepared for what’s ahead. And I really think grief, when we don’t push it away, give us the time and space to do so.