Grief in the Time of Work-from-Home

September 13, 2020, marked exactly six months of work-from-home. Our team has been told there won’t be a return to the office this year, and when we do return sometime next year, it will be a different experience. This news has me reflecting on all the emotional ups and downs of discovery this time has offered.

The stages of grief are real, even though you may think you are prepared and ready for the situation. Some moments tend to bend what you thought was a straight path.

Denial, Numbness, and Shock

Being sent to work from home was a moment of “Introverts unite!” I feel there was a collective sigh in the universe for those of us who might have needed a break from people. Waking up that first day and realizing I didn’t have to go into the office was delightful, refreshing, and filled with the excitement of a new adventure. I did a little dance and had an “I got this” moment. Yes, I got a bit cocky since we introverted types seem to be designed for just this event.

For the first 80 business days, I sent cards and postcards out each day. You can’t imagine how relieving it is to use the stationery I had stockpiled over the years. My office supply stash seems to have been my version of doomsday prepping because who wouldn’t want a postcard at the apocalypse? I knew I would ultimately be able to take the isolation, but I had to do something to bring cheer into someone else’s life. The occasional USPS delivery of snail mail makes me smile. It was what I had on hand to help others’ smile, too.

I found myself slowly seeing the daily card as another item on the to-do list as the days continued to tick by. One more thing to check off. One more assignment. I lost joy in the thing that brought me happiness. It had become a duty and not a gift. I had to take a break from it, which, in turn, broke me. 

Bargaining, Depression, and Anger

Waking up felt like needles pressing into my skin. There were new aches, new pains, and new ways to distract me. 

I invented hobbies that would make a dent in my collection of craft supplies. (I still have a long way to go to use up that stockpile.) I made masks. I taught my neighbor to sew so she could make masks. I decimated my wardrobe and reorganized my closet – then moved on to my fridge and pantry. I painted my patio furniture (almost done). I’ve pulled weeds, fertilized, and watered to the point that the yard and plants managed to survive summer for the first time. 

I found new ways to avoid life in general, yet came to an understanding as to why some housewives suddenly snap. The isolation is too much.

Amid my avoidance strategies, something miraculous happened. I received cards in return. Bright moments I cherish like Golem and his Precious. These gems are my escape from the mental drudgery the unending days have become. I am reminded I am not alone.


I will openly admit I miss my family, my friends, and even my team of co-workers.

I miss the daily runs to Starbucks (even though my bank account doesn’t). Not because they make great coffee and tea, but because it was a joyful moment each day with whoever at the office would venture with me. The line may have been a little long at times, but it was my moment to feel like Norm walking into Cheers. The crew knew me. My drink was ready. There was goodness in my cup.

I miss unicorns, lots of sparkle, and nails that are totally on fleek. I share my name with one of my co-workers. Shouting, “Morning, Carrie.” does not have the same ring. I don’t hear a giggle every weekday followed by a cheery, “Morning, Carie.” in return. Now I’m only talking to myself.

I miss everyone. So much happened in the office leading up to the day we received the notice to pack up and go home. So much has happened since. We haven’t been together to talk about it. We send memes, texts, and emails about everything, including our TV binge addictions, but it feels a bit hollow since we can’t sit together at lunch or meet at the snack table to really get into the nitty-gritty and throw around some much-needed sarcasm.

I am comforted by the knowledge that these people are out there. We’re waiting in suspended animation for that moment when this is all over. We’re making plans. We’re finding hope because that’s what we truly have. 

We have hope for the future. We have dreams to realize. We have love to share.

The Christmas Letter

fullsizerenderI am one of those strange people who speak with their parents every day. I’m on my way home, my mom is on her way home or cooking dinner, and Dad is hanging out in the background. It’s a good thing. We know everyone’s okay, and we all get a little social entertainment to fill the momentary void of human interaction. Yesterday, my dad answered the phone.

The dizzying conversation my father and I have would confuse anyone around us, except Mom. I know she’s back there rolling her eyes and wondering if we will ever act like grownups. No. We like our little inside jokes. After Dad and I had finished our initial bout yesterday, he broke some family news.

One of my aunts had been cleaning up at a museum. She was there by herself putting things away and just generally getting everything back in place. While moving a Christmas tree, she fell, breaking her pelvis. Thank goodness for mobile phones, because she’s doing fine and should be released for rehab soon. Spending time thinking about her last night brought to mind something she sent to the family during Christmastime several years ago.

Everyone must know someone who sends out The Annual Christmas Letter. I don’t know where this tradition started or why. It seems a way for loved ones to shove their happiness and joy down each other’s throat. I dread most of them. I get a range of letters. One is a photo-collage of international vacations. One provides an almost day-to-day recap of amazing activities and achievements. One is a synopsis of all the incredible happiness two people and a dog could stand in one year. They are always bright and happy, highlighting all of the good things and memories you missed out on by not being there. But this one particular aunt once sent a letter which changed our entire family experience.

Let me preface this with the side-note that she is a writer. She spent many years teaching Honors and AP English. She’s well-read and well-written, but this one particular holiday, we each received one fascinating Christmas letter. The tale was intended to celebrate the holiday and to share a specific memory she had of her childhood. It was intended to be a piece of our collective history as a family. What it became was Stephen King’s Carrie, Family Edition.

She recounted the poverty of the family, the joys of a rural morning, and the death knell of the hog. Think about that for a moment.

My aunt sent everyone a letter inside her reverent “Merry Christmas” holiday card which recounted, in detail, her recollection of the slaughter of the family’s dinner. The squeals. The blood. The gory details of it all.

She did not present it as a bad memory. The story was a celebration. She was straight-forward with the information. It was an honest look at growing up on a farm, with a very clear view of the annual pig slaughter presented just outside the kitchen window. This was life.

This was a call for therapy.

Maybe we took it the wrong way. Maybe the details were a bit too detailed. Maybe a Christmas card is not the place to write about a pig meeting its end–even if it were for the family good.

A cousin responded quickly with another letter recounting their detailed memory of the Christmas they received the “slaughter story.” A joyful romp telling of their happiness in seeing the return address on the envelope when they pulled it from the mailbox, the quaint warmth which filled them as looked over the Christmas card, and the visions of terror as they read the letter tucked inside.

My aunt never sent another Christmas letter. One was enough. For no matter what the intended meaning was, as family and friends, we did share in the well-received laughter. Through this bump in the road, and all the others we experience each year, there are shining bright spots which we can share. The best of those being laughter shared with family.

The Firing

Omens of The Firing

The emotional roller coaster spun out of control yesterday. It started with two lanes shut down on the main thoroughfare. People acting like angry mules in steel cages. It’s enough to make a person moody from the start. I wound around side streets and made it to work not too late to enjoy my usual morning at the office. Email check. Schedule check. Accept added meetings. Move conflicts. Touchbase with the boss. Fired. Hello, crappy day.

Another Reduction In Force. It’s my second RIF—not fired, but fired with benefits. One of the benefits is being eligible for rehire. Huh? If you wanted me to come back, you wouldn’t let me go. This isn’t a love song. The Police weren’t talking about yearning to return to the warm bosom of a corporation.

I’ll admit it’s been over a decade since my last RIF. I’m a bit rusty. What I know about this experience is some higher power (pick your own) wants me to try something new. The universe has forced me out one closing door into another adventure my entire life. I am stubborn and refuse to quit. Quitting is for losers. No, it’s that quitting is not in my DNA. Even if I am miserable, I power through. I will succeed, even though I am killing myself in the process. Some wacky wiring in my brain runs on a hard coded work loop.  Not the right thing to do, so outside forces help me along.

I get these “kicked in the butt” moments when I need change. I’m forced by whatever plans the universe has for me—if the universe does have a say. Doesn’t matter whether I have stellar reviews, glowing recommendations, and unbelievable work ethic. I am somehow forced into making a decision I didn’t want to make. Each time, I end up in a better place. I’m lucky, I guess. I don’t feel any luck now, but I will grab hold of those proverbial boot straps and get moving. Just not this very moment.

Right now, I’m going through all of the emotional processes. One of which I detest. The crying. I swear it’s my brain’s way of torturing me. I can try to stay busy. I can try to ignore it, but the tears find their way to the surface and take over. I don’t want to cry. I want to get some work done. I want to get the last day of my current job in order. I want to leave the position in good standing. I want to get a new job lined up right now. No chance. My emotions get to rule me this day.

The parts of the day following the bad news filled me with a bit of sunshine. I’ve learned how much so many of my associates care for me. My phone dinged at a steady pace as the news spread. A lot of WTF and OMG followed by exclamation points and emojis I can’t repeat online—some of which I didn’t know existed. Part of my job search will involve the research of said emojis and their origins. It’s convenient someone has gone to the trouble of creating these for life moments such as this.

At the end of it all, my crappy day turned out to be pretty wonderful. I’m starting on a new adventure with the knowledge I’ve made a difference to a lot of people. I’m well thought of and cared for by some amazing individuals. That’s enough to keep anyone going.

Stress Pools

I work too hard. You may not believe that statement.

I come from a long, proud tradition of workaholics. We don’t know when to stop. We let work grind us into dust. We are so focused on what has to get done, we forget about the things which need to be done.

My father is a prime example. Aside from the two consecutive weeks each year he took off to drive around the U.S. with the family in tow, I don’t remember a day he didn’t go to work. He was gone before I woke in the morning. He walked in the door as dinner was being set on the table. Even today, he doesn’t stop. He’s retired, yet he’s unable sit down and relax. He has to be doing something. Anything. It’s go, go, go, until he sits down and passes out.

And then there’s his offspring. We’re not the best examples of how to live a full life. We try, but even the bulk of our travel is for work. Over the last year, I transferred to a new position, got a promotion, and dove in to the deep end of my personal pool of stress. It has paid off—in some ways. People love what I do. It’s a blessing, but confounding at the same time. I’m drowning, barely able to dog-paddle anymore, yet people stop me to compliment me. So hard work pays off. Right?

Would it pay as much if I worked a little less? Would people like it if I didn’t give it my all? I don’t know. Thing is, I have no right to complain. Every day on the news after filtering through all the extraneous celebrity hype, I’m reminded of people who have nothing, people who are hungry, people who are ill. I’m allowed to sit here and moan over work and stress.

A dear friend of mine is going through chemo. I can’t imagine that process. My descent at the office is nothing compared to her day-to-day. My closest experience was decades ago, and I was only radioactive. I couldn’t hold my nephew for most of the first year of his life. No skin to skin contact with anyone. No public restrooms. No reusable dishes. I hate to clean the bathroom today because I had to clean and wipe it down with bleach every day. I did do things I shouldn’t have, because I was only radioactive. I didn’t go to the doctor every week to have poison pushed into my body. I recovered and grew stronger. My friend suffers and grows weaker as she fights a cancer. This is supposed to make her stronger. So, my workaholic ways and the resulting stress are poppy-cock. She tells me my overwork and stress are real. I’m comparing apples and oranges. I disagree. They are both fruit.

It filters down to life is short. Our epitaph shouldn’t read, “I worked a lot.” No one would notice if I didn’t work into the middle of the night. Those things I’m killing myself to get done can wait. I need to reset my brain to understand it’s okay. I’m not a superhero. I’m not going to be the one to save the planet, especially as I sit in front of a computer putting together marketing plans and writing corporate blogs. My work is meaningful, but the world will continue to turn whether I’m stressed or not. My friends and family, on the other hand, may be happier if I spent more time with them. Maybe even on one of those two-week road trips.

Writing Home

A small stack of personal journals
a small stack of my personal journals

“Writing is rewriting.” I know this. I know this because I deleted and changed the first paragraph of this note three times. It’s not making me happy, and I can’t put my finger on why. But as writers, we’re supposed to rewrite. Right? I need to scream “stop” at the top of my lungs. I’ll let the word reverberate a moment in my head while maintaining the calm exterior for which I am praised.

I get caught in a trap trying to make something perfect, and lose myself. I lose my voice in trying to make things right for the “others” I view as the readers. What I forget in the process is these same readers have been drawn to me by the voice and style I present. What we all forget is our voice can change. We age. We travel. We continue to learn as we live our lives. At least, I hope we do.

I used to write in a journal every day. The process cleared my brain of all the junk, grocery lists, and tiny bits of anger and disappointment which lingered in the dark corners. I could then close the book and go about my day without those thoughts present to distract me. Connecting to the page clarifies and sharpens my mind. As an internal thinker, writing in a journal allows me to make those things external—without having to say them out loud. No one else needs to meet the creatures which make their home in my thoughts.

After a personality test this week and a writer’s presentation yesterday which focused on that test, something in my head clicked. I sat down this morning and began to journal again after an extreme hiatus. I had packed away a need, and it hurt me. I hadn’t realized how much. So I wrote all my crappy thoughts down. I found myself flipping through the pages and reading a few of my old ramblings during my designated writing time. Some were funny. Some were heartrending. Most were childish and petty. The best part about each of them is they are not stuck in my head. The thoughts on the page didn’t continue to linger lost in my brain. I swept lots of things under the rug up there as of late. I let my day job and its stressors interrupt me.

My day job is wonderful for more reasons than to pay the bills. I like what I do on a daily basis, but it is my day job. Not my dream job. I’m trusted, I’m respected for my creativity, and now I get to write a blog other than my own. Yet it is still not the independence from the day to day for which my heart pounds.

So I write. I find ways to write. A dear friend encourages me in my search. She seems to understand something is trapped inside waiting for its moment. Whenever it appears, I pray that it meets the expectations of those who are so patient. I pray it doesn’t break me to get it out. Whatever lingers on that page will be in my voice. My words. My thoughts. And no one can stop me from finding it.

Say It’s Not Your Birthday

Image provided by Indi Samarajiva on Flickr Creative Commons
Image provided by Indi Samarajiva on Flickr Creative Commons

We recently celebrated a birthday in my family. Getting us together for a small fete like this is an ordeal—not because we’re a large group with complicated calendars, but because we’re all hermits in our own way. Let’s face it, I’m the outgoing one in this menagerie.

My parents tried to contact our new elder statesman, who didn’t respond. Well, who didn’t respond until the day before. So, as I am sitting at breakfast with my writing partner, I received a call from these same parents who told me we would be meeting at one for lunch. Oh, and they would be by at noon to pick me up. How’s that for planning?

Our circles and evasions must frustrate the bejeezus out of any in-laws. We’re not a gregarious “let’s-celebrate-life’s-little-moments” group. We’re more of a “I-won’t-bother-you-if-you-don’t-bother-me” set of people. We’d rather keep our nose to the grindstone, computer screen or book than deal with other people’s schedules. Not to say we won’t go out. We get the itch to embarrass ourselves often enough, but again, we like to keep that private, too.

So imagine in-laws, cousins, nieces, nephews, etc., who are more outgoing putting up with an opposing family who can sit around in silence reading books all day. That’s family togetherness to us. We’ll chat about work and the weather, but then it’s all questions about where the day’s newspaper was left. Here’s the kicker, the home we were gathered in for the birthday, doesn’t have spare reading materials. There’s no stack of The Economist or Time next to the sofa. No book shelves stuffed with first editions and random paperbacks. Nothing to thumb through for interesting pictures. It’s the opposite of my house—spotless and free of those pesky words in public spaces.

I know a stack of history and science fiction books are hidden somewhere, but my mother taught me it’s not nice to rummage through other people’s closets. I did consider sneaking a peek, though, as I sat in the kitchen watching an in-law prepare lunch. I wouldn’t have been stuck staring at them if I had something to read. I could have been tucked comfortably against the arm of the sofa with even a People StyleWatch if one could be found.

All my griping aside, the extended family brings many good things with them other than everything-has-a-place home organization. They teach the rest of us thoughtfulness and simple joys. Counter to my desire to escape with a bit of reading, they teach me how to be present and listen. There’s a lot of laughter when we’re together, and it may be because they’ve hidden the magazines.

Saying Goodbye

It’s been a crappy few weeks. I have not written or even worked on revisions. You might ask why. For admission—my muse abandoned me. It’s not his fault, but without him, my heart is empty.

My Muse
My humble muse.

Most people might describe their muse as a female presence. Not me. Mine was an eighty-five pound perfect specimen of the German Shepherd breed standard. A short-hair, black and tan with the most expressive face. Though I did not speak his language, he understood mine. And now he is gone.

I’m forcing myself to write even this. The joy of putting words on paper has been absent. Hell, I haven’t been in the mood to do anything. I kept busy with labor intensive work for a few days in order to keep my mind off mourning. Then there was nothing left to do. The numbness faded, and I wept.

As humans, we domesticated animals to help and protect us. There were jobs to be done which we couldn’t handle alone. Animals soon became our daily workmates and companions whether hunting, plowing, or all of the other odd jobs we recruited them to do. Over time, this evolved for some into a focus on companionship. We crave companionship—a level of unconditional love and loyalty they offer to us.

I am not going to call myself a “furr-parent.” My pets are not my “furr-kids.” I believe those are demeaning terms. I will say I am a pet owner. I am a pet owner that had to unexpectedly say goodbye to a most dedicated protector and companion. I lost the emotional reflection of my life. My heart aches, but for myself and the loss. The decision was the best to make for him. I could not let him suffer only to gain a few more days or weeks with him.

I go on knowing he was my muse. His loyalty lives on in my work. His honesty immortalized in letters on a page. His companionship offered up to a lost and wandering character such as myself.

Seating Survival

I attended a writers’ conference at the beginning of this month. My brain filled with writing goodness and motivation events such as these impart. I drew new focus on my work. Imagine a business/leadership conference for salespeople, minus the leadership mumbo jumbo and the eager salespeople. We’re a bunch of writers. We spend a lot of time hunched over keyboards or notebooks fighting to get the words on the page. Most of us are introverts. We get lost in our own worlds, but a writers’ conference provides us with information on the industry and an opportunity to meet other scribes.

It was a gathering of comrades from literature to genre (lots and lots of genre) who sought information at all levels—a place to meet fellow authors, rub elbows with agents and editors, gawk over the big names walking amongst the meek, and soak up all the inspiration you could stand. Many attendees were new writers seeking out how-to information. Some were searching for tips to help them hack through another round of revisions. Yet more were pitching to an agent or editor, trying to get initial interest to propel them to the next step in the dream. All of us were relishing in the business and craft of writing.

Yet all conferences—no matter the focus—have a few things in common. They’re the trappings that remind you this is a business gathering. The hotel or convention center. The mediocre coffee. The crowded bathrooms at every break. The chairs.

Don’t be deceived. The chairs end up the bane of every conference no matter how consoled you are when you first see them. “Oh, look. The chairs are padded. That’s wonderful. Hey, even the backs are cushioned. This is gonna be a good weekend.” So not true. Even the cushiest of seats becomes unbearable on day two.

I suffered from writer’s bum for a while after sitting in presentation after presentation. A bored bum can happen to the best of us. After one or two sessions, you start to feel it. The chair is not as comfortable as you once thought. The padding seems a little thin. This one has to be a different model than the last one I sat in. The chairs are the same. I’ll move to a different one. Nope. Your derriere has found the discomfort of the minimal cushion. There is no escape.

You stand in the hall and pace a little during the break, confident you only need to move around. As you sit in the next room, you shift from cheek to cheek to relieve the gluteal boredom. What if I sit at a slight angle? No. The edge of the chair? Maybe, but then again, no. Slouching? Not that either. Your bum is done.

Three days of characters, revisions and pitches. You take everything in and gather the motivation to push through the revisions on your novel. It’s a great experience. You’re hearing writing tips from the likes of Jonathan Maberry, A. Lee Martinez, Les Edgerton, Donald Maass—but your butt. It’s a bit of a distraction.

When I arrived home, I walked the dogs. I had to move, to do something other than sit down. I know I am not the only one.

Feeding the Homeless

I bought dinner for a homeless man this week. I had stopped on my way home from work to get a good healthy dinner I didn’t have to cook myself. It’s a challenge to find those places these days, but a few made my list. I walked to the register, and a man approached me. He wasn’t clean, but he had made an attempt. His clothes were worn. He asked me a question, but the words didn’t quite make it past his lips. I asked him to repeat his question with the oh-so-genteel, “What?”

He looked down, staring at his hands as he repeated, “I’m living on the streets. Could you help me get a little something for dinner?”

He didn’t give me a creepy feeling. The one where your gut is screaming at you to get away—now. He didn’t ask me for money like a panhandler on a street corner. He asked for food. I obliged.

He wasn’t swindling me. He wasn’t looking for cash for quick fix. He seemed rational, but embarrassed of his situation. He may have been panhandling just before. I don’t know. He may have been able to scrape together enough change for a few side dishes or an entire meal. Somehow, it didn’t matter to me. He was straightforward. He asked for a dinner, and I chose to provide it.

The manager and staff angered me about the entire situation. The staff member at the register watched him approach me and mumble his question. Without waiting for my reaction, she ran to the back to get the manager. Shortly, three people stood behind the counter staring at this man as he ordered dinner. He was humbled enough having to ask a stranger for food. He checked with me before each item. Could he order a quarter chicken meal? Could he get an extra side? I nodded for him to go on. The staff was short with him and tried several times to talk him out of his order.

After we both finished, the manager asked me if my order was, “for here or to go.” I let him know I would dine in, and the homeless man responded with the same answer. This seemed to surprise the manager. The homeless man seemed to shrink. The twinge of anger in the manager’s response hurt even me. This impoverished man sulked to a table in the corner away from the other patrons. He was conscious of his place, remaining in sight of the register the entire time. The manager apologized to me, “…for the situation.” Really? I’m feeding a man. You’re the one being mean.

The counter staff watched the man as he sat in the corner eating his dinner. I know they wanted to push him out of the restaurant. People can’t handle seeing poverty up close, and the manager didn’t want customers to walk out. Some things in our society are embarrassing. We want to keep them hidden. Who is going to fix these things if we can’t see them? We need to be scared. We need to fear we could be in the same shoes as this man one day. Maybe then we’d realize we would want someone to help us.

Who Would Have Thought?

I missed Fondue Day this week. It’s not a loss for me. Unlike some if my dearest friends, I’m not a huge fan of cheese. (Sorry, Wisconsin.) Though I might pencil it in for next year. Because who would want to give up a good excuse to melt some cheese, right?

What I didn’t miss, but just found out, is that today is National Pet Day. It’s fascinating people can simply make up their own reasons for a special day. This one was started in 2005 to draw attention to the number of animals in shelters and to encourage people to adopt. So hug your pet today. If you don’t have a pet, borrow someone else’s to hug or stop by your nearest shelter on the way home. It just might make your day.

Oh, and thank you Bonnie for letting me know this little fact.