Thursday, December 16, 2010

Grieving, then moving on

At some point toward the end of the day, the numbness eased as a deep, deep heartache set in. Journalism had been a close friend for such a long time. What would I do now that I'd been laid off? And the crew of people I had worked with over the years had been fantastic. This was like losing a family.

And arriving home early that evening faced its own challenges.

Frequently over the past several months, my 7-year-old daughter had asked me why I had to go to work each day. And each time, I explained Daddy worked to make enough money to pay for the house and help provide groceries and pay many of the other costs borne by a husband and wife with five children.

So after the drive home, as I came in the door and went to hang up my coat, both my daughters greeted me with hugs and the question, "Daddy, what are you doing home so early?"


Perhaps my answer was too blunt, but that is how I am. "Daddy was laid off today."

The older of the two, with a look of understanding well beyond her 10 years, simply reached up to give me a hug. "Oh Daddy, I'm so sorry" she said.

The younger one burst into tears.


"Abby, why are you crying?" I asked, trying desperately to hold back my own tears.

Essentially, her young mind had made a leap from unemployment to homelessness, and it scared her terribly. And even as I tried to comfort her -- "God loves each one of us, Abby, and He will take care of us" -- I was nearly overcome by my own nearly paralyzing thoughts.

Images of my daughters shivering in the winter's cold in a parked car came unbidden as I wondered  how we would get through this without losing our home. And, if we did lose our home, how we would keep our belongings. And, if ... how would we ...? Unanswerable questions came in waves.

That kind of fear can induce panic, and for hours I hovered on the edge, overwhelmed.

At about 4 the next morning, some 12 hours after I'd been laid off, I suddenly let loose. I sobbed and wept, asking God to end my pain and fear. And within minutes, just as suddenly as it began, it ended. I slept.

I awoke the next day feeling almost a sense of relief. Yes, it still hurt and I still felt overwhelmed.

And this day the reality would soon sink in even more deeply as my years-old routine came to an end. Shave, coffee, brush my teeth, shower, get dressed, more coffee and off to pick up the girls at school and bring them home. But when 3 o'clock rolled around and my wrist alarm went off signaling the time to head to work, I started to rise but sat down hard. There would be no hour-long drive to Aurora today, or tomorrow, or next week.

The night before I had turned to my Bible, where I'd bookmarked passages that I find comforting in times of trouble. These verses from Ecclesiastes I find particularly helpful.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NLT)
1 For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.
2 A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest.
3 A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up.
4 A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance.
5 A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones. A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
6 A time to search and a time to quit searching. A time to keep and a time to throw away.
7 A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
8 A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace.
Throughout Ecclesiastes, the author reminds there is nothing new under the sun, meaning that even in this present digital age that seems so far removed from Old Testament times, there are constants such as life, death, love, hate, that really do not change. And these verses also point out there is a time, or season, for each. A time to grieve.

I still had grieving to do. And early on in my job search I ran across a number of articles via CareerBuilder.com and Monster.com that offered the same threads of very sound advice to those who find themselves in my position:

>> Face the grief head-on and give yourself time to deal with it.

>> Do not let your grief and fears paralyze you.

And so, perhaps as a part of that grieving, I began writing e-mails. First, I wrote to my former colleagues to let them know how much joy it had brought me working with them over the years and telling them not only how much I would miss them, but also that I hoped all of God's very best for them, that the company would somehow survive these awful contortions so their work would continue.

I wanted no bitterness on my account and wanted to leave on a positive note. These are good people, people whose value far exceeds the high-caliber work they do under nearly impossible circumstances, day in and day out.

I also wrote a company executive I had come to know a little and the director of the New Media Department in which I had worked the past three years, to express my appreciation for that opportunity. I continue to believe digital media is the future of journalism, even while there remain kinks to be worked out.

The e-mails, I think, marked a constructive way, for me anyway, to begin dealing with my grief. This blog, which I'd actually been considering starting since the summer months, has unexpectedly proven to be cathartic and therapeutic. Further, it has given an unemployed journalist an avenue to post online writing samples while demonstrating (and honing) his own self-editing skills.

Now well on my way to addressing my grief, I was ready to move on to the next step, outlining a plan for finding new work and then keeping on task to do that, treating it as a full-time job. 

Next week: Navigating Illinois' unemployment system and gearing up for a job search and a potential career change.