How to grieve while maintaining a life
February 19, 2009 3:59 PM   Subscribe

How do I simultaneously save my personal and professional life in this time of grief over my father's two year anniversary? Is this grief even "real" so to speak, or an excuse to explain some other issue(s)?

This month has been very difficult for me. Initially, I couldn't put my finger on what was troubling me within the first week or so. I was (and still am) drinking heavily, constantly stressed, experiencing sleeping and diet irregularities, and feeling completely desolate. It then came to my attention that on the 13th was the two year anniversary of my father's death. I thought this might have something to do with explaining my sudden erratic behavior? Despite this epiphany, I basically bottled it up but tended to cry in privacy quite a bit.

Anyway, my work schedule was already posted for the week my father passed and unfortunately, I was scheduled for over fourteen hours on the 13th. Instead of reasonably explaining to my employer that I wanted the day off due to personal issues, etcetera, I decided to suck it up and get on with it. In many ways I agree with this work ethic. It has been two years since his unexpected passing. The difficulties of this situation is that a) I was the last to see him alive and the first to see him dead. I accidentally ran into the room before they had a chance to clean his body up; b) our family was expecting a recovery as my father was young and strong; and c) before I had left the night before, my father made me promise to buy my mother a Valentine's present as he hadn't been able to. And I did buy my mom a present. I drove to the store after I found out he had passed, crying, and I bought the gift he had specified. I've bought her one since.

Another thing that might factor into it is that I neglected to visit him as much as I should have while he was alive and in the hospital due to work. I never took any days off to visit him. After his death, I took one week of work off and then returned. I am not blind to the fact that I used work as a way to avoid the issues. It definitely bit back at me. I ended up in a series of emergency situations because I basically had a nervous breakdown. I lost a lot of friends and to this day, have very few.

Ugh, this is getting really long. My work performance on the 13th was horrible and my boss (without knowing the situation) was very upset. I just remember walking outside after the long day and just.. sobbing. I couldn't figure out why. There weren't any specific father-related memories. I just felt awful. She found out about my father's death the next day and felt terrible, saying, "Family should always come first!! If you don't tell me these things, I don't know!" She looked really upset.

My boss has been a lot more quiet around me lately and it makes me nervous. I don't think she's going to fire me but I don't know. I'm very hard on myself and I know my performance needs work. I worry about things constantly. She told me one night that she knew I was a hard worker, that I do well, but she felt indecision on my part whether I really wanted to pursue my career field. As a side note, I work in an extremely stressful competitive industry. I also work at the premier location. I basically landed my dream job. This should make me happy, right? I feel just miserable lately. I don't think it's the job. I love what I do but it's just very difficult for me to manage my stress. The company is extremely tight knit as well, a family so to speak. I think it's awesome but it also worries me. What if professionally I am there, but personally I am not? Or vice versa.

My other boss has been really concerned about me as well, going so far as to text message me to see if I'm okay and saying that we should talk. I'm not sure specifically what I've been doing to worry him so much. I know there were a few worrying events (I got wasted at the employee party) and I haven't looked especially well. I mean, there are moments where I'm laughing and chattering and whatnot but sometimes I am more quiet than usual.

I am just so unhappy and I feel so incredibly alone. I haven't talked to anyone at work about this and I don't think I should. I really don't have a personal life any longer so that option is out. I don't have health insurance. I just feel like this could get a lot worse before it gets better and I'd like some advice about what to do about my professional life (I'm so worried I'm going to be fired and I think without any real reason), how to grieve my father's death without having my head and heart explode in tandem, if my feeling down and out this month is related to me father's death, and basically, how to get better.
posted by fiasco to Human Relations (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You don't say where you are, but are there community mental health/counseling clinics near you? Insurance/cost would not be such an issue if you can get in at one of those, and you sound like you do need to talk to someone.
posted by dilettante at 4:08 PM on February 19, 2009

In April, it will be 13 years since my mom died. I still get a little weird in April. Sometimes I forget why I feel as the day of the anniversary of her death approaches. Based on one data point (mine), I'm going to say that your reaction sounds pretty normal. And keep in mind that when it comes to grieving, there is no "normal." It is how it is for each person.

Google "grief support group" + your city - I just did this for my city and got a ton of hits. You know you need help, and that's a very good thing. If you reach out, the way you've done here, you can find it. You are not alone in how you feel, I promise.

Regarding your work situation - it does sound like your (probably situational and temporary) depression is affecting your performance. While you don't have to spill your guts to your boss(es), if I were you I'd try to find a time when you're feeling reasonably calm and centered to talk to your bosses in general terms about what's happening, and what steps you're taking to address your troubles. In my experience, supervisors really don't want to know All the Details, but they do want to be reassured that the supervisee is aware of the issues and wants to get a handle on them.

And generally: cut back on the drinking, try to get some daily exercise, even if it's just a walk outside, eat regularly, and try to get yourself into a decent sleep schedule. Any small steps you can make in this area will help you regain your equilibrium.

Please don't beat yourself up. You're going through a hard time, but the fact that you've posted this question is a really good sign. You will come out of this, little by little, though it probably doesn't seem like it sometimes. The tunnel really isn't endless, and we've left a light on for you.
posted by rtha at 4:21 PM on February 19, 2009 [7 favorites]

I was (and still am) drinking heavily, constantly stressed, experiencing sleeping and diet irregularities, and feeling completely desolate.

Judging from your profile, you seem to be still quite young. However, I just wanted to share with you a blast from my past. Stuff this in your back pocket for down the road.
posted by netbros at 4:53 PM on February 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

fwiw, your bosses just sound like they're genuinely concerned about you. Insofar as the one seems to be acting more quiet, they probably felt awkward for complaining about your performance in light of finding out what caused your performance to suffer. Like she told you, she can't know unless you tell her these things, so I don't mean to say that she feels guilty, exactly. But I'd imagine even knowing it wasn't her fault, she feels a bit awkward.

Also, even if she weren't your boss, people often have trouble knowing what to say, if anything, around someone they know is depressed or having a bad time of it.

It doesn't sound to me like you're going to be fired.
posted by Nattie at 5:14 PM on February 19, 2009

I think your grief is real. I would suggest reading the book "On Grief and Grieving" by Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross, and "A Grief Observed" by C. S. Lewis. They are two books I read recently to help me deal with deaths in my family, and I found them helpful.

It would be a good idea to look into grief counselling of some sort. There are groups, as well as one-on-one grief counselling. I don't know if your workplace offers an employee support program, but it's worth looking into. If you live in or near a city, there are often free or low-cost counselling services available, if you do some digging.

The thing is, you're probably not going to feel all 100% pumped about your job every minute until you deal with this. It's probably a good idea to let your bosses know what's going on, and let them know you are actively doing something to deal with it, and that in the meantime, you will maintain a certain standard of productivity, even if you can't give 110%. If you really do love your job and want to keep doing it, then your enthusiasm will likely return once you are feeling better. You sound like a valuable employee, and it sounds like your bosses really care about your well-being. Let them help you.

If you didn't really grieve your father's passing when it occurred, it will come back and insist on your attention and energy. In my experience, you cannot escape it...even years later, it can return to make you feel like shit. Only, by that point, it's a lot harder to figure out just what in the hell is wrong.

What I did was to incorporate the grieving into my life, in a way. I'm at university, so I signed up for some courses that I thought would give me some insight into life, death, meaning, etc. I started some counselling, and I read a lot of books on my own. I warned my husband that I was likely to become very weepy some evenings while reading, and to please not worry. And I made an effort to sit down for a few nights, read those books, think of my memories of the people who'd passed, and cry if I felt like crying.

I also made an effort to bring up the loved ones in conversation with other family members who were also grieving. I wanted to make sure that we weren't all isolated from one another in our sadness. I mentioned a few things here and there to close friends who were willing to listen. In short, I let the grief enter my daily life, but in small, manageable ways. I've been dealing with it one piece at a time, rather than ignoring it until it precipitated a nervous breakdown.
posted by peggynature at 5:16 PM on February 19, 2009

This is definitely grief. And you definitely are normal to feel this way. I had a similar thing happen to me 10 years ago - my dad dropped dead, very unexpectedly, practically before my eyes.

Grief ebbs and flows. It's possible to be fine for awhile, and then be... really not.

I recommend talking to your bosses too. If you explain about the external circumstances, they'll probably be really understanding. Also, if you talk to them about your stresses about your work performance, you'll be able to figure out a way to work on things. Your bosses sound like they genuinely like and care about you - so I doubt they WANT to fire you - let them try to help.

I've had similar talks with my bosses, and found, both times, that the second I talked to them, explained how I was feeling, and had an honest conversation with them, things improved to no end.

As for grieving - cut yourself some slack. If you're feeling crap... LET yourself feel crap. It's your body's way of slowing you down, letting you process things. Don't beat yourself up for feeling down about things, as that will only make you feel worse.

Hope you feel better, though, and feel free to MeMail me if you want.
posted by jonathanstrange at 5:45 PM on February 19, 2009

My mom died nearly three years ago. I still have bad days. At the two year mark, I took a week off. I know that's not always reasonable, but my mother was (unfortunately) not the first close family member I've lost, and I knew to expect the anniversaries to hit hard. It gets easier. It does. But when it's not easy? It's not your fault, and it's never not "real".
posted by annathea at 5:52 PM on February 19, 2009

I think you need to talk to your bosses, particularly if they are asking to talk to you. What rtha wrote is spot on- you don't tell them everything, you tell them enough, and you tell them you are doing some specific things to work through it. Specific things could be anything from yoga to walks in the park to a creative writing or art class to whatever. At the moment, your performance isn't helped by all the guilt and anxiety you're feeling. Find an outlet, even if it's not therapy, and try to be a little easier on yourself at this tough time.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:44 PM on February 19, 2009

I get all weird around the anniversary of my father's death, and I recently have noticed I don't remember the *date* until after it passes. I think it's subconscious working! (It's been 23 yrs. now) I have a family member whose mother passed when she was 15. She is now 22 and still mourns her mother's death, but more around that time of year. I am not saying this to scare you, but to affirm that what you are going through is real, and it is mourning. Acceptance of what it is will help.

I agree with all the others about seeing a counselor. It says in your profile that you are a grad student. Check to see what the school offers for counseling. Keep in mind that it may only take a few sessions, or it may take more.

Realize that self destruction helps no one. You need to take care of yourself.

Feel free to meta mail me if you want to chat.
posted by 6:1 at 7:47 PM on February 19, 2009

How do I simultaneously save my personal and professional life in this time of grief over my father's two year anniversary?

You need to put the personal above the professional, though that doesn't mean you give up your job or career. But you do need to realize that you're still full of pain and hurting and until you find a way to deal with that, everything else, including your career, will suffer.

As someone else suggested, you need to find someone to talk to. Check the newspaper for grief or survivor groups.

Is this grief even "real" so to speak, or an excuse to explain some other issue(s)?

I don't know you, so can't say definitively, but it sounds like raw grief. Your father, someone who has always been there (at least physically) and who you always thought would be there is now gone. You literally have no concept of life without him and your mind and emotions are having a rough time adapting, which is totally natural. Every memory of him, every interaction you ever had or wished you had is now in a different light. Don't beat yourself up over not spending time with him. It was natural, you were growing up and trying to lead your own life and he understood that.

Find someone to talk or baring that, write letters to him, saying all the things you wished you had said. It's not a perfect solution, but it will allow you to get some of the grief out. What you're going through is natural and others have gone through it and you're going to be ok. Take care of yourself and in time, your professional life will fall into place.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:47 PM on February 19, 2009

March 8th.

That was the day my father killed himself, and it screwed up my family as much as you can imagine it would, if not more. I was 11 years old at the time. It took me many years to figure out how to not let the beginning of March be a disaster for me. I used to focus on other things whenever the end of February would roll around. Work, projects, whatever. Anything to keep me busy for a few weeks.

Five few years ago, during the end of February, I decided to focus on my writing and started building a blog, including designing the site, coding the html, etc... it was my project to get me through early March. I didn't even realize until a year later that I'd bought the domain name and launched the blog on March 8th.

Now, whenever March rolls around, I think about the anniversary of my blog and I look back on the writing I've done through the year. I look forward to March 8th because I made the date mine, in a good way, instead of my father's, in a bad way.

That won't work for you - at least, not yet - but the point is to echo what others have proven in comments above. You're not alone.

#1 - it's OK to grieve. In fact, it's important, because it's being honest with yourself.
#2 - It's NOT OK to crumble. You're alive, and you've only got this one life to live.

If I'd been a wiser man in years past, I'd have used March 8th as an excuse to celebrate everything that was wonderful in my life - especially friends and love.

Best wishes to you.
posted by 2oh1 at 11:11 PM on February 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just chming in to agree with what's been said as well. My dad died 15 years ago and I'm still conscious of it when the anniversary comes close (though it doesn't depress me as much as it did). Two years is still really recent.

I was able to get free counseling from a local university's psychology program which was helpful. They're students but you don't need anyone with much experience, just someone you can spill it all out to sometimes. Maybe you can find something similar.
posted by cali at 11:47 PM on February 19, 2009

My father's funeral was on my 10th birthday. Kind of no way to get around remembering that sort of thing...

Have you thought about writing a letter to your dad telling him all the things you wish you could've said to him if he hadn't died so suddenly? It might really help to get all your thoughts out of your head - basically a brain dump, if you will - and onto paper. Save it, burn it, do whatever you want. I know that when something is really troubling me, it helps to literally get it out of my head. Nobody has to see it but you, and you can say whatever it is that you need to say to him. That you're sorry you didn't spend as much time with him in this life, that you're pissed and angry and resentful that he left you without saying goodbye, that you don't know how to deal with everything that remains, that you're sad and scared and don't know how to pick up the pieces....btw, it's really ok to admit all these things and say it out loud. nobody will think less of you.

Maybe have a sort of written conversation with him about how he might feel about what's going on in your life right now and what sort of advice he might offer. Would he say that you need to get it together and keep your dream job? Would he say take some time off and seek therapy?

My guess is that he would be proud of you (probably prouder than you'd imagine) and want you to get the help you need. Talk to your bosses, tell them what's going on. You don't need to go into deep detail, just ask for some time to get your head together and show confidence that you can do it. Then find a therapist that specialises in grief counseling and depression. (If you contact the social workers at any of your area hospitals, they can usually put you in contact with grief counselors/therapists that work in group settings. Alternatively, as suggested above, perhaps your school's psych dept or health services division can assist you in finding somebody to talk to.)

Be well.
posted by dancinglamb at 7:50 PM on February 20, 2009

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