My mother died almost a month ago and I'm destroyed
March 29, 2016 12:14 PM   Subscribe

After a losing battle with cancer, my mother died March 3rd at the age of 63. Grieving is bad enough but my situation has gotten more complicated and I am hoping you can help me.

I am sorry in advance, I don't know how to answer my question without a lot of muddled information. I've been trying to figure out how to explain this for several weeks. I guess I'll try to explain chronologically.

I interviewed for a reception job in the film industry in July 2015. I want to be a producer and this job puts me onto that career track. I got the job. The EP (executive producer) made it clear I would be at that position for a year and then I would be moved into production.

Right after the job offer, my mother was diagnosed with bowel cancer. I'm English and I live in the US and my entire family is back in the UK. I already had a trip planned at the end of August. While I was in the UK, surgery was scheduled for her. We were told the day before the surgery that she had months to live, and the surgery was pretty much doomed. However after the surgery we were told it was a miracle and she was going to be ok.

I returned to the US and my new job. Two days before I start, the president of the company emailed to let me know the EP had left the company and wanted to give me a heads up. I'll be reporting to her, for now. I begin my job and I'm very happy. I work hard, I was doing really well and things were great. I have a great relationship with the president.

In January of this year, a new EP is brought into the company, I'm now reporting to her. She seems nice at first, but doesn't really get to know anyone that isn't top of the hierarchy. I figure she has a lot going on and don't worry too much at first.

January 13th my father calls me at work, my Mum's cancer is back. She has 6-8 weeks. I'm devastated.

The president is incredibly understanding, she watched her mother die from cancer, we talk regularly and she tells me whatever I need they'll accommodate. I mention I will need to travel back and forth and will need time off and she tells me not to worry, my job isn't going anywhere.

I travel back to the UK right away for two weeks to spend some time with my mother. I return to the US with the understanding I will return to the UK as soon as my mother declines. On my return, the EP brings me in for a meeting with the person in the position beneath me and tells me they're merging our jobs. I ask for a private meeting after and explain that this is not the path that was discussed before I joined the company. She continuously tells me it will help me figure out what I want to do with my life, and it will help me gain experience. I explain that I've already done this other job before, and that I know exactly what I want to do. I explain what I was told and she point blank tells me it's irrelevant what the previous EP told me, she's changing the structure of the business and that's it. I have to train in this new role and train the other employee in my role. I'm upset (this is basically a demotion) but I am adamant I will do whatever I need to do to go further with the company. My 6 months of work towards being promoted is now back to zero and after asking about my promotion path now, she basically says she has no idea.

The next week I get the call - my mother is dying. I fly back to the UK that evening, 5 hours after I return home, I watch my mother die. I watch them take her away. She's gone. The following morning my siblings and father have a huge fight about her funeral. I return two days later to be at home in the US until the funeral.

I'm pretty much in denial at this point, although obviously distracted. A couple days after I get back, on my mother's birthday, I give a message to the EP and accidentally refer to the caller as Dave instead of Dan. I explain my mistake afterwards, suggest steps to make sure it doesn't happen again, and that's it. The next day I receive a long email explaining that my mistake is unacceptable and it doesn't bode well for my future. That afternoon we're to have a meeting and HR will be attending. We have the meeting and they both tell me, they know I have things going on at home, but I am not doing my job properly. The mistake, and an identical one made a month before are the only example they can give me as to this. I'm told I can take all the time off I need, but I need to come back and do my job properly. They tell me to take time off until the funeral and to let them know when I'll be coming back. A small mistake suddenly became a documented warning.

4 days later I return to the UK for the funeral. The night before there is a blow up argument again. Everyone is now fighting about where they're sitting in the church and people are fighting about my mothers money and possessions. It's traumatic. I returned last Thursday to the US.

Hearing everyone talk about her at the funeral, and finally saying goodbye to her body, all I think about is her now. About my childhood, about being robbed of 20 more years with her. I am devastated and it is hitting me hard. I am terrified to go back to work, I'm terrified they're going to fire me. I have been trying to suppress my grief because my job basically depends on it. I want to leave but it took 6 months to find a company that would give me a start at such a coveted entry level position. I have spent 6 months at the company working hard and now I feel like it was for nothing.

I don't know what to do. I know grieving takes time but I have to go back there on Monday and I have no clue how to get through it. Am I crazy to stay? Do I see what happens? Is there anything I can do to repair my relationship with this person? I used to love my job and now I'm basically being told I have to bury my grief.

I am starting therapy this evening. I can only afford one session a month but that's better than nothing.

I'm so sorry this is so long, I'm sorry if it's full of useless information, my mind is a total fog and I'm so sad.
posted by shesbenevolent to Human Relations (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have a lot of wisdom for you about the job - it certainly sounds like they've laying the groundwork to dump you and I'm sorry - it's really shitty for them to do that when you're in this situation. I lost my mother at 73 to lung cancer. It was devastating and remained intensely, rawly painful for more than a year. That kind of grief is just so hard to set aside while you carry on. Do you have allies still in that company? Can you reach out to the former EP wherever they have moved? I think you should probably assume your time at that company is limited. The fact that they don't have the decency to cut you any slack at this time is a real warning. I'm so sorry - give yourself time to grieve, knowing that you may well have to find another way forward for your work.
posted by leslies at 12:21 PM on March 29, 2016 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: I don't know if this is relevant, but I want to point out I do have issues with thinking people are against me/don't like me. My boyfriend regularly calls me out on this behavior, but after every encounter, I tell him what has happened and after the meeting he said I wasn't imagining it, she seems to be building up a trail to fire me.
posted by shesbenevolent at 12:22 PM on March 29, 2016

Response by poster: Last comment I promise, won't threadsit.
The previous EP started her own company in LA so that's a no go area. And the only upside to this is that I have an amazing relationship with everyone there, and the bright side would be about 30 industry connections, including 3 reps. Also possibly the other owner/partner. He's also English and his mother's death was exactly the same as mine.
Ok I'm done!
posted by shesbenevolent at 12:24 PM on March 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sounds like the President, your EP boss liked you and appreciated the circumstances in which you find yourself. Why not ask to sit and chat with her? Maybe she can move you back to reporting to her in some role.

It sounds to me like it is inevitable that your relationship with EP is going to end one way or another. Why not be proactive in finding a landing spot especially if you can do it with someone with whom you have a good relationship.

Sorry about your mom.
posted by AugustWest at 12:38 PM on March 29, 2016 [8 favorites]

I'm so sorry for your loss.

While I don't think I can answer your question directly with my own experience, I can point you to the Dear Sugar column, where Cheryl Strayed has mentioned the process of grieving her mother.
posted by mild deer at 12:45 PM on March 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

I memailed you.
posted by greta simone at 12:58 PM on March 29, 2016

I am sorry you've had such a hard time. New job and death of a parent are INCREDIBLY stressful, more so if you're working in the entertainment field.

People in the entertainment industry can be terrible. My sister was a PA and she still has PTSD from it. The Devil Wears Prada was a documentary.

This stuff might have happened even if you weren't dealing with a family health crisis. When your manager moves on, it's about 50% that you'll be working in the same job once they leave. That's everywhere.

The new EP may have had an idea of who she wanted in your job from the get-go, and it had NOTHING to do with you.

You have some choices. You can choose to stay, in a smaller role, and work at making a lateral move behind the scenes Or you can let them lay you off, collect unemployment and work your contacts for another gig.

It may be that the new EP has a reputation for being a terrible person, maybe she's new and needs someone who can be there 100%, which right now, you just can't. This might be a blessing in disguise. Right now you need time to process, heal and reflect. A lower stress and less involved position might be the thing you need.

If they like you, and if it seems they want to keep you on, take the lower position for now. There's no shame. The fact that you're able to walk and chew gum in your current emotional state is a credit to you. Do the job really well, if in six months they're no chance for advancement, start looking for a new gig.

If they let you go, file for unemployment and get a new job.

Either way, you're going to be fine. Everyone has bad things happen, and sometimes the timing of them sucks. You will look back on this as a very bad time in your life, but wherever you end up, you'll know that it was just part of life, and you'll be stronger for it.

Please accept my condolences.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:00 PM on March 29, 2016 [7 favorites]

I am so sorry for your loss, this is a massive amount of stress even with everything else is fine.

Here's the thing: if you choose to stay at this job, you have to choose freely with no complaints or it'll consume you from the inside out. Choose it with a big ol' embrace and put aside the whole part where you're getting demoted and are going to get the boot eventually so the EP can make her mark. She doesn't want the relationship repaired. You can't make her. You eat what you're served and smile like you like it, and you might luck out and outlast her.

When you say " the only upside to this is that I have an amazing relationship with everyone there, and the bright side would be about 30 industry connections, including 3 reps." I can't tell if you're talking about your current employer? Are you saying you just have to survive this one awful person and you have an amazing relationship with everyone else? Because that's power. You'll have to wait a while before you can do anything with that power, but it might keep you employed for long enough to level up (or one of those other people to leave and take you with them, because that's how Hollywood works). You will have to bide your time.

I know enough about the industry to know that this is a hell of an opportunity and you can't just find another one somewhere else. If you want to stick this out, you're probably going to have to learn to disassociate when you get to the office and stay that way until you leave, and then fall apart then. This is by no means productive to your mental health, and could literally kill you.

It would not be a wrong choice to instead walk away from all this bullshit and focus on your grief and life instead. If you do that, also choose it with arms wide open so it doesn't eat you up that you walked away. Don't bank on second chances later either, but also make sure you don't ignore them if they happen, because they do. It's all about those connections.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:00 PM on March 29, 2016 [8 favorites]

You can do this, it may not always be a fun time, but you just get through it one day at a time.

My dad died suddenly a little less than two and a half years ago - I was (am) in a work situation that does not contribute to my daily happiness. My situation is unlike yours in that my job performance didnt suffer appreciably (or im lucky to work in a situation where demands/standards are fairly relaxed).

On the grief front - it takes time. I saw a therapist for a while after my dad's death - it was tremendously helpful to have someone to talk to, and relieve my concerns about burdening my wife excessively with my overwhelming grief. No one wants to be the person who cannot speak of anything other than the gaping hole in their heart, but real and worthwhile people will tolerate it from you because they love you or have been there themselves - dont worry about anyone else.

In an ideal situation you could cruise through on the job front while working through your grief and relationship with your mom, but it seems like you have some more pressing concerns.

Would it be possible to (temporarily) embrace this job you didnt want that you feel is somewhat of a demotion? Take six months to get your head straight without having to work too hard or worry about work stuff, just get whatever tasks you're assigned done and keep the rest of your energy for yourself>

I can't promise it ever really goes away, and i remember friends telling me i would eventually fell better/less grief (and not believing them) but its true. Time (and therapy) are the way, you'll get there just by keeping on.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 1:32 PM on March 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm very sorry about your mother. I lost mine a few years ago and then my dad two years later.

Been in a similar job situation, where my "good" boss left and a different one came on board after a period of reporting to a nice interim person. Shortly afterward, it was clear that I could do nothing right (despite praise and raises and promotions previously) and he was clearing the decks and bringing his chosen people on board. I also got a similar demotion.

So you've had two shocks. The industry is hard, I've only been on the edges of it and had relatives in it, and the stress can be intense.

Really, though, the job situation is out of your control, as this new EP has already made their decision. You can continue on and compartmentalize, while dealing with the grief on the off hours, or put out feelers to other contacts.

If I had to go back and give myself advice, I would have cut my losses and put out feelers for other jobs, while maintaining a presence at the current one. I also would have gone to the gym before or after work and ran on a treadmill or taken up kickboxing, any sort of hard exercise to blow off steam.

I do think you have to look at it from the new EP's point of view, whether you agree with them or like them. They have a mission to get a job done, and they want people who can be 100% on board with that mission. So don't take it personally (like I did). I got edged out, and it was partly wrong and partly right, I had other fellow co-workers tell me that they were aghast at how I was treated, but it didn't make the end result any better.

My main areas involved with the industry were things like research, writing, some casting, and a few bit parts (extra) and things like delivering rental lenses, etc. I make a good gopher.

But I don't want a career in it (my career job was in another arena) and you do, so you might want to take a day or three to decide where you want to be in 5 years. Because after this horrid year is over, dealing with the grief and family, etc., you don't want regrets that you let opportunities slip away. I would keep going to work, agree with the new EP, be as pleasant and nice as you can, and still put out feelers to your other friends, discreetly.

Again, sorry for your loss, I know it's hard. Please reach out to your friends who are not in the industry about your mother, and keep in touch with your friends in the industry about any new positions that might be more suitable for your career track.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 2:04 PM on March 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am so sorry.

It's time for you to take some of the pressure off. You got on the right track and this is unlikely to be your last crack at the bat. Conceding to the new world order here is not undoing all of the work you've done in the past, you can't unlearn what you've learned, you will not lose your innate talents or abilities, nor your skills. You can't un-be what you are, which is capable and employable in your chosen field. You know what you want to do and how you want to get there.

Do you REALLY need to go back on Monday? If it is in any way possible, take some more time. You said that the president was sympathetic to you, and that your boss even told you to take the time you need. You have just had life deal you an extreme haymaker. Give yourself time to just breathe, do whatever makes you feel centered, and come back when you are ready to be more focused.

It's really hard to be objective when you have experienced something so cosmically unfair. It can make something as trivial as being held responsible for a small mistake (Dan vs. Dave) seem completely ridiculous and equally cosmically unfair. However, in the day to day when your boss is trying to get something important done, it might actually have a real impact on her ability to be successful. We don't have insight here into whether or not their concerns about your performance are founded or unfounded, but from what you've said here, their tone sounds concerned and objective. When you are back at full capacity, you'll be able to take these sorts of criticisms in stride. It's not a great time for you to be able to breathe and consider your boss's needs right now, because your needs are very large and you need to tend to them. You deserve some space to focus on healing, if you can get it!
posted by pazazygeek at 2:09 PM on March 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

A couple days after I get back, on my mother's birthday, I give a message to the EP and accidentally refer to the caller as Dave instead of Dan. [...] The next day I receive a long email explaining that my mistake is unacceptable and it doesn't bode well for my future. That afternoon we're to have a meeting and HR will be attending. We have the meeting and they both tell me, they know I have things going on at home, but I am not doing my job properly. The mistake, and an identical one made a month before are the only example they can give me as to this. I'm told I can take all the time off I need, but I need to come back and do my job properly. They tell me to take time off until the funeral and to let them know when I'll be coming back. A small mistake suddenly became a documented warning.

That's an incredibly trivial "mistake," something that wouldn't even be noticed if they weren't looking for ways to be rid of you, which it appears that they are. It's barely even worth saying that they're treating you in an abysmal, inhuman way; that's par for the course in the film industry, and I've personally seen equally horrible treatment and heard about much worse. The thing is, you shouldn't mix up the work situation with your grief—the two are in completely different realms, though the grief of course makes it much harder to deal with everything else. When my mother died suddenly (over twenty years ago), I was in a complete daze and I'm sure I wasn't much use at work for a while; the difference is that they liked me at my job and just let me take time to get to where I was reasonably productive again. (I actually have no memory of a couple of weeks in there.) My advice to you would be to assume you don't have a future where you are and start looking for something else; if things turn out better than expected (hey, maybe the new EP will leave!), great, but you should be as prepared as you can be for moving on. And don't expect too much from yourself in terms of getting over your mother's death—that kind of shock takes a long time to work through. I wish you the best of luck.
posted by languagehat at 2:12 PM on March 29, 2016 [10 favorites]

I can't believe I'm going to write this, but.... When you are done grieving, move to Los Angeles.

This is not the only job in film you will ever have. Everyone covered the in's and out's of what you are doing and why it may or may not be advisable.

My deepest condolences.

About the grieving process... I advise you to feel it, really lean into those feelings when it's safe. Also, are you sober? Because you will have HEAPS more success long term if you don't drink, and especially especially if you don't do drugs. You could work on your grief and your sobriety at the same time.

Lyn Never has told you how to handle this job while it lasts. I'm just telling you that when it ends (and you may outlast this boss - who knows?) you have choices and opportunities.

Everyone goes through these types of life changing events, if that's any solace. They shape you, and unfortunately, you must face them alone for the most part. The good news is you are stronger once you come out the other side.
posted by jbenben at 2:19 PM on March 29, 2016 [6 favorites]

I completely missed that you weren't in LA, I assumed you were. In that case, my thought is this: send your friend in LA a note saying, "My mother's just died, and I think when I get through the worst of this it's going to be time for a change of scenery. Would there possibly be a position for me there, if I moved to LA?"

It may be you do lose this job, or decide for your health you need to grab an office job somewhere for a while before you pull the trigger on that plan. You've got about a year, year and a half that you can do this in a sort of no harm/no foul way because you've got Stuff Going On. Play that card, if you need to.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:45 PM on March 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I appreciate the suggestions to move to LA but that's not what I want. My boyfriend is a commercial director here, he works at a small documentary collective and they've all been friends/worked together since college. We're buying a home in NJ next year. His family are in NH (they've become my surrogate family), I don't want to be further away from my father. And we just don't want to live there. But I understand why you'd suggest it.

Everyone is as helpful as ever. Thank you. What would I do without you?
I think I need to start my job search. Whatever happens, working for this person isn't going to work.
Quick two sub questions...
- It's such a small industry, people know each other, do I need to job search in a certain way with this in mind? Do I tell the president I'm thinking of leaving and be prepared to give my two weeks? So that I keep a good relationship with her?
- When the new company asks why I'm leaving, what do I say? Obviously I've had all this happen with my mother, but what reason do I give for switching companies?
posted by shesbenevolent at 4:54 PM on March 29, 2016

In NYC there are 10 people, and you know 8 of them. I used to know the film industry in NYC, there are about 6 people and you know all 6 of them.

In other words... you might want to have the question deleted and ask the advice of the few people nearest and dearest you, or MeMail folks in your industry for specific advice. I think you should take this question down for privacy's sake.

Hey - I also think you need to stop talking about this at work and put a hard hard line between personal and professional. It just kinda hit me how small the industry is there, and as you are unable to move, your first task is to adjust and keep your cards closer to your vest.

posted by jbenben at 5:01 PM on March 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

I think right now you're trying to grieve over your mother at the same time you're trying to handle this ordeal at work like a professional and you're trying to plan for your future, and that's too much at once. The loss of a parent is a huge thing, and you can't do it all right now. This isn't a good time to try and figure out office politics, or make long-term plans. This is a time to grieve and just do what you need to do to get through each day.

Of course it would be very upsetting to find out you wasted 6 months at a job. But who's to say these 6 months were wasted? If you left tomorrow, that's six months of experience in the entertainment industry, and a lot of former co-workers who may be lasting connections. You could do a lot worse than that.

If you can get time off you should probably take it, but if you can't just go to work and do the best job you can right now. Don't worry about the future, or whether they may be plotting to let you go. Nothing that happens at this one job has to define the rest of your life.

I'm very sorry for your loss.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:15 AM on March 30, 2016

The reason you give for wanting to change jobs is, "I was hired by X and when she left there were organizational changes that eliminated my position (which is true). I really enjoyed my duties as a Grommerflump and I'm working to get into production."

As for talking to the president, don't. She knows perfectly well what's going on and as nice as she's been to you, the fact that you're being moved to another job, and training someone for YOUR job....connect the dots. After you give notice, you can certainly thank her for her emotional support and express the hope that your paths will cross in the future. Then connect with everyone via Linked In.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:37 AM on March 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

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