this weekend i spent some time with a friend i only get to see a few times a year. one thing we share in common is a maddening mixture of hope for and frustration about the work we do (and, particularly, the institution for which we do it). another thing we now share in common is terrible grief.


a few months ago my friend’s mother died. this past saturday, as we walked around town in a spitting rain, we talked about how difficult it is to manage an unpleasant work environment when your head and heart are lost in personal despair. how challenging it is to be patient with people’s pettiness, or to tolerate their trivialities, when something that feels — that is  — so much more significant consumes your every waking hour. after mae died, i confessed to my friend, i almost had to quit my job. i couldn’t bear coming to work day after day with people who never expressed sympathy for what i had lost (i used to walk around thinking to myself  “don’t any of you realize my daughter just died? can’t any of you even try to imagine what that feels like?” it appeared they couldn’t. or wouldn’t dare try.) i couldn’t bring myself to care about their concerns about their time cards, or their latest purchases from avon, or — far more frustrating — their ineptitude at their jobs. (lest you think me unkind, i will just say that i do not generally think people — say, as a species — are inept. but i do work with an inordinate number of people who really suck at their jobs.)


one of the very challenging things about grief, in my experience, is the way that it shifts priorities and perceptions. for me, at least in the medium run (i won’t be so cavalier as to think i’ve hit “the long run” yet), those shifts have been Very Good Things. i have much happier ideas about work/life balance (if no better ideas about how to achieve it), and different ideas about how to love what i do, where i live, generally who i am. but those shifts came after some wrenching emotional tectonics — which included feeling i was in a world surrounded by idiots — thoughtless, soul-less people who lacked both the courage and the sympathy to reach out to a woman who had, just days before, held her dead child in her arms. (really, folks: reaching out is not that hard. it’s just not. get over yourselves.) see? it’s a tough place to be. and an easy place to slide back into. sigh.


so when my friend talked about leaving her job, about turning to her professional network to look for different opportunities, i was doubly understanding. we do work in a generally frustrating and unrewarding environment, and most happy people don’t want that for themselves. but it’s also very hard to manage that environment when your heart is deeply broken.


as i drove home from my visit with my friend fresh tears came. for my friend and her grief, yes, but mostly, i think, for mae. who will turn one next month, in some parallel universe — even if only imagined– somewhere. and it’s good, and it’s hard, to remember this.