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Working While Grieving

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photographs wineglasses lined up for Cornell's Adult University wine tasting course.Tip the bottle and pour: one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, three-Mississippi, …seven. Next glass. Pour: one-Mississippi, two…. Focus. Don’t breathe. Don’t blink. Be here. Exclusively here. Now. There is nothing beyond the pouring of the wine into each glass. 26 glasses. 18 different wines today, each to be poured and served to 24 people in the class. And the instructor. And myself. Over 90 bottles of wine in 5 days. Can hardly wait to taste the aged Bordeaux. Oh, and the Burgundies! This week of work at Cornell’s Adult University will go by too quickly. And then what? Don’t go there. Focus. One-Mississippi, two-Mississippi…. Serve the white wines cold. Briefly chill the reds. Wash and dry the 137 glasses as they’re emptied. Fast. So we don’t run out.

Years ago, in the middle of my daughter Marika’s fight with cancer, I lost my beloved teaching job in the Ithaca City School District. Always a worker, I then spent my time and energy caring for my daughter. And after she died, all my letters requesting employment must have been too soused in grief; I was never granted an interview. So I spent time and energy on myself, my manuscript, photography, hiking, blogging, treating my life as if it were a job. Finally, a friend asked me to be a teaching assistant for his weeklong summer course. I gratefully accepted. A real job. Even if it was only for a week. Five years later, I still serve wines one week each summer.

Friends returning to work after time off for bereavement, have told me they found it difficult to retain information, impossible to focus, embarrassing to deal with grief attacks on the job. They wished they’d had more time away. Often loss had changed their priorities, so the jobs they once loved suddenly seemed meaningless. Other grieving friends found work comforting. It gave them a reason to get out of bed each day, kept them moving forward.

I found work and keeping busy are good distractions. But this only puts off the inevitable grief, prolonging the healing process. Sooner or later you must face the pain.

“Come meet my dishwasher,” I invite the wine tasters. “It washes 25 wineglasses in under 3 minutes.” In a fresh white lab coat with nametag, I trot between the tables chirping, “Cheers!” as I hand out glasses of wine. And lifting my own, I whisper, “Here’s to you, Marika.” It isn’t until the week ends and I’m driving home, alone and exhausted, that I let loose my howls of sorrow.

 

How do you deal with grief while working?

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