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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8 thoughts on “Working While Grieving

  1. Lynne Taetzsch

    I have always been a workaholic, but since 2000 my full-time job has been my art–painting colorful abstract acrylics in my studio. I worked through the years of Adrian’s fight with Alzheimer’s, and continued working after he died. My work is a path to express the grief and to work through the grief. After five years, people say my paintings are becoming so much more vibrant and cheerful. But the art is still a path through grief whenever I need it to be.

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      It was so great to see you and your work at the gallery, Lynne. Yes, in your vibrant colors that dash and dance on the canvas, it is hard to see the grief. It must be your magic to turn the sorrow into images that depict joy. I’m trying to do that. All the time these days. Some people’s paths through grief are a bit rockier, I guess. We are both at the five-year mark. But these individual grief journeys take different amounts of time. Not that we’re counting. They can take lifetimes. And wouldn’t it be great to produce beauty and joy for all our lives. Even, and especially, maybe, if they are fueled by our grief.

      Reply
  2. Gladys Botie

    When you first began to write “In the Wake of Marika” I was gratified to realize this was the beginning of your catharsis after the death of your beautiful beloved daughter of twenty years. You found a way to release the pain of grieving — by pouring out — page after page — the heaviness of your heart — the hurt of your terrible loss. Your began to write a blog — sharing your loss with others who had also experienced the pain of losing a loved one. You further advanced your progress to “finding a life” — as Marika had– in her way — retorted at your constant devotion to her. You allowed your inborn talent and creativity to surface with the approach to shop photography. You expanded your social activity with the hiking group and with your wonderful and supportive friends. You have come to understand that emerging from tragedy doesn’t erase grieving from loss. It means that you have come to terms with the inconsistencies of life and have found the path to adapting and dealing with reality in a healthy and commendable way. I’m proud to be your mother, and I love you very much — always.

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Yow, Mom. You’ve just written my biography – in lovely terms. Thank you. I love you very much too. And I’m not done, as you know, coming “to terms with the inconsistencies of life,” adapting, and finding paths. Dealing with reality – well I just wrote another post on that endeavor, and I think that one’s a work in progress. Thanks for putting up with me. I know that my reality and your reality don’t always jive. But I really appreciate your being here and being my Mom. Hugs!

      Reply
  3. Annette Corth

    During the entire time that Dick was so sick and eventually died, I never cried. The stress served as a kind of protective shield. Only after he passed away, did I begin to grieve over the loss of my husband of 45 years and the suffering he had endured for so many months. What saved me was writing. I poured my feelings into poem after poem and also wrote a series of letters to him several months after his death, saying things I never had the courage to when he was alive. Eight years later, the letters still bring tears to my eyes. Even though I have found other love, Dick often appears in my dreams.

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Yeah, those tears, they’re always gathering somewhere, waiting for their moment to burst or trickle out. I wonder, if they could just roll down our cheeks without all the stifling back, would we still be writing poems and memoirs? Sooner or later the tears do surface. We need those tears, and all the howling, and the tearing our hair out. It’s part of the healing. Part of acknowledging the hurt. And life. Cheers, Annette.

      Reply
  4. Lucy Bergstrom

    I can vividly imagine returning to work after a loss and having to pretend to be cheerful. Sometimes I wonder how crabby cashiers can stand having to deal with all the obnoxious customers, everybody potentially bearing their own sorrows. Maybe you feel disloyal to Marika for not thinking about her very much for a whole week.

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Actually, Lucy, busy as it was, it was still impossible not to think of Marika. I pretty much toasted her with each tasting. But yes, when I see crabby cashiers or bus drivers, obnoxious customers and people not treating others well, I wonder what their stories might be. Cheers!

      Reply

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