My husband went through the loss of a job about ten years ago. I remember that he was angry for a couple of days, but then he poured all of his energy into finding another job and the pain of the loss seemed almost forgotten. Throughout this time I watched him, confused.
"Why are you not more upset?" I asked him.
I don't remember his exact response, but it was something like, "I am upset, but there are other jobs out there, so why fret over this one?"
"But this is your job! Your life's work! A fundamental part of who you are! How can you be so blasé about having it taken away from you?"
Being a typical man, he simply shrugged and went on with his job search.
A year later, when I experienced my own job loss, it was quite a different story.
An Event That Many People Would Consider Traumatic
Twelve years ago--three years before my job loss experience--I suffered a miscarriage. I have known women who went through that and never fully recovered from it. I knew one woman who, twenty-five years later, still cried whenever she thought about it. I did cry over my miscarriage, but the tears only lasted a week. Then I moved on.
I think part of it was the circumstances under which it happened. We already had one child. We knew from the start that we wanted more, so we started trying again when our first turned a year old. We got pregnant right away. It wasn't until several days after that stick turned blue that I started to realize, "Holy crap! I'm going to have two children under two years old!" The thought made me nervous, but nevertheless, I wanted another child, so I was excited about the pregnancy. Then the miscarriage came, and because my first child was still so young, I think I just sort of accepted it as something that was meant to be. Then three months later I was pregnant again and all thoughts of that lost baby were banished in the flurry of preparing for the new one.
When I lost my job, however, it was quite a different story.
From the Start No One Understood
I found out I was going to lose my job months before it actually happened. Now, when I was hired the word "interim" was never used, so I naturally assumed this was a long-term decision I was making in accepting their offer. When they let me go, the word "fired" was never used. After all, they let me stay on until a replacement was found, so it wasn't really like being fired, right? I mean, I didn't have to collect my things immediately and be escorted from the building. I still had a job. For several months I still had a job. Basically, when they told me I was being replaced it became an interim position, but from the way they treated it I got the impression that they always thought of my assignment as a temporary one. They seemed to think that letting me go was no big deal. I should have been expecting it.
What I really felt was quite a different story.
The Worst Experience of My Life
I'll never forget the day I found out it was happening. I was at home. The job being part-time, quite often I received communication from the powers that be in the comfort of my home. It was not odd that this particular bit of news found me there.
It was about half an hour before a piano student was due at my house for a lesson, so I was tidying my living room and lighting scented candles and doing all the things I normally did to make the house presentable for my students. And then the news came. You've heard the phrase, "It felt like being punched in the gut"? Well, never was that description more accurate than it was for me in that moment. First there was a sick feeling that crawled up my spine as realization set in. Then I felt like all the air had been sucked from my lungs. Then the tears came. Then the sobbing. You've seen babies cry so hard they forget to breathe? That was me when I found out I was losing my job. I sat on the sofa, in my sweet-smelling, freshly tidied living room, and I struggled to regain control of myself. I literally thought I was going to throw up.
I watched the clock. I knew I had to let the tears come out, but I knew they had to be gone when my student arrived. So I timed myself. About ten minutes before the scheduled lesson time I ran to the bathroom, looked into the mirror, and took slow deep breaths until the tears finally subsided. I cleaned up my face with a tissue and continued staring at my reflection until I thought the redness around my eyes had lessened somewhat. Then I walked back to my living room just in time to welcome my piano student.
I honestly don't know how I made it through that lesson. Have you ever been in a situation where you refused to let yourself cry, but all the same you couldn't stop thinking about the thing you wanted to cry about? That was me. For that entire half hour I smiled and talked cheerily, and guided my student through his songs, but I was thinking about my job. When he finally left, I collapsed against the door and let myself cry again. I kept crying for a very long time.
I won't say that was the worst day of my life. In the coming months there were to be a lot of bad days, and I don't think I could pick one and say, "This one! This was the worst!" But it was bad. I can say that with absolute certainty.
For nine months I continued working that job while the powers that be looked for my replacement. I could have quit then and there, but I was holding on to this faint hope that if I just worked hard enough, if I could just prove my worth, they might change their minds. They didn't, of course, and nine years later I still can't think of that experience without bringing up all the pain I felt when I was going through it.
When You Think It Can't Get Any Worse
Have you ever been there? Have you ever felt so bad you didn't believe you could feel any worse? That was me during those nine months of waiting for my identity, my dreams, the foundation on which I was building my life to be snatched away. By the end I was so tired of waiting that I almost believed the end would bring relief. Then the end came. And it was worse than anything I ever could have imagined.
I live in a small town. My job was in that small town. My bosses and coworkers and the people with whom I interacted on a day to day basis were all my neighbors. I can't begin to describe what it felt like to walk through the streets of my town in the wake of my shameful dismissal. I looked at the windows of houses and, knowing who lived there, imagined the residents looking back at me and laughing. Thinking to themselves, "There goes Greta. She thought she could be somebody important, but we showed her!"
The Defining Moment of One's Life
Losing that job put my life on a different path than the one I had imagined for myself. I can't say for sure whether this new path has been better or worse than the one I would have followed had I kept that job. To quote Aslan from The Chronicles of Narnia, "No one is ever told what would have happened." So I will never know. I'll never know who I would have been today if I had not endured that one hardship. I do know that part of my life since has been a feeble attempt to reclaim what I had then. I'm like Europe in the Middle Ages, futilely trying to rebuild The Roman Empire. But the Roman Empire was gone and so is the life I would have had. So I have to figure out how to make the most of this new life. The life I never planned on.
In the title of this post I asked if people grieve after a job loss. The answer? I guess it depends on the person. But I know firsthand that some people do grieve, and grieve deeply. This article is for those people, so they will know they are not alone.