“My life fell apart… and then I had to go back to work”

by Amy Steinbauer, Senior Assistant, INALJ California

“My life fell apart… and then I had to go back to work”

My father died last month. It was sudden, and quick, and has changed my life forever. I was headed back East for a friend’s wedding, and a visit; but once he got to the hospital, I bumped up my trip to spend more time with him.

In total, I spent about a month in NJ, but eventually, I had to head back to CA, and back to work. My work had been pretty lenient… one plus of being paid hourly— your cheap to misplace for a bit.

Coming back to work was difficult, and there are many waves of that difficulty. My coworkers are lovely and want to hug me and share the burden of my grief, but I don’t want to think about things, much less talk. Some of them can relate, as they have lost their parents, but considering I am one of the youngest employees at the library it doesn’t do much to console me.

To add to my chaos, I had left my desk a complete mess as I was still processing a office transition from a few weeks before. I had anticipated being back much sooner, I didn’t think things would get as bad as they did. Coming back to it, I feel like a different person left that space. I had to go back and retrain myself in how I was working in the space. A silver lining to that, is that I am finally taking the time to organize my stereotypically messy librarian office, and going through things I meant to toss months ago. Since my job has split into two, now I split my office in half to reflect the different areas of my work. So far it is making things much easier to be so organized.

I would like to think that no one would ever need this guide. I hope you all have blissful and happy lives, free from pain. But, realistically, tragedy may find it’s way to your door, no matter how many times you double check the locks.

A few things that may help to consider.

Don’t be afraid to be honest with people.

Libraries are community centers, and being a librarian is an instant community connector. This applies directly to my job as an Outreach Librarian, the literal face of the library… People need to know that I am going through a hard time that has changed me, or they may be frustrated that I am not the person I used to be, or am not right now. It takes the load off when people know that I am grieving. Since I was gone for so long, and don’t have an adequate substitutes, my outreach service was majorly disrupted. People were frustrated and annoyed with me being out, and there was no one to explain things to them. I had to get control of the situation, which meant having many small uncomfortable conversations with my community contacts. While I generally love outreach and my job, it’s hard to be the happy, positive community member when you are grieving.

Being open about grief connects you with people who are suffering too… since I have shared my news, one mother stayed to talk with me after storytime about her father having risky brain surgery. And another mother told me that her son is chronically ill, so they drive every day to a special hospital a few towns over. Even though we don’t typically discuss it openly, people are hurting all the time. And in a job that builds community connections, it easy to overlook that sometimes the biggest resource you can be sometimes is just some ears to listen. One of my favorite quotes has always been “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”~ John Watson. Grief reminds me of what we all too easily forget. Life is hard, and no one is immune to that. Even Beyonce has bad days. Connecting with people about loss and or life’s hardships helps to ground you in real human experiences and emotions.

Don’t overload yourself.

Before I left for home, I had just started up the Fall Outreach Schedule, and was still in the process of contacting all of the 35 or so outreach partners from preschools to businesses. I wasn’t even running my full schedule, but I was exhausted and overworked and super stressed. In particular in the month before I had left my wallet home twice! I frequently couldn’t remember if I had shampooed or conditioned my hair, or in what order. I wasn’t operating at a level that was comfortable for anyone, but I had a strong desire to do everything! Technically, I was doing one and a half a person’s jobs, and it was simply too much.

After what has happened, I took the time to reevaluate what I can do. I’m not emotionally at 100% yet, and taking on stress right now just won’t work. Work is a good distraction from grief, but you don’t want to stress yourself out while you are fragile. I’m taking some time to realistically look at my schedule. There is no room for playing catch up or getting projects done, and now I really miss that time and need to find room for it.

There will be changes.

Grief changes people. On my first day back, I had to stay late for my PJ storytime. It had already been cancelled and rescheduled, so despite my feelings, I had to make do. I picked out the stories, got the snack, looked up an action rhyme, and was set. Five minutes before the official end time, we had gone through 3 and a half stories, the action rhyme, the snack, and I didn’t have another story in me. I announced the end, sang the goodbye song, and we were done. In hindsight, I think I read the stories too fast, and probably could have kept going, but in all honesty, no one really cared that it ended quicker than usual. Stories were read, laughs were had, and that equals success no matter how much time is spent.

Love yourself.

Remember to eat healthy meals and exercise. This is something I am working on! I had bread and cheese for dinner my first two nights back, followed by weight in ice cream. As I write this, I am at a conference that I presented at. I bought a huge bag of candy to entice feedback, but forgot to hand it out, and am now eating too many Reese’s pumpkins. I tend to oscillate between skipping meals completely to overindulging.

Meal times can be really hard, as you sit quietly and are tempted to reflect. They are also hard for me because my father loved to cook, and it was something we could always talk about. Even as we sat in the hospital, praying for good news, I was asking him to teach me how to make blueberry scones.

Lunch is hard at work, as I have to leave my distractions at my desk, and remember the life that I am leading. Sometimes I just drive around for the whole hour only stopping for coffee. Hopefully, things will get better.

Take breaks.

You can’t predict how grief will make you react, but no matter what you have to honor it. Sometimes you need to cry in your car at lunch, or in your office, or hold back tears during storytime. My work schedule gets interrupted as I have to focus on things going on at home, or just feel sad for a few moments. But, life is more important than work. All that matters is that things get done, and thankfully I have the space in my management to take my time.

Don’t shut out your friends.

My friends are mostly good and hover the awkward line between giving me space, and reaching out. Nothing really helps, so there’s no right move on either side. Sometimes I don’t have the energy to respond to a text, but I like getting them.

Late one night when things started to take a turn in the hospital, I texted one of my graduate school friends, and without saying anything significant, asked her to remind me of my career goals in 6 months, and then to remind me again in a year. She didn’t ask any questions, just agreed to my weird late night requests, and I am thankful for that. I have aspirations and dreams, and I want to do things, things that I can’t think about right now; but are ultimately important to me. I like that she is “in charge” of them right now, holding them for safe keeping for when I can be myself again. Even though she probably never thinks about it, it makes me feel relieved to know that someone else is tasked with taking care of my dreams for the time being.

Job Searching Gets Extra Challenging

For all those grieving and job searching… imagine that I am reaching out to pat you on the back. Job searching is always a challenge, and when you bring grief to the table with it, it can seem impossible. Searching for work is all about possibility and hope and good things. Grief tells you that all the good is gone, and you will listen to that. It feels like that. But like I stated above, you have goals, you have passions and desires, and life has to move on. This is another shout out to lean on your friends, let them look at your resume, cover letters, websites, etc. Friends want to help, and these are tasks that require multiple eyes on them. Focus on your good. Get overly involved in career orientated websites (I’m kind of obsessed with TheMuse.com), keep your goals on the front burner. It’s another sort of distraction, and when the good comes from it, you will be happy again.AmySteinbauer

To anyone going through grief, let’s tell each other that it gets better. Even if you don’t believe it right now, maybe if we keep reaching out to each other and being an ally, we can heal together.

Amy Steinbauer is the Early Childhood Outreach Librarian at Beaumont Library District in Beaumont, CA. It took her six months to find a job. She drives a bookmobile; which is one of her favorite things! Amy has a B.A. in English from Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA and an MLISc from the University of Hawaii. She loves mermaids, and advocating for libraries; and will one day combine them both to take over the world! Until then, follow her on twitter@merbrarian.

  23 comments for ““My life fell apart… and then I had to go back to work”

  1. Stephanie
    November 15, 2014 at 11:06 am

    I lost my mom soon after I graduated from college. The first year was brutal for me – so many things that I used to enjoy became fraught with grief, and it felt like so many things in my life had shifted just without her. But I can tell you that you will adapt to your dad’s absence, which is perhaps not a comfort but, for me, allows me to miss my mother without collapsing in despair. In the meantime, grief and understanding of loss has made me a more compassionate person in general and specifically helped me in supporting friends in their seasons of loss. I hope you find some gifts of grief as well, Amy – though I think this article is proof that you are. I applaud your writing about this. Best wishes to you, your family, and all your father’s loved ones who are learning to be without him.

    • Amy Steinbauer
      November 15, 2014 at 9:50 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Stephanie. I look for the gifts of grief, and I think I see them sometimes… but I wish things could just be like they were before… sorry, today was hard. Thanks.

  2. Dennis
    November 12, 2014 at 7:24 pm

    Amy, thank you for sharing your experience. By doing so, you have helped others understand grief a little better, and you have grown as a person. You know you are not alone. Others are enduring pain, others have come through it, others will experience it when least wanted or expected. You’ve also learned you can’t and shouldn’t overburden yourself. Your injury isn’t visible, so others may assume all is well. Don’t feel the need to fake it or force yourself to dance and sing. This too shall pass, and you are already learning from the experience. My life and work are being uprooted by family illness, and your wise words help. Thanks!

    • Amy Steinbauer
      November 15, 2014 at 9:48 pm

      Thank you, Dennis. It is rewarding in a weird way to be able to openly commiserate with others. “Your injury isn’t visible, so others may assume all is well.” This can be an especially difficult part of grieving.

  3. Susan S.
    November 12, 2014 at 8:37 am

    Amy-Thanks for sharing your story. My dad passed away this year as well, soon after I changed jobs and relocated to be closer to him. Its been difficult to say the least to go to this job where I barely know anyone. My programs for mostly babies and toddlers have been my saving grace. My condolences to you and your family.

    Susan S.

    • Amy Steinbauer
      November 15, 2014 at 9:45 pm

      Sorry to hear that, Susan. Yes, the kiddies can be a great distraction! Thanks.

  4. Kimberly Kelly
    November 10, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    Amy, I understand your grief. I am currently enrolled in Library Science school and I work full-time in a hospital library as a library tech. I lost my mother two years ago to cancer. I took a leave of absence when we got the news that her cancer had returned. During my leave she lost her battle to cancer. It was especially hard for me to return to work because my job is in the medical library of the hospital she died in.
    At first, it was torture to walk through the halls and see the doctors and nurses who treated her. Eventually, I was able to find some comfort in this. I could see how some of them valued their patients and it made me feel better thinking that everything that could have been done to beat her cancer was. When I first returned to work I remember one medical student would come in to the library bright and happy every day. He would always ask me how I was doing and I would lie and tell him I was “good”. On a bad day for me he asked me in his bright, happy way how I was doing. That day I told him I was in fact NOT doing well and that I had recently lost my mom. He voiced his sympathy and left He returned a few minutes later with candy bars for me and said he said it was the only thing he could think to do to try and cheer me up. He hoped it would help me feel a little better. As silly as it sounds now, it really did make me feel better that even after I blurted out all my inner turmoil to him he did not run away and hide from the grieving girl, he returned with comfort and caring. He tried to help, even when he could not relate to my loss he reached out. Like I say, giving me candy bars seems a silly act now..but at the time it made me feel better that he did not ostracize me for my grief.
    I still work at that library and some days are harder than others. Even this morning on my walk in I saw one of the nurses who last treated my mom and I had to look the other way for fear of crying. Initially, after my mothers death, I decided I was not going to pursue my MLIS. However, I eventually returned to school. I knew she would wish for me to pursue my dreams and i felt it would be a dishonor to her memory to give up.
    I also understand your “losing your parent at a young age” grief. I still have a hard time with this. While I was not a child when she died I would not consider my life complete. I am not married, I do not have children and I have not finished my MLIS degree. It is hard to think of these things happening without her here to enjoy them with me. Still, I like to think she is with me all the time. I always find comfort in this poem:

    Death is nothing at all.
    I have only slipped away to the next room.
    I am I and you are you.
    Whatever we were to each other,
    That, we still are.

    Call me by my old familiar name.
    Speak to me in the easy way
    which you always used.
    Put no difference into your tone.
    Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

    Laugh as we always laughed
    at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
    Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
    Let my name be ever the household word
    that it always was.
    Let it be spoken without effect.
    Without the trace of a shadow on it.

    Life means all that it ever meant.
    It is the same that it ever was.
    There is absolute unbroken continuity.
    Why should I be out of mind
    because I am out of sight?

    I am but waiting for you.
    For an interval.
    Somewhere. Very near.
    Just around the corner.

    All is well.

    Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!

    Henry Scott Holland

    • November 15, 2014 at 9:43 pm

      Thanks Kimberly— and thanks for the poem… I love poetry. Thanks for sharing… I am struggling as my life is not complete… I can’t imagine ever going back into that hospital. You get a cross the Internet hug for that!

    • Amy Steinbauer
      November 15, 2014 at 9:55 pm

      Thanks for your comment! This part really resonated with me: “While I was not a child when she died I would not consider my life complete.” This has been a really difficult part of my struggle. Thanks for including the poem as well… I do love poetry. I think you are so brave to go back to that same hospital… you get a through the Internet hug for that!

  5. sharrese
    November 6, 2014 at 7:26 pm

    Thank you Amy for sharing your story. Like you have had been faced with family tragedy as well, but unlike you I have not made much efforts or strides to move on in terms of my career. I am glad that you are forging through and keeping your career in focus, good job friend.

    • Amy Steinbauer
      November 7, 2014 at 2:03 pm

      Hey friend! Thanks for commenting! Don’t be too hard on yourself… it’s a miserable experience, and while work is necessary and fulfilling, life is more important than a job!

  6. Evangela Oates
    November 5, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    My sincerest condolences, Amy. Thank you for sharing your story. I was most touched when you wrote about crying in your office. When my girl Samantha transitioned (the sweetest beagle), I had several moments when I had to close my office door and cry, sometimes weep. We all need permission to fall apart so that we can fall back together. For you, and those you love, I hope that his memory brings more joy than tears. Take care.

    • Amy Steinbauer
      November 7, 2014 at 2:01 pm

      Thank you, Evangela! Grief is grief… I am still broken up about losing my golden retriever last winter… she was my soulmate! Beautiful sentiment!

  7. Soli
    November 5, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    My sympathies and understanding. I went through the exact same thing a year ago now.

    I will add one thing I wish I had known to do in advance. My mother was terminally ill but I waited until she got back to fill out FMLA paperwork. She ended up passing away a week later, before my information could even be filed. While I was able to take two months leave I had to jump through a few different hoops to make that happen.

    Take care of yourself.

    • Amy Steinbauer
      November 7, 2014 at 1:59 pm

      Yes, Soli! My poor mother and brothers are managing through all the paperwork… thanks for offering some additional advice. Sorry about your mother!

  8. November 5, 2014 at 11:47 am

    Sorry for your loss, but thank you for sharing. I lost my father a couple of years ago while still in grad school. This is very good advice.

    • Amy Steinbauer
      November 7, 2014 at 1:58 pm

      Thank you! I am happy to share any advice, sorry for your loss as well… I hope it gets easier.

  9. Cassndra
    November 5, 2014 at 10:07 am

    I wish the best during this difficult time.

    • Amy Steinbauer
      November 7, 2014 at 1:57 pm

      Thanks, Cassandra! I am invoking a sense of “onward” for my career… other than that, I just try to get by…

  10. November 5, 2014 at 9:44 am

    My condolences to you and your family your loss – I lost my dad to cancer at the end of August, and while we knew it was coming, I miss him terribly. I imagine him up in heaven, cheering on last night’s election results (he was a diehard conservative). Be gentle with yourself over the next year.

    • Amy Steinbauer
      November 7, 2014 at 1:56 pm

      Thanks, Kate! And, thank for all the love on twitter… my condolences to you as well!

  11. Kim
    November 5, 2014 at 9:07 am

    So sorry for your loss. My thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family.

    • Amy Steinbauer
      November 7, 2014 at 1:55 pm

      Thank you, Kim!

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