Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Oh how I envy you.

[132/365] Sun of Nothing
Originally uploaded by
Zack Kinion

Today was one of those momentous occasions at work. "Dan submitted his letter of resignation."

I'm usually a big fan of third party narratives, so I won't continue in that fashion, but this was the general tone of the office this afternoon. Many of my peers were wondering what developments had occurred on my trip to San Diego yesterday. There were many questions. "Did you find a house?" "Have you heard anything about the job yet?" "What are you going to do if you don't get the job?" "What are you doing Dan?"

Yes, there has been quite a buzz, for quite a while. People are clearly excited for me, as they know it has been a difficult year. I think for the most part, my friends want me to be happy, and whatever form that takes, they will be there to cheer me on. When I first announce last month that I was interviewing for a job in San Diego, I set off a collective gasp of surprise. Nobody every really considered that I would leave the agency. After all, I have been with my job for 21 years. I am also in the position of having top seniority at the office, and I am generally well respected in my field. I suppose I'm the kind of person you would expect to always be there, and to eventually make my exit at retirement.

The way I put it to others, life took a very different turn for me during these past couple of years, and I am no longer the same person prior to that. My focus changed dramatically when my then boyfriend was diagnosed with cancer. For one, he became my domestic partner, then later my husband. I worked desperately to balance caring for my children, while also helping my husband to battle his brain tumor. And in the end, I had to devote all of my waking time to helping my husband die at home, the way he wanted to.

So when I returned to work last November, people noticed that I was no longer the same. Yes I may have looked the same, well, perhaps a few shades grayer. My focus was no longer the same. My coping skills were no longer the same. And, my general well-being was no longer the same.

So back to the questions at hand. No, I haven't heard anything at this point about the job. In fact, I have chosen to let go of any worry about the job. If at some point I am offered a job, great. If not, I going to be moving forward without it. Did I hear about the house yet? Yes, the house is mine. The owner agreed to my terms, they will be sending me a lease agreement soon, and I take occupancy beginning July 7th. As for what am I going to do? Well, I submitted a letter of resignation today. After a 21 year career, I will be leaving the job officially on July 9th. And yes, jaws dropped.

From the moment that I hit the send key on my computer, and told my supervisor that my resignation was now in her in-box, a crowd began to gather around me. "Oh how I envy you." That was the phrase du jour today. It's not surprising with today's economy, and all the cutbacks and layoffs we have had to endure, that morale is at an all time low. News that one more of us is cutting his losses, and moving on, creates a collective sense of envy from the group. Everyone kept telling me how envious they were feeling, and how I was so brave to make such a decision. Everyone made mention of how they would do anything to be in my position. Oh really?

Lets have a collective reality check here. Envious? Of me? You would give anything to be in my position? I highly doubt that this is true. Everyone knows my sad story, and nobody would like to think of themselves as next in line for this type of life changing event. Yes, I am quite happy with my decision. But I would gladly stay another 21 years if I could have my husband back. All I could think of today, was that no, you don't want to be me. I have nothing to be envious about. I remember having a conversation with a friend the week before I returned to work after Michael died. We were trying to think of anyone else at the office that had lost a spouse, and we couldn't thing of anyone. So I returned to the office, the only widower, with no example to look for as to how to deal with this change while doing my job. I have spent each ensuing month struggling to stay afloat. In the end, I realized that if I didn't leave, that I was literally going to fall apart.

Let me step back two months, when I was at my lowest of lows. At that time, the trauma of losing Michael was nowhere near as intense as those first few months, but the depth of my depression was at it's worst. I had begun feeling suicidal, and was having a difficult time finding a reason to go on. It wasn't until I made the decision to cut myself loose from my life here in San Francisco, and begin anew in San Diego, that I began to have hope once more. So, envy? I don't think so. I'm definitely not one to envy. Inspiration, perhaps. What I would tell my peers is this. The life that you love, and cherish, can be taken from you without notice. When that happens you are left feeling like there is little to hold onto. And likewise, there is little that holds on to you. Cutting my losses, making a change, moving on with my life, those are just phrases to make everyone else feel better. The reality is that I am doing what I need to do to survive. I am doing what I need to do to begin searching for a new sense of joy. It won't be an easy process, and it will likely take a very long time.

I am not in a position to be envied. I am taking care of myself the best way I know. If you see something here that resonates with you, and inspires you to make changes that will enhance your life, then by all means take from my experience. As for envy, it has no place in my life. On the other hand, I appreciate your sharing in my optimism for the changes I am about to make.


  1. Eeeek! You just struck a nerve with this post. Because I'm now mostly nomadic and travel all over and spend winters in the south, I am constantly being told how lucky I am, or "How I envy you your life." Now that I'm here at the place in Nova Scotia, I'm getting the "What I'd give to be able to do that!"

    I sort of reminds me of that commercial for the chocolates with the toffee inside and someone saying they would give anything to know how the toffee gets inside.. then cuts to a giant devil leaning forward saying, "Anything???!!!"

    Very few people seem to make the connection between Don dying, and why I have gone nomad and go to places where there is extreme solitude. The only thing I hear is "I wish I could afford to do that too." Well, people, there are some major losses and also sacrifices that have occurred in order for me to do what I'm doing. Losses and sacrifices that I'm about one hundred percent sure no one else would be willing to endure. Lose your husband after a year of cancer? Sell the farm you had lived at for 32 years? Get rid of most of your belongings? Say goodbye to family and friends and be willing to live alone in a van with two dogs for about a third of the year? Travel to unfamiliar places where you know no one and have to find your way around alone? Hmmmm, have we any takers for that deal? No, I suppose not.

    However, I'm doing the best that I can to keep going, at a time when there isn't a hell of a lot else that works. I'm doing what makes sense to me - you remember "me"(??), the person who actually has to live inside of my life. While I work away on this old place, I feel somewhat better - not happy, but better. My interest is held for several hours a day. And, while I sand, paint and nail, I'm tossing around ideas for places to travel when it gets too cold to stay in this old, uninsulated house. Being on the road has been therapeutic for me - helping me to feel alive at a time when I am otherwise feeling dead inside. The things I am trying have given me some kind of hope - not the big kind with a capital H (a year of caring for Don through cancer pretty much killed that kind forever) - but the little kind - the kind that you have to look for in its hiding place beneath a heap of despair.

    But, much like you, if someone offered to give me back my husband if I would never travel a mile again, or give up this old house and return to my previous one, I'd be there in a heartbeat. However, that's not going to happen - ever. So, I find myself in the position of having to try to figure out what I need to do to keep going - to keep trying to carry on alone. Lucky? No, I don't think so.

    Well, I think it's great that you've got the house and are now in a position to begin moving forward with your plan. Who knows where it will all lead, but in many ways, do we really need to know how things will turn out?

  2. The funny thing is, the part they envy about your life, and your life, bev, those people could easily choose if they wanted They would not have to endure all the backstory of grief and loss that precipitated the changes you both were forced to make, yes, forced by whatever mechanism brought you to where you needed to be to survive. I salute you for doing what you need to do, and even more for knowing what that is.

    This post also resonated with me. My changes in environment haven't been as drastic as what you both speak of in the 11 months since Jeff's death and the 14 months of living with the cancer diagnosis and even the years before that when something was clearly not right in our lives.
    But I can sure relate to the comments about envy. Jeff and I ran a small business for most of our time together - since before we were married 20 years ago. We had our reasons for making that choice, but not the least of them were because we were caring for Jeff's dad, who had Alzheimer's disease, and then caring for our infant daughter, who was born 2 years into our fledgling, struggling business. I can't tell you the number of times I heard how lucky I was to have a life that included having our daughter with us as we worked. People, that was not luck. Luck had nothing to do with it. We made choices, as everyone does. And every choice precludes other choices, other ways of ordering your life. Obviously.

  3. Everything. So many everythings. So glad you all are here, though I wish you didn't need to be.

    I would give up every tiniest little interest or glimmer in me to have my love back, safe, alive, all good. I would gladly and willingly stay right here in this little town, not travel, not garden, not look for bats; I would work in a job I did not like. but that is not what was asked of me. There is little to hold onto, and little that holds on to me - in this world, anyway. I am thinking, coming to 49.5 weeks, that maybe I am here to tend our dog. Maybe that is all. Matt wanted an older dog, to give him a good "last few years," to give him a good and beautiful death when his time came. He had just been talking about that on the way to the river that day. Talking about how our dog would get to walk off into the woods when his time came. So maybe I am here for that, maybe that is why I didn't drown too. Whatever small corner of goodness we can find, that is the one to hold on to.

    "The life that you love, and cherish, can be taken from you without notice. When that happens you are left feeling like there is little to hold onto. And likewise, there is little that holds on to you. Cutting my losses, making a change, moving on with my life, those are just phrases to make everyone else feel better. The reality is that I am doing what I need to do to survive." I love this Dan. Thank you.

  4. Not meaning to hijack the comments, but I found carolyn's comment to be very interesting - about how people could actually be doing the same things we have chosen to do if... well, substitute whatever you like -- if they had more nerve, if they were willing to give something new a try, if they were willing to give up something they value in order to be free to travel, move, or whatever. They don't have to go through all that we have had to go through to be enabled - so it's weird that they make these remarks about how lucky we are, or how they envy us.
    And, Mandy, maybe you and your dog, Bo, are together in this place in time for each other. I sometimes think that about my dogs too.

  5. Beautifully expressed. You inspire me. I'm glad you got the house.

    I'm in the process of packing up all my worldly possessions. My friends and the U-Haul truck come on Saturday to take everything to a storage unit. Then I'll be a nomad for at least the next 3-4 months. Who knows, after that? As you said, I'm doing what I need to do to survive, to take care of me the best way I know how. It's good to know I'm not the only one.