• rachelarielanderse

An Essay on Grief. Or, How my Grandma got me fired.

Updated: Jun 16, 2021

Unless you’re one of those incredible folks over the age of 102 who was also alive during the “Spanish” flu of 1918, all of us are being asked to grow and change in a reality we could never have imagined. A new world is being born. I’ll just say it: we will never be returning to the “normal” we had before. This crisis has in fact offered us a break in the matrix so to speak, a chance for us to reevaluate what we’re doing and why.

Enter: getting fired. Who’s with me? Over 30 million Americans filed for unemployment since March. According to banking experts, we could be seeing 25% of the US population loosing their jobs in the next year. And it’s not just America, but all around the world. Did I loose my security, my lovely matching, 15% 401K plan and stable paycheck delivered directly into my bank account? Yes. Am I utterly devastated and pining after what has been stripped away from me? Decidedly not.

In fact, I’m not mad at all because it was my grandma’s fault.

Yeah, she called me up beginning of April and said, “Rachel, hon’”—she was brought up in the South—“I’m sorry but you’re being let go.” I was simultaneously instantly relieved and overwhelmed with a sheer joy and lightness, and then worried for my uncertain future. Even when you look forward to something, there is always a feeling of loss in change.

It’s odd how we process, or shall I say don’t process grief. No one teaches us how to do it. Maybe one can’t be taught how. I think many of us who’ve had to deal with grief, either of a lost loved one or of a past reality that no longer exists, don’t really go anywhere with it.

That’s why my grandma started coming to me in my dreams. My rational mind couldn’t stop it.

Ok, let’s cut to the chase. It wasn’t my grandma who called and fired me because one, she was never my boss, maybe that was obvious, and then two, well because she died over a year ago, in December 2019. Yep, my eighty seven and a half (her emphasis was always on the half) year old grandma ducked out before this whole messy coronavirus business got started. Easier to not have to stress about it, for all of us. Smart woman.

So, a part of me would like to tell you she’s dead and I never see her anymore. That would be a more sane, conventional answer. She lived in Colorado for my entire adult life, while I’ve been living in Italy for the past eight years (and Hawaii and California before that), so I barely saw her in the years before her death. I’d visit her maybe once or every other year for literally a few days. Yes, I know, it was a sadly inadequate amount, sculpting the shame of why I beat myself up about it now. Why didn’t I visit her more? Why didn’t I pop out her gran' babies, giving her a new reason to live? This is what grief does to you. It winds you in circles like an endless maze; or perhaps more optimistically, like a very long labyrinth where in the end, you come back to a place in yourself, but this time deeper. A level up.

However, the fact is, I see her more than I used to. Yes, the dead has risen! She has become a staple in my dream life. She’s my accomplice, my Batman & Robin sidekick who helps me on endless accounts, for example, like finding my boots when some lame-o stole them in my dream world. Thanks, grandma.

I should add the next ingredient here: my uncle Steven. He hadn’t been doing well for quite a few years, maybe the last ten at least, and recently died. He passed away six months after grandma actually, last May, at only sixty four years old. They lived together, as a bit of a toxic codependent team (making it oddly unsurprising that he passed away so closely behind her). Grandma couldn’t kick him out because he had nowhere else to go, while he didn’t have the health or will to get a job and create another life for himself. He was very overweight, had a failing liver from a life of alcohol abuse and believed in his salvation via a cult he had poured his life savings into that never came through on his behalf. He would help grandma cook and run errands but he was also prone to fits of rage, with a passive aggressive seething unhappiness and despair that sat just barely below the surface. Ex-alcoholic transformed to rage-aholic. So although my family loved him, as he was also loving and extremely sensitive and caring, we also recognized the toll his presence had on grandma Marie. A complicated, karmic life-shortener, so to speak. Ok, next book on him and their relationship, but the point is, I never dream of him. Besides one dream, it’s always her. Grandma, in her living, dream-form.

So, she’s coming to me in my dreams. Like a guardian angel from another plane, offering this new way for me to connect with her spirit, to access her memory, to pretend like she’s still here. But how, you may ask, did she get me fired?

Well, somewhere in the many stages of grief there must a category such as this: for wanting to live your life better for those who have died, for your beloveds who couldn’t or wouldn’t, who held themselves back from living the life of their dreams. In any and all ways, great and small, how can I do more with my life than they did with theirs—in honor of them? It’s like I owe them a determination to try harder, to make my life beautiful and shining, because their lives weren’t so fulfilling at the end. Actually, when both my grandma and uncle died I felt this tremendous burst of what I’d call will to live my life better. Various aspects of my life, my relationship, health, spiritual, and friendship arenas—they were all going well enough, but one area was really suffering. Career. It was high time to quit wasting my time working a job I didn’t fully appreciate.

In fact, I had wanted to move on from my job practically since I started it five years ago, but I didn’t have the hutzpah to do so. To apply, I went through a rigorous hiring process, jumping through multiple flaming lion hoops: application, video interview, phone call, and attending a live hiring event in another country. I got accepted (as only six percent do) and started working for them in the fall of 2015. That first work season was the best. Wearing my rosy-colored, “OMG this job is so amazing” glasses, it was the one and only season where my raw, unbridled and sincere enjoyment of the job shone through. At even the start of the following summer, I had fallen out of love. Ridiculously, at the end of every season I would come back babbling to my friends about how I was going to leave it next year. Yet, winter would role on by and I’d be right back at it the following summer season. I felt like some kind of creepy professional drug addict, addicted to the money and the ease.

There are some people who can work a job they don’t like. They do it for the money and find fulfillment in their time off. My last job would have fit the bill perfectly on that level. It was a seasonal position that left me the winter open. A major perk was all this time off. Getting paid to travel, getting flown around the world, eating Michelin star meals, enjoying luxurious spas, and staying in five star hotels. I was living the life of glamor. Hobnobbing with the rich, or at least the upper middle-class. These are all the benefits that carefully craft that mere six percent of accepted applicants. I was, I too was doing it for all these reasons and more. It paid well enough. It was adventurous. There was a great community of folks. But it wasn’t fulfilling my soul and if I’ve learned one thing about myself in these thirty three lucky years of life, it’s that I am not one of those people who can work a job she doesn’t care about, just for the money. My heart has to be in it. And it wasn’t. Or at least not fully. I couldn’t stop thinking about that fabulous quote from Paulo Coehlo from The Alchemist where the main character is told, “if you stop following the whispers of your heart, it will simply stop whispering”. I was afraid my heart would stop whispering from from all these years of neglect.

Looking back now I see it was just the wrong adventure. It was adventurous for all the travel, for going to new places like the Cinque Terre, the Florida Keys, and the Big Island of Hawaii among a hundred other rare, beautiful and truly privileged destinations, but it wasn’t the inward adventure I was looking for. I wanted to explore the depths of human connection. How deeply will we permit ourselves to connect with another human being, to connect with ourselves? My former job was about how to stay perfectly balanced on the surface. We were specifically told not to bring up the “hot” topics of religion, politics, or people’s history, trauma, pain, terror, or extreme joy. Basically we should not acknowledge the full spectrum of human emotion and experience. A six day vacation with high-paying guests was just not the place for that kind of expression. They weren’t looking for growth but a mindless, light, fuzzy vacation-mode happiness. Keep them in the bubble. I finally understood that over the years, and yet I wanted to plunge the depths. It was killing me to force myself to continue to foster this superficial level of connection. I struggled to sincerely care about whether a client was unhappy with their lack of a “sea view” when I could see a host of other issues beneath the surface that were not being addressed, rendering them unhappy. At the end, I just saw how much more I wanted to help people on a deeper level but it wasn’t the right place. They had signed up for a vacation, not therapy.

So yes, to be honest a part of my grieves for the lost years I spent developing skills I don’t really care about, and not being able to bring the fullest expression of my being to the workplace. Who’s with me on that one? Can we make space for those jobs in this new world? However, I also don’t believe that there is ever a “wrong” or a “right” decision. Everything we do is perfect. Every “wrong” choice we make teaches us what we really love, leading us to our next step that is even more perfect. Different life paths are like choosing different gelato flavors. Maybe you’ll prefer one flavor over another, but if you love ice-cream (like me) it’s not that you’ll not like the one you get, whatever you choose. They’re just different experiences.

So that’s what I’d done by mistake and maybe out of laziness: I chose the crème caramel and not the pistachio and that’s when grandma showed up in my life to whoop me into action. Get on the bus, Rachel. It’s time to be doing what you came here to do. And as much I would love her to be still here with me on this earthly plane, to cuddle and comfort and visit(!) and love, I also feel like she’s right there, just on the other side of the veil cheering me on. In wanting my happiness, she helped instigate the whole firing process so that I could finally be released from a job I didn’t like to pursue a career I love. My grandma and I had this special connection while she was alive. She was there at my birth. I was her only grandchild. She sewed me all my beautiful Easter dresses. She always made me my special birthday angel food cakes from the box, with real whip cream and fresh berries, and drove me to my flute lessons across the windy canyon, Colorado road and back. She celebrated every graduation with me. So of course she is the one to show up for me and demand that I hold fast to my soul’s own commitment to happiness and fulfillment in this life. Gotta heed those whispers, right? She thinks so.

So, I’d like to ask. Who’s showing up for you? It seems that many if not all of us are being asked to reevaluate where we are in relationship to where we’d like to be. Are you doing what you love? Is there some secret ninja in your life, working on your behalf? Some ally? Can you let him or her in more, to give you that extra little boost? Is it just showing up for yourself more? Only you have the answers but I encourage you to make the exploration. I didn’t know that it my was grandma who got me fired until she started showing up in my dreams so much that I took a deeper look and then finally understood. We shy away from others’ help and support so easily. Too easily.

Why don’t we ask for help, why aren’t we more open to it? Well, now is your chance to change all that. There’s no time like the present. Reach out to your support sources. Ask for help. Ask for support. Major transitions in any form are never easy. Job change, relationship status, health crisis. Let someone be there to help. Even if she’s coming to you from—not the other side—but the dream side.

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