Alice Graves: A layoff triggers the 5 stages of grief

I am cruising down First Avenue S, windows rolled down, Van Morrison and I singing Almost Independence Day at top volume. This isn't a pretty sound because Van is famous for his weird phrasing and I sing off-key.

And I'm crying.

I didn't turn to this song. That this was the next one on the CD is eerily ironic: I have just been laid off from my job, along with half the research and writing staff of a small company.

It is my independence day, but there's no celebration.

My job was to write about issues in human resources — how organizations can capture the information that its employees possess and make it available throughout the organization through an intranet and social networking. I wrote about the mass exodus from the workforce of baby boomers and that an organization's greatest asset is its people, and that companies must make it a priority to communicate openly to gain their employees' loyalty so they will identify with the company and never quit to join a competitor.

I loved my job. I worked at home, cats asleep nearby, and spent my days reading reports and writing about them. I absorbed an incredible amount of information in an area I previously knew nothing about. What do I do with it now?

A job is more than a paycheck, although that's always nice. A job that's really right for you defines you and gives you a sense of identity, purpose and self-worth. My job gave me those things.

But the job that allowed me to finally, honestly call myself "a writer" was pulled out from under me, like a tablecloth from under the remains of a huge feast. Now all the dishes are shattered on the floor and food is splattered everywhere.

I'm angry, I'm bitter and I feel betrayed.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified the five stages of grief, the range of emotions we experience when a loved one dies or when we are diagnosed with a fatal illness.

The same is true for losing a job.

I skipped past denial when I got the mysterious phone call from the Big Guy. He would not tell me why he wanted me to come to the office on Friday. This was so uncharacteristic of an ordinarily fair and communicative person, I knew something was up.

I moved straight to anger, and that's where I hovered for weeks. I am not constantly angry; it comes and goes. Some days I take naps and have dreams about waiting in line for a paycheck, or my son being sick and in the hospital.

Bargaining is the third stage of grief, but I am not in a bargaining mood. Like the women in countless blues songs who still want their men who left them for another, I want my old job back. If they called today, I'd go back; all is forgiven.

Depression is the fourth stage. So I question the reason for my existence. I feel old, worthless and stupid. I'll never get another job. Why would anyone pay me to do anything? If I lie still and concentrate really hard, maybe I can make myself disappear. Some evenings I find that gin on ice coupled with endless reruns of House help me, until I wonder why Hugh Laurie has a job and I don't.

I admit, it helps that I'm not alone. About 6.7 million Americans are receiving unemployment benefits. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in Florida is more than 10 percent, and that doesn't include people working part time who are looking for full-time jobs, and those who just plain gave up. Everyone I talk to knows at least three people who have been laid off.

Life goes on.

I know I should look at this in a more positive way. I am free to take a class, learn to repair hybrid cars, write a novel, volunteer, start a business, teach English in Paris, join the Peace Corps, run for public office or take singing lessons, because I'd love to be a blues singer. You can cry me a river, baby, like I cried over that job.

But my son is in college; he needs stability. So I'll probably just stay put, continue applying for jobs, post my resume everywhere, call everyone I know, and wait.

The final stage of grief is acceptance. But the final stage of joblessness is a new job.

St. Petersburg resident Alice Graves can be reached at aliceggraves@yahoo.com.

Alice Graves: A layoff triggers the 5 stages of grief 08/24/09 [Last modified: Monday, August 24, 2009 5:30am]

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