Grief at Work
This is Amy.
We met on the first day of 6th grade...well more like at the orientation a few days before 6th grade.
Her mom helped me open my locker because I couldn't figure out how to do it myself.
Then we realized she had actually seen me a few months before at a horse show. (Yes, I rode horses. Not very well, and not for very long. You'll see why in a moment).
We didn't meet then, but she watched from the stands as I was bucked off by a very precocious show pony named Perry at my very first (and very last) horse show. The only thing that got me back on that horse was knowing that I didn't know anyone there … so I had no reason to be embarrassed. Only to run into the one person who remembered it all.
See, we both have "S' last names. Our lockers were right next to each other. A 'kismet' I am more than grateful for. 6th grade is a dumpster fire for most, but having her around made it a little easier.
Finding forever friends in the 6th grade is always a tricky game because there's no gray area. You either keep the friends you find at the turning point of your pubescence for life OR you have a big falling out over some pimply-faced boy and never talk to them again two weeks into your seventh grade year. The only in-between is the deranged "frenemy" category - **shudder**.
Luckily, I fared well and found my forever friend. We weren't instantly each other's one and only. Amy and I got much closer as time marched on. We both had our own sets of friends and extracurricular activities.
But we also always had each other.
Which was critical. I needed that friendship with her. I had a messy home life at the time. And it was so important to me to have her family as an example of what love looked like at home.
Our friendship turned to sisterhood in college. I hate to admit it, but I think I might have followed her around Texas because I didn't want to do life without her.
We both moved to Austin in 2005.
She wound up at a tiny school in downtown Austin called the University of Texas. You may have heard of it. I, a non-Catholic, arrived at the prestigious and very well known Catholic, liberal arts school...Saint Edward's University. Go Hilltoppers!
Carless, and penniless, she helped me survive my Freshman year (where I slowly slipped into my first bought of depression as I tried to adjust to college life away from home).
I was so relieved to have her nearby.
Amy would ride the bus from her dorm at UT all the way down to South Congress Avenue so we could watch America's Next Top Model together. And occasionally an episode of Veronica Mars.
Two years of taking the bus to see each other, we finally realized I should probably just move in with her.
The house on Keasbey St., in the historic Hancock neighborhood, had good bones and a small apartment attached to the back. Amy's sister lived there before us. The 2/1 was in a great location. Amy moved there first, and after a couple crazy roommates I finally told her I'd come join her.
Knowing ourselves well enough, we couldn't (and shouldn't) share a bathroom if we wanted to stay friends, lol! So I took the tiny apartment in the back of the house while she looked for a roommate for the front of the house.
The years we spent at Keasbey is where we really became sisters. We were a beautiful mess. Leaving college, trying to figure out what to do next. Working terrible post-college jobs and trying bridge the gap between college nightlife and "omg I have bills to pay why am I spending $20 on Long Island Iced Teas three times a week?"
We spent afternoons on the couch watching The Wedding Singer and cooking spaghetti together.
Amy told me she looked back at these times and realizes she was depressed. I feel a lot of guilt that I didn't recognize that at the time. It's understandable though. Life is tough at 23. Too many unknowns, and not enough time to explore them all.
When she decided to move back to Houston to go to grad school, I tried sticking it out in Austin on my own. I couldn't hack it though.
I missed my friend. And I was lost too.
Going home seemed smart. Amy had the right idea. She always had the right idea.
We both started getting "adult busy". The kind of busy where you start wondering what you are even accomplishing. But we accomplished a lot! Amy got a Master's degree. She became a Speech Language Pathologist. I took a much more crooked path, but eventually found my career path, too.
We found life partners, and settled into nights at home instead of our usual nights out on the weekends.
We traveled together. I watched her get married to the love of her life in Hawaii.
We were settling in to a groove.
Realizing that life was going by quickly, we both decided we should be intentional about spending time together.
So we decided to start a regular monthly dinner at each other's houses. We lived just 10 minutes from each other now. We were never too far away.
I could never have her too far away.
We did our first monthly dinner in February of 2020. March came around and we realized we may have to reschedule because of something going around called coronavirus. We never got to have another one of those dinners.
We spent her May 10th birthday in the front yard of her parent's house. Socially distancing and wearing masks. We gave her hand sanitizer from the local distillery. The visits got fewer and fewer because she was an essential worker.
Out of respect for her and other essential workers...and to protect myself and my loved one...I stayed in the house.
The last time I saw my friend was on my birthday...July 13th. She came to my fence and gave me a new face mask - a Golden Girls face mask that was a little too tight, but by far my favorite birthday gift. She was good at gifts.
6 days later I would get one of the worst calls of my life. My friend was killed on the way to work.
She was gone.
And since then I've been trying to navigate life without my forever friend.
I've been trying to figure out how to continue working with this hole in my heart.
I've been trying to figure out how to stay connected to people with this hole in my heart.
I've been trying to figure out how to be a good professional, a good employee, and a good leader with this hole in my heart.
I've been trying to figure out how to be a good friend and daughter and partner with this hole in my heart.
I write all this to be clear that grief is constantly at work. In so many of us. And we all have to find ways to carry on. I have been trying to piece together what it means to not have Amy here anymore.
You're probably wondering why I would write this on a work blog.
Well, work has been a refuge for me. I have tried to remain productive as much as possible because in stillness I find profound grief. It has been a welcome coping method. And while I find comfort in work, my efficacy has suffered. Therein lies the conundrum.
There are unanswered emails, and missed messages. Lost opportunities and a crushing sense of guilt and worry about who I've let down.
In the midst of being laid off, socially isolated, dealing with a pandemic, and so much more - she was gone.
And I was worried about work. I never thought I would be the one to be a workaholic, but here I am.
However, I know that productivity isn't the way to heal through this. So this year while I try to maintain my professional trajectory, I am going to bring grief to work. It's the only path to restoration.
I will work through it instead of working around it.
6 months ago I lost my best friend and sister. I want to find her, and find myself, again. I owe that to her.
Amy was special. She still is. She was the kind of person to always send a Christmas or post card (sometimes the only one I would receive...even though she only lived 10 miles away from me). She would send a "Sanka, ya dead?" text if she didn't hear from me every day. She loved sending memes of funny monkeys that she found on Pinterest and was a dedicated fan of RuPaul's Drag race. She was fiercely devoted to friends and family and didn't put up with any BS. She loved David Bowie and Jamaican food. She was remarkable. 22 years together wasn't enough, but I am so happy I got to spend that much time with her at all.
**Please don't drink and drive.**