Looking for Work, Trying To Grieve

Is it ok to change jobs in the first year after my partner’s death? How can I help a friend in denial about her sister’s prognosis? Our advice guru weighs in.

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I hate my job, and have wanted to move on for some time. But having recently suffered the devastating loss of my partner, I worry now isn’t the right time to take on a new challenge. I worry that even if I found my dream job, I wouldn’t be able to do it well because my grief is often overwhelming and distracting. At least I can do my current job. Should I stay put during this first year, when the pain is so raw, or embrace a new challenge even as I grieve?

article-jobThe old devil-you-know-versus-the-devil-you-don’t conundrum. The monotony of a job you hate can provide comfort and stability in a time of grieving. But it can also increase your unhappiness. A new challenge to throw yourself into could be a welcome distraction from your grief. But you might not succeed. And you don’t want to pick a challenge so overwhelming that later on you feel, in some way, cheated out of taking the time to grieve. And so on.

According Dr. Meredith Naidorf, a New York-based psychiatrist with a special interest in grief and mourning, “There is no right or wrong answer – only what feels better and worse to you. Just like grieving requires asking yourself what you need right now, so does making big decisions like job changes. Which alternative would be the best self-care right now: minimizing transitions so you can focus on grieving or embracing a change and allowing new beginnings with all their excitement and anxiety to have a place right now in your current grieving process?”

Since you don’t have that dream offer on the table yet, you don’t really need to make a decision now about whether to move on. A thought: embark on both journeys gradually. Give yourself a few months, then see what’s available in your field. Just like you won’t be able to predict how you feel by then, you also won’t be able to predict who’s hiring or how each potential employer will react to your resume. If something comes along that makes you jump at how perfect the fit is, decide then how you feel about going for it.

My friend’s sister is terminally ill and has just months to live, according to her doctors. Despite the prognosis, my friend seems to be in total denial about the eventuality. She’s convinced that if her sister just holds on long enough a cure will be found. I know that hope springs eternal and medical miracles do happen. But I also know things don’t good, so she might want to prepare herself (and help her sister prepare herself) for things to get worse, not better. Is there anything, as a friend, I can do to help her come to terms with reality? 

Oh, dear. This is the kind of well-meaning bad idea that can really end a friendship. Rest assured, your instinct to want to help your friend is noble. But losing a sibling combines the terribleness of losing family with the terribleness of losing a peer that was supposed to be with you for the long run; the witness to your entire life. It’s not surprising that she doesn’t want to face this right now, while she’s not yet forced to. And chances are she won’t thank you for trying to make her.

You are right that people need hope. People also sometimes need denial, and if her sister’s doctors and other family members haven’t been able to make her accept what is happening, maybe you should accept that she simply can’t right now.

So, since you can only control your actions and you can’t control her reaction, what can you do? Encourage your friend to spend as much time with her sister as she can. Talk to her about what’s happening medically; ask what the doctors are saying (repeating it back to you may help it sink in). Maybe even gently ask what her thoughts are on the worst possible outcome. Talking about her sister’s death as a possibility may be easier than talking about it as an inevitability. Is there a peer you know who has been through a similar situation she can talk to? Can you scout out and suggest a support group for her sister’s illness? Suggest she take pictures of the two of them together. Ask her to tell you a story about them as kids. Just don’t try to force her to move toward accepting this sickness and death on anyone’s timeline other than her own.

Trust me: Being “prepared” for someone’s death is a bit of an illusion, anyway. Even when someone feels ready, or like they’ve accepted what’s going to happen, when death actually comes, the grieving process begins again. However your friend feels now, when she does eventually lose her sister, she’ll start the messy process of coming to terms with it. And, when she does, you can be there to honestly reassure her that she did everything she could to make this time with her sister meaningful.

Meg Tansey hails from New England, where talking about your feelings is frowned upon. She has lots of life experience but is not an actual therapist. Meg has a MFA from The New School and currently lives and writes in New York City. Send Meg your questions at hello@modernloss.com (subject: Ask ML).

Please note: Questions may be edited for length or clarity. Modern Loss is not a therapeutic adviser; this category should only be used as a guide. Users should verify the verify the veracity and appropriateness of the information posted on the site with his or her own therapeutic adviser. 

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