Should I Stay or Should I Go?

I’m barely functional after my twin brother’s death. How can I take time off from a tiny startup? (And should I?)

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My twin brother died of leukemia last winter. We were 27 years old and were as close as you hear twins can be. The startup I work for only has 10 employees. I took five days off after he died and several vacation days in the last few months of his life. But I’m really not doing well right now. I can barely function outside the office and force myself to get through the work day. I feel like I need a few months’ leave but have no idea how that’s possible that given our small staff and my need for an income. 

My own personal bias is that when you are grieving it is helpful to have something else that forces you to get through the day. Unfortunately, that’s a lot of what grief is: forcing yourself to get through the days, until you have a day when you realize you didn’t have to force yourself quite so hard. Sometimes an obligation, like a job, can be both a good anchor and eventually even a useful distraction from what you are going through.     

It sounds as if work is that place for you, so I’ll confess I’m hugely reluctant to tell you to walk away (even temporarily) from that part of your life. There can be a strong urge after you lose someone to slash and burn your life: quit the job, ditch the spouse, leave the country. And those may be the right decisions. Grief can provide a stark clarity on priorities. But it can also just grind you down, particularly if you don’t have something else balancing it out. I almost always think people should stay the course, at least for the first year. It’s a tradeoff I struggle with, even for myself. My way doesn’t get you any glorious epiphanies, but you also don’t end up living in a cardboard box (and I hear this winter will be nasty). 

No matter what you do with it (sail the seas, pilgrimage to an ashram, stick it out at your day job) time will help you process this grief. But help will also help you process your grief. There are so many specific support groups in the world in part because it really is tremendously helpful to talk to people who are, if not in the same boat, at least in the same deep waters as you. Your local chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society can help find a therapist or appropriate support group near you.

Sibling grief is its own complex thing, yet it is often overlooked in favor of parents or children or spouses. That loss is only more complicated when the sibling is a twin.  According to Dr. Lisa Orbe-Austin, a psychologist and career and executive coach, “If the grief is so intense that it is difficult to focus and be present at work, I would strongly encourage you to get into individual grief counseling as well as consider a specialized support group that focuses on the loss of a twin like Twinless Twins. It will likely give you a place to explore your grief and begin your healing.” Dr. Orbe-Austin also notes, “The individual therapy may also be helpful in getting of sense of how much time you may want to take from work or whether you need to take that time off at all. This information can be useful for your discussion with an attorney and eventually with your supervisor.”

If your support system feels solid, and nothing above changes your desire to leave work, you need to get practical and plan, plan, plan. Review your employment contract and whatever HR materials that exist for your company. You are most likely in the unenviable position of being employed at-will (which means your employer doesn’t need a reason to let you go) at a company that is likely not covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (which applies to companies with more than 50 employees).

But don’t take the word of someone who decided she didn’t want to be a lawyer the night before the LSAT! A good employment lawyer should be able to help you manage this in a way that gives you the most coverage against losing your job. If and when you do go to your boss, I’d recommend suggesting few different options that work for you to show some flexibility.

You and your twin were together from before you were born; it will take a while to even start to accept this new way of life. Whatever you end up choosing, remember that everything is going to take a lot of adjusting to as you learn to navigate the world without him. Not just your nine to five.

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 (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 veracity and appropriateness of the information posted on the site with his or her own therapeutic adviser. 

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