Coping: When work and grief collide

I am four months pregnant. But the baby is dead, inside me, and must be removed. I am devastated. I always knew this could happen, in the back of my mind. But you are never prepared for something like this to happen.

When I first heard the news, I did nothing. Cancelled every plan I had. Sat in chairs staring at walls, lay in bed hoping for sleep, and cried. And then came the day of the week when I had to either write my column or skip a week. Skipping a week, I thought, would probably be okay. But then I thought. Well, I'm not doing anything. I could write a column.

In the face of tragedy work is a weird thing. On the one hand, it becomes unimportant. I think back to the day before the day I knew. My sister-in-law called me and said, "How are you feeling?" I said, "Really rushed. I have two deadlines, and I don't have time to talk." She said, "No, about the baby." That day, work was so important.

On the day I found out the baby was dead I had scheduled three interviews. It was a tight schedule, but I felt the interviews absolutely had to get done that day. But at the doctor's office, when I was crying so loudly that I was taken to a room farthest away from the waiting area so as not to scare already jittery expectant mothers, I didn't care if the interviews got done. I know it is a cliché that a job isn't life or death, but you see that truth very clearly when there is death.

Co-workers who, in the face of death, treat work as more important than death seem crazy. I know because of a boss whose mom died three hours before what was, admittedly, the most important speech of his career. He felt obliged to tell his direct reports the news so they would know why he was crying in his office. Word spread fast. Condolences poured in from co-workers throughout the company. Then he gave the speech. And no one could listen. We all thought, "Why doesn't he go home? Why isn't he upset? Why is he standing in front of us now?"

Co-workers who treat less serious events as if they were a death seem equally crazy. They appear melodramatic and unreliable. For example, when a colleague's boyfriend of one year walked out on her, she missed a week of work. That's too much. I'm not sure where the line is for what's too much, but a week is too much for that.

So where is the line for a dead baby that I never saw, but has been a part of me and is still inside? For two days I did nothing. But today I feel like work might be the best thing for me. For most of us, work isn't just about getting a paycheck; it's a way to connect with the world. I don't want to be alone today, so I'm working.

And although I postponed my interviews, I won't miss any deadlines. Not because I think the baby's death is unimportant. In fact, in light of this event, I am sure people would be very sympathetic about my missing deadlines. But I won't miss any because in the midst of personal tragedy, work is a way for me to maintain structure in my life and find not-so-tragic things to think about.

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