I’m reading Fight Back With Joy: Celebrate More. Regret Less. Stare Down Your Greatest Fears by Margaret Feinberg. This is a story about breast cancer, and how Feinberg decided from the diagnosis forward that she would fight it – with joy. This particular chapter, “When You’re Tearing Your Hair Out,” is the one when the physical impact of chemotherapy becomes noticeable to any and all – Feinberg loses her hair.
And in the process she discovers mourning. She understands why she reacts the way she does, going back to a traumatic incident from childhood. She can’t seem to do anything without noticing that she’s losing her hair. She even sheds on the dog. And she knows her hair will eventually grow back, but this is hard.
She teaches herself to mourn. She reads the gospels. And she studies Jewish rites of mourning. She learns what it means to “tear your clothes,” and she does a bit of tearing of her own.
And she learns something else, perhaps the most important lesson of mourning. Mourning allows you to make space for the joy.
I read this chapter on my lunch break, sitting by myself at a table by a window in the company cafeteria that manages to catch the sun. And what I understand while I’m reading about a woman learning the joy of mourning in the midst of breast cancer is that I am going through a mourning of my own, and I didn’t even realize it.
I retire from the day job on May 1. I informed management of my intention to retire last June. I made the decision to retire; I didn’t have retirement “done to me.”
Nothing was announced at the time; only gradually did my decision become known (surprisingly, for a place where news like this moves at the speed of light, it didn’t become broadly known for about six months).
Retirement is now less than two months away. What Feinberg taught me in this chapter of her book is that I am not mourning the loss of a job (the plan is to stay plenty busy after May 1). But what I am mourning is the closure of what has been a significant part of my work for a long time.
It’s odd that I should be mourning at all. I worked – for six years – as a speechwriter for a CEO dubbed by Fortune Magazine as one of America’s seven toughest bosses. (Fortune was right.) I have done corporate social media in spite of the company thinking it’s without value and critics of the company spewing hate, threats of violence and profanity every chance they get. Convincing even many of my colleagues in communications that social media matters has been a constant battle and daily frustration.
Most people would be thrilled to be bailing out.
I won’t miss any that; that’s not the loss I’m mourning. And I’m not mourning what might have been; I’ve never regretted any of the career choices I’ve made over the years. Nor am I mourning what I still had to offer, which was more, far more, than management knew.
I’m mourning the loss of my familiar structure of work; I’m mourning the loss of working with the good, competent, skilled people I work with on a daily basis; I’m mourning not seeing the woman at the company credit union I’ve talked to almost every day for the last decade and Char the custodian.
My transition to retirement has actually been helped by the two colleagues I was closest to leaving the company in recent months. One went to another company; the other simply decided it was time to leave. They happened to be the two people I talked with, commiserated with, plotted with, and most enjoyed working with. Not seeing them and talking with them every day has left a gap.
My transition is also being helped by the teams I work with online at The High Calling and Tweetspeak Poetry.
What Feinberg says about mourning is, I believe, critically important: mourning makes space for the joy to come.
And joy is coming.
Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been discussing Fight Back with Joy. To see what others have to say on this chapter, please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact.
Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.