In a familiar conference room with people I knew as friends I had worked with for thousands of days, I was being told goodbye. They all had their game faces on – the HR look of detached concern, the stolid manager who didn’t want to be there, the expert demeanor of the benefits analyst. My face was glassy-eyed, quizzical, disbelieving. I could only manage stunned silence at first, then lamely searched for a way to respond before finally picking myself up like a kid with a bloody nose in a schoolyard and smiling weakly as I was escorted out of the lobby for the last time as an employee.
I drove in silence, radio off, returning along the familiar route home except it was mid-morning when traffic was light and the sun high in the sky. The thoughts kept piling up on top of each other: what to say to my wife; should I call her now; it was nice that I got some vacation in first; what about my car payments; can I protect my kids from this; do I have to call my dad; I should get a new job before the severance runs out; what do I do tomorrow morning; they must all know by now at the office; why didn’t I see it coming?
My career in IT spans the era of the Internet. Most of that time at one company, which meant suddenly more than a dozen years of personal contacts ended in that conference room. By 10 o’clock Monday morning the many friendships, associations, habits, familiar routines and casual acquaintances vanished. My E-mail, phone and Blackberry, windows to my workday, were shut down and left behind on the desk. To enforce the separation, I could only return to get my belongings after hours, when no coworkers might see me. The silence was deafening.
That night I still couldn’t process what had happened and kept running the conference room scene over and over in my mind. I was in shock, struggling to deal with the constant loop of disbelief and anger that spiraled around me. I spent a sleepless night trying to figure out what this felt like. I hadn’t had many experiences like it to compare. We signed legal paperwork and there were the legal divisions of property; a settlement had been reached. It felt like a divorce. In its finality it was exactly like a divorce, with the surreal prospect of never again seeing people I had grown to love.
The Kubler Ross model of grief says there are five stages we share in the face of great loss: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. The loss of relationships is something we all grieve, and these are the stages many of us can expect to go through. The challenge is to record the changes I see, and the impact on my little world. This is the arc of my life for the foreseeable future.
Next time – Bargaining