Lately I’ve been saying a lot of goodbyes. I don’t like it.
I’m a hello person. Meeting new people and beginning new projects both give me energy.
Saying goodbye saps my spirit.
Last week, I said goodbye to a group of people I’ve grown to care about. What began as a 10-week contract at OneAmerica to cover my colleague Sarah’s maternity leave ended up being extended a couple of years. In my job supporting the corporate communications and HR teams, I got to do something I love: Help people who are overloaded and going through change. I worked alongside the team as colleagues changed roles, processes evolved and departments were restructured. I helped with communications about wellness, employee recognition programs, Open Enrollment and the rollout of a new IT service portal. I even helped onboard a new claims team in Portland. I kept the wheels turning, until, at last, the team was settled and staffed up. My friend Jami, who I’d recommended for an editor role, was one of the new hires. (She snapped this photo.) My work was done.
I felt good about that. Yet, returning to my home office after my goodbye lunch felt a bit like walking past my college-age kids’ empty rooms. I want my clients to succeed and grow in the same way I want my children to succeed and grow. It’s a natural progression, but there’s still a sense of loss.
I want my clients to succeed and grow in the same way I want my college-age children to succeed and grow. It’s a natural progression, but there’s still a sense of loss.
That feeling of loss continued this weekend, when I said goodbye to the three somewhat raggedy blue spruce trees in my yard. After consulting with two tree experts, I learned the trees had a fungus, Rhizosphaera needle cast, that’s affecting many blue spruces in this region, especially as the climate changes. In three years, they’d be dead, I was told. Treating them would cost a fortune. Rather than wait it out and watch them die, I decided to have them cut down. The trees were still beautiful, but one had grown too close to the house, and the other two were crowded beneath an old cottonwood. All three were growing brown at the core, as the fungus suffocated their needles. Still, without them, my yard feels barren and exposed.
A colleague of mine, Aaron, once told me: When something is lost, there’s a depression. At the time, I had recently experienced a layoff that cut deeply—I felt like I was the tree felled in a day—and I had just begun the process of building something new: My own business. An entrepreneur with his own digital marketing agency and a degree in counseling, Aaron kindly connected me with two of my first—and, as it turns out, long-time—clients, Schwarz Partners and Adjutant Solutions Group. I’m currently helping both with new websites.
I’m not always comfortable with the empty space that comes after loss. I get attached to people. I like to work, and the pause can be jarring. I’m learning that the pause also gives me time to think and process my feelings. Loss opens up space. It lets in light where there wasn’t light before.
I’m not always comfortable with the empty space that comes after loss. Yet loss opens up space. It lets in light where there wasn’t light before.
At home, I try to put my kids’ bedrooms back together as soon as they return to their college lives, and I leave their doors open. In the dining room, I take the leaves out of the table to create a special space just for me and my husband. In my yard, I’m planning new gardens where I’ll grow flowers and vegetables where the dying blue spruce trees once stood. I may even plant a small, native evergreen in their memory. I’m not part of my OneAmerica colleagues’ everyday work lives, but the goodbye won’t last forever. I’ve already run into two colleagues at a PRSA event, and I’m having lunch with my friend Bree this week.
The empty space on my calendar is slowly filling with new opportunities—clients I can help the way I once helped my friends at OneAmerica, and possibilities I couldn’t have even entertained because there just wasn’t space for them.