There is a term that I learned in grief, “Embrace The Suck, ” simply speaking it is the practice of “leaning into” a bad situation (or situations) and letting it have its pound of flesh, so that you can pick up and move on.
To say I’ve employed this technique about a hundred times since the death of my husband, is an understatement. Quite frankly, I “embrace the suck” every year going into Christmas. Since he died on December 23, I allow myself and my kids, a few days before to fully feel the horrible loss, to feel the acute grief through the anniversary of his death. Then the dawn of Christmas Eve means we tuck it away and approach the day with all the joy he would have wanted and expected.
“Embrace The Suck” is acknowledging a bad day (or week or month) and knowing you can’t fight it, that you have to just go with it, knowing intellectually that everything changes, even bad situations. That’s what I usually do, until this month when the need to “Embrace The Suck” lasted well over a week.
We all have stories of how our work lives have changed during this time. For me, it began with a mass furlough, on the last day of March. One of my bosses called me, laid out the facts regarding our industry and the work stoppages that had occurred, but assured me that he was doing his best to get everyone back.
Two weeks later, everyone was hired back, but myself and two very recent hires. After four and a half years with the company, I felt that my worth was well established, and as a good employee, I could wait. After 50 days, when it was apparent that I would have to make arrangements for my family’s healthcare, I contacted my boss with an upbeat email congratulating him on navigating the company through this time and gently inquiring, if there had been any determination about my status. That was a Tuesday.
Wednesday morning, I received an email, sent off of an iPhone, listing all the things that had happened and would continue to happen to the business in the near future. Once the litany was complete he stated, “So your furlough is now a lay off.” Hard stop. I did receive a follow up email telling me that I would have to work out what to do with my company vehicle.
BOOM, just like that I went from being an employee who was patiently waiting her turn, to someone who was unceremoniously dismissed.
That New Car Smell
I spent a few hours licking my wounds, and then realized that I didn’t have the luxury of indulging in self-pity. Armed with a checkbook (yes, I still have one for just these occasions), I struck out early Thursday in search of a car. Now important to note here, I’m not a car person–essential to me is reliability and comfort, so my expectations could be easily met.
I was buying a car without an income, not easy but possible. At the end of the day, four hours of which were spent in the dealership, I left with a modest, serviceable, decently appointed little car that would take me where and how I needed to go.
I had bought cars before–once with my Dad, many times with my husband, but never truly alone. On this day, I sat in the cubicle at the dealership off the busy highway, and waited while my life was scrutinized. “She’s a widow,” I heard my saleswoman say. I’m assuming in answer to the question of my spouse. Hearing it, my eyes watered and I quickly blinked away tears.
Later, when my son drove me to pick up my new car, the processor said “Oh my God, I heard about you! A widow, and you lost your job, and you had to return your car, I’m just so glad we could do this!” She was well meaning, so I just smiled and thanked her. Trust me, it is never easy hearing your life reduced to demographic boxes on an application.
About two weeks before “lock down” I started dating a very nice man. We seemed to click and good-humoredly weathered the fact that after every one of our initial dates, another aspect of society closed. We went to the Opera on a Saturday night, by Monday the Met had closed, we went to a Devils game on a Tuesday, by Wednesday major league sports were shut down, and just like that it went on and on.
It was by mutual consent that, since we had spent a good amount of time together before lockdown and we both worked from home, we could continue to see each other as long as we were careful about exposure. Rightly or wrongly, that’s what we decided and it worked for us.
I can say with all honesty, I was not sure what kind of future we had together. He was comfortable and kind and that was peaceful. As the last weeks of complete quarantine dragged on, our relationship became stagnant.I was hoping that the loosening of some restrictions might breathe new life into us.
While talking to my Pandemic Partner the night before I was to return my car to the office, he insisted that he pick me up and drive me home. When I told him that my daughter would do it, he insisted, “Don’t be silly, let me do this for you.”
We agreed to meet at our favorite coffee spot–the site of our first date. It was always special and had remained open (for take-out) so we had frequented it over the three months of our relationship. We got our coffee and decided to return the car first thing. It was Friday.
At my office, I dropped the car and the keys jumped into his Jeep and we sped off. I felt absolute relief–and took my first deep breath in days. Mission accomplished, car purchased, car returned, now into a weekend. My beach club, which is my “Happy Place”, would be open with restrictions. We had not discussed plans for the weekend but, his mother was visiting, so I assumed we would meet up at some point, as we always had.
Driving me home, it was clear that he was taking the long way. We wove through shore communities, talking about how people were coping with a loosening of restrictions, we made predictions, we debated issues, as we did. He is a bright man and I always enjoyed talking to him.
About 20 minutes from my home, he said “I have to tell you something.” Now, normally that would strike fear in anyone’s heart, but I was used to that preamble being used for anything from “I love you,” to “I want to see you tomorrow,” to “I like that sweater on you.” I should’ve picked up on the hard clip of his voice, but then again, I can only say in my defense that I was so wrung out over the work situation, I missed some cues.
“I don’t want to date you anymore.”
In my head I screamed “What the F——–ck????” But I did say, “I’m a bit surprised, can I ask you why?” To which he answered that he was getting back with his ex-girlfriend, who he had apparently been speaking to the entire time. I know he launched into some explanation about his relationships, but all I heard was the white water rage racing between my ears.The rage was NOT from the loss of the relationship, or even the presence of an ex-girlfriend, but from the sheer unadulterated gall of his insistence that he drive me home, creating a perfect scenario for a finite discussion. Twenty minutes, just enough time to say what he needed, not enough time for histrionics.
“I know this was a shitty way to do this,” he said at one point. I cut him off with “No, are you kidding, this is perfect! It is life’s symmetry, awesome.” And I meant it. Truly it was like the beginning of a mediocre Rom-Com.
Embrace the Suck
Once the shock wore off, I accepted the fact that he did what I would have put off. I wish him well, truly. Doing what he did, when he did it, allowed me to lean into all the crap that was going on in my life at one time. Embrace the suck.
I couldn’t spend much time analyzing his actions, I now had to arrange new healthcare coverage for my family. Two straight seven-hour days were spent in conversations and analysis until, by the following Friday, I was signed, sealed and covered
Knowing I didn’t have a job to go back to, I started reaching out, in earnest, to my friends and colleagues.
I have taken care of my children’s needs and issues and have accepted that last week SUCKED. It just did. I looked to my Pandemic Partner to provide me with the understanding and even a little sympathy that I would have gotten from a close friend or my husband, and that fell short.
The emotional coup de grace occurred mid-way through the weekend. My mother, who we have not been able to visit in her memory care facility for months, had fallen and bumped her head, requiring an emergency room visit amid Covid and staples to her scalp. That was the proverbial straw that threatened to break the camel’s back. I cried for her injury, for the pain and fear of not being able to see her and lastly for the fact that all of this happened without any of her loved one’s being present.
Following these occurrences, I felt the pull of pain that happens when I think “I wish Michael was here.” I was desperately missing the one person who always made me feel better, who always put a spin on things, who thought I was more talented and smarter than most people, who always wished the best for me and meant it. And who could always pull a laugh from me, even in the direst of circumstances? That is when the true Tsunami of Suck hit.
Just Let Go
It is no wonder that “Embracing the Suck” comes with an avalanche of emotion that can’t be blinked away, as I usually do when I am suddenly overcome. It comes with the gut wrenching, throat clogging sobs that are best done into a fluffy pillow when you have a full house of kids working from home.
The wave has swept over me, and I don’t fight it, I allow the current to take me where it will go, and I hold my breath until I break the surface.
I acknowledge “Yes, this sucks, but I will survive. Why? Because I have gone through so, so much worse and have gotten this far. And every time I take a step in the direction of progress, it is my victory. I am also a devout believer in “everything happens for a reason.”
The wave has receded, and there are bits of lingering debris, but all in all, the sky is bright and I am whole, and today is a new day.
As my mother always said, “A new broom sweeps clean.”
Claudia Lucey is a widowed mother of four, mostly adult children. Her “happy place” is the beach, where she spends every waking moment in the Summer. But spending time with her children is her greatest joy. Her philosophy is that laughter, even through tears, is the greatest emotional outlet. Nothing makes her happier than a good laugh, even at her own expense. She is a Director of Marketing for a construction company, yet she is a trained journalist who loves to write and photograph buildings of any size or shape.