OMG – Losing my shit with my bosses

The attorneys are all out today, doing CPE or something like it. It’s me and the rest of the non-JD staff. We all went out to lunch – on the firm – and have had a lovely day just cleaning up around here, purging files, clearing the deck in preparation for the takeover.

A couple of the bosses came back this afternoon and made beeline for my office. There was a communication issue with something they are planning and the feedback received from the staff today about the merger was very negative and hard for them to hear. I get it – I have been getting buckets of it tossed my direction all week as well. Always my conversations with staff have been considered off the record communications; they are blowing off steam and bitching about life and times as an attorney. I get it. We all get it. But for some reason today the honest dismay over the merger – they took it personally and got their boxers in a bunch with something akin to hurt feelings.

I regret to say voices were raised and doors were slammed – for once I was not the guilty party on the door slamming, a personal behavior at home that has taken me decades to break.

But they do not get to yell at me when they are mad, frustrated, or anything else about a situation I have zero control over and not sharing what is typically considered other employees confiding in me privately. I encourage them to take their concerns and feelings to the bosses, and sometimes – like today – they take the advice to heart and pour out their feelings. I think – I know – the week is getting to all of us. They yelled at me, I yelled back. Everyone in the office was cowering like children when parents and other family members get into a knock-down, drag-out verbal altercation.

I am not proud of my knee-jerk reaction; I am much better than this and my professional self should have better control of my temper. Where a week ago none of the critical comments would have mattered enough to take personally, today it was like betrayal of the first order, blown completely out of proportion.

It took a good 45 minutes for me to cool off enough to wonder what I should do about it. I shredded old files in my office and finally acknowledged that while they are being childish, I sank to that level and let them get to me. BUT, as their office doors were both still firmly shut, there was nothing for me to do except work.

Partners 3 and 4 came in while I was debating my next course of action. They stopped briefly to ask me how long I would be in the office and very nicely asked me to stay and talk with the 4 of them. Of course. I figured the worst that would happen is that I got fired today and burned a professional reference. It was upsetting to imagine, but entirely possible.

So 20 minutes later the 5 of us are sitting in the conference room like so many times before. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to apologize, and if I was, could I fake it well enough to at least appear contrite? Nope, unlikely. So I didn’t say anything.

They spoke about the impact the merger is having on the staff, how they “probably” handled it poorly, and that the acquiring corporation being here this week was harder than they foresaw on everyone. Ya think? Part of the issue with these guys is that they are emotionally tone deaf when it comes to their employees. They think everyone thinks and feels and acts pretty much like they do, except it’s not true. I am living, breathing proof of that, and one of my functions within the firm is to be the sounding board and steering wheel for the morale and spirits of the staff. The news was hard for me – I characterize it like the ego-bruising heartbreak of a relationship ending when you still have strong feelings for the other party and do not want and are not ready for it to end – and I have been struggling with being able to listen to the staff as firm management and sort out my own feelings as their employee peer. It’s rendered me less effective in this role this week. Then I have the Hellbeast waltzing through what is still my territory and messing with my peeps almost immediately after finding out this change is going forward? So. Not. Cool. As M said to me, “territorial much?” to which I was completely unrepentant in my emphatic “oh FUCK YES!” reply.

I value relationships. I value my associates and the camaraderie and trust we have built over the past couple of years. I  prize that my bosses are men with whom I can speak directly and completely candidly without fear of retaliation or worse. I have never had anything like that in a corporate structure, and I dislike not trusting my peers or management. It does not make for a happy workplace wondering what direction I’ll be facing when the backstabbing happens.

So yeah, emotions are running high all over the place. I think we will all recover and regain our footing, but we need the stability of normal, business as usual for the next couple of weeks. There needs to be some time to adjust and get our footing with the change before the suits are in our midst and glad-handing us like professional politicians. They agreed.

And maybe some informal conversation and communications about what the future holds. Yesterday was the first new normal last of our present firm days and everyone was busy with various things related to the merger. Today the office was mostly empty and what they heard from the staff was to be expected.

Blaming me for not telling them what I was hearing was wrong. I received appropriate, unsolicited apologies. Accepted, let’s move on.

This is what I will miss about my great little firm experience. Business is business, family is family, but people get angry and lose their shit, sometimes inappropriately, but always understandably. Unless things are getting thrown across the room (my predecessor once had a tantrum where he pushed an entire desktop of work onto the floor in someone’s office becasue they had not gotten their paperwork in for a second straight month – the horror!), all is generally forgiven. People are people, and with the ruling body open to admitting their own mistakes and forgiving others when stuff happens, the workplace is a much healthier, secure place.

So I walked out tonight with same sort of grief over all that I am losing while at the same time feeling more comforted that I am not the only one who grieves. While this is an amazing opportunity for the partners, they are well aware that they are breaking up a really good firm filled with very loyal, dedicated people. It’s not personal; it is just business. But because we are loyal and dedicated employees, it is impossible for us to not take it somewhat personally. Intellectually we all understand it. Emotionally we are all still shell-shocked and saddened. The people we are, though – our emotions are on the clock to get sorted out and resolved before this change it fully implemented. Any expectation that we will be over our sad in a week is unrealistic.

The bosses all get it now. It only took a brawl with their “work wife” to slam the point home.

I do not look forward to the interactions with the Hellbeast the lie ahead, but I have big enough big girl pants to handle myself with a professional demeanor. She and I – we will never have the trust I share with my present partners; I cannot ever let my guard down enough to honestly express any of my emotions. And I genuinely suck at robotic impassivity.

Despite a rocky week, I will miss my firm in its present management and dynamic. I realize there are only 15 work days left for my job in this firm and work environment and it makes me sad. Best I can hope for is to rise above the rest of the corporate bullshit to savor each and every one of them.

Work-zilla has taken over the blog. Apologies in advance for reporting my day-to-day trauma drama.

When being decent requires courage

I spent part of my Friday at a local hospital with parents facing the most awful choice imaginable: letting go of a beloved child. Same situation my kids’ father and I found ourselves in nearly 20 years ago, when our daughter was not going to recover and we had to decide whether or not to grant permission for her to be an organ donor.

As it happens, a friend of a friend was one of the nurses caring for this dear boy. When the prognosis was confirmed for the family and the parents began facing their newest reality with all its choices, including organ and tissue donation, they were torn and undecided whether or not to move forward. They met with the professionals in the matter, talked to their physicians and religious advisers, and were still torn about what to do and how they felt about it. From personal experience I know it’s far too much information to have to absorb when the world as you knew it is metaphorically going up in flames. They expressed a wish to talk to someone else who had been through this process, preferably with a child. While I did not know the present day organ and tissue representatives, the nurse friend of a friend knew me and our story and suggested they look me up in their system; he knew of my work speaking to nurses and doctors and felt I would be an exceptional candidate for this situation as well. If the information was out of date (it was, but I have had the same cell phone number for a very long time) he could get in touch with me by contacting our mutual friend. Whatever the back story that got me there, the connection was made. Once the situation was explained, I literally dropped what I was doing and cleared my schedule to meet with these grieving parents.

This couple are quite active in their community and church, so there were a lot of family members and supportive friends holding vigil with them. I felt the apprehension and suspicion as I walked up with the donor service coordinator, because I believe the perception was that I was being brought in to help close the sale, so to speak. Nothing could be further from the truth. From the moment of the phone call, I was just another grieving mother meeting with others who have joined this somewhat exclusive club bound together by tragedy.

We sat together in a small conference room. The donor service coordinator, the parents, their religious advisers, and me. From the start, I assured them I was not there to try and convince, pressure, or persuade them of anything. My sole purpose was to offer them whatever comfort and support they required, and they could ask me to stop talking or even to leave without hurting my feelings. They could also ask me anything they wanted to know or felt was important for them to know about me and my life and our choices when in the exact same situation. This was all about them, period.

I told them the story of my daughter, start to finish. I told them how she had collapsed at school, the questions about drugs (she was only 12, and how naive I still was believing children that young could not have substance abuse problems), the race to figure out what was wrong, the horror of the diagnosis and from the first conversation the caution of how dire her situation and to “prepare” ourselves. Within 2 hours after that phone call from school, I had brain specialist doctors telling me that my healthy, beautiful, newly minted 12 year old (her birthday had been 5 days prior) might not survive this challenge.

I recounted the overnight vigil at her bedside, watching the brain pressure monitor creep upward, my heart breaking over and over with each and every alarm that sounded. In the morning we got the bad news – she had no brain function, there was nothing more they could do for her, and she would not recover. At my question of what happened after she was declared legally dead, I was told about organ donation and that it would be presented as an option for us. I knew immediately before even talking to the service coordinators that it was a right choice for us. It is a decision I have never regretted.

There is no way for me to tell that story without tears. Even now, nearly 20 years later, I was talking with tears streaming down my face and alternatively blowing my nose, wiping away tears, and continuing the story.

Looking back, I would have done just about anything to take away the pain. Giving to others at that moment seemed like the right thing to do, because perhaps there would not be another parent or sibling or spouse suffering as we did right then. It seemed so normal to me to want to hang onto her, to not let her go. Yet when faced with the reality that her eyes were never going to open again on their own, that I would never hear her voice or her laughter, that I would never feel her arms wrap me up in a hug, I knew I had to let her go. Never once did the thought that she lived on through organ donation enter my mind; she lives on because I and so many others remember her as she was in life and continue to love her and miss her every single day. I also remember how she looked lying in that bed with tubes in her arms and monitors blinking and beeping, holding her still-warm hand as she was wheeled off into surgery, kissing her goodbye that final time. I remember all of it.

But in the last 20 years I have not had even one second of regret for our choice to let her become an organ donor. In that moment we lost someone so unique and priceless to us, and whatever was left could be shared with others. My girl was gone from that body – her spirit, her soul, whatever it is that animated that flesh and made it what I love – and she was a generous child and would want others to have what she no longer needed.

I was there for nearly 2 hours, talking and grieving with those parents. In the end, the choice to go forward with organ donation was their own, and I am hopeful that in time it brings them similar comfort and peace.

The funeral will be next week, and M and I will attend. We will slip in quietly and sit near the door; we will be an unobtrusive as possible so as not to intrude on this family and their grief. Because this is not about us. This is about life and how the unfortunate specter of death touches us all.

M was torn about whether or not it was right for me to go when called; he knows how upsetting it such events always are for me. But how could I not go? How could I step back and not be with people who sought answers from someone who has been in and come out of the very darkest moments they face? For each of us the journey through life is unique. But I could not turn my back on these or anyone else in this particular situation. I do not desire or deserve any form of praise or positive comments for being a decent human being, and I write about it in hopes that next time – and I wish there was never a “next time” in that I wish no other parent ever has to suffer such a loss – it will not be so hard to be brave and do the right thing.

Our lives have continued after such a devastating life. It’s not a better life, or a worse life; it is simply our life. There is a unique color and flavor to its richness because we were blessed with a brilliant and beautiful soul that dazzled and mesmerized us for too few years. While I have always believe children are a gift on loan to us, it is almost impossibly hard to have to let go when it’s so damn final.

I miss her; every single day I think about her and miss her presence. I shed tears a few times a year, because the loss and the grief have never faded away completely. Yet while 12 years and 5 days is far too short, I have a grateful heart full of memories. I still hear her her final words to me – I love you, mommy – in my dreams. And it makes my life sweet and very much worth living.

Rest in peace, Sugarbear. We love you always and miss you forever.