For this month’s post, I was prompted to write advice on how to deal with difficult people. As I thought about this topic and who in my life would be considered difficult, especially in the workplace, I realized at my current position, I’m possibly the difficult person. In particular now. In addition to the normal stuff that can get you down at work, my father fell ill about a year ago. I wrote about it in a previous post. Sadly, my Dad passed away in May. I am heartbroken to say the very least. We were best friends, and anyone who knows me knows how much I love him.

I received “up to five days” for bereavement leave. Five days to mourn the person who raised and nurtured me. Five days for someone I cared for daily as a caregiver; now I have all this never-ending time on my hands. Five days. Another cousin who works in China says there, you receive a month. They obviously take death more seriously than we do. I ended up taking an additional week. Besides me being an emotional wreck, there is a crazy amount of business that comes with death — closing accounts, stopping newspaper delivery services, canceling the cable, writing and sending “Thank You” cards, alerting everyone, etc. It’s hard to handle all of these things and take on day-to-day work tasks. I wasn’t foolish enough to think I could manage it. I didn’t even want to try.

Two weeks still wasn’t nearly enough time for the emotional piece. I returned to work, a resistant trooper, on a Monday, the most hated day of the workweek. Left on my desk were sympathy and “Happy Birthday” cards. Did I mention my birthday was 10 days after my Dad died? (Yeah, a lot of emotions.) My colleagues were kind and their thoughts and sorrow for my Dad’s death, sincere. After the sixth or so, “I’m sorry for your loss. Let me know if you need anything,” I got good at saying a quick “Thank you” and turning away. I couldn’t even begin to trust my emotions or these easily triggered tear ducts. I could break down and cry at any moment. In fact, I did. The first Friday after my return… in the elevator, alone with my CEO. I broke down from the simple question she asked, “So how’re you doing?” She hugged me for 13 floors to the lobby. I was mortified but grateful for a hug.

How it Feels to Be the Difficult Person to Work With

That Friday was a tough one for me. First, I had a Vice President give me shit about how, or if, our building recycles cardboard boxes. While venting and muttering to myself about the ridiculousness of that exchange, another co-worker asked, “So, can I ask what happened with your dad?” Because there is no better way to express your condolences then to ask someone how a loved one died. It is an invasive and intrusive question, and I am sure I am guilty of asking it myself. Never again. Unless you plan on submitting an article to a medical journal, what difference does it make? I replied, “I don’t want to talk about that right now.” Shaking my head in disbelief as I walked away. They threw their hands up signaling they were backing off. Then they didn’t speak to me for about three weeks.

 

Grief consumes me, it hasn’t broken me, but it’s always there.

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I was the problem, and they didn’t know how to deal with me. So they didn’t. The Monday after Father’s Day, another co-worker asked a work question, requesting advice on something for which they did not prepare. I was annoyed, and they could read my emotion. To break the silence, while leaning on the desk right next to me, they casually asked, “So, how was yesterday?” As if the first Father’s Day, without my father would be easy. As if they wouldn’t already know this answer. As if using his death as a conversation filler was cool. “I don’t want to talk about that right now.” Despite their best efforts to make amends (“Do you want my yogurt?”), I didn’t talk to them for two weeks. I let them know that that was not okay. It wasn’t helpful or thoughtful and was awkward as hell.

For everyone else, my Dad’s passing is now a thing of the past. For me, it has only been a little over six weeks. I find myself doing all this crazy math and counting… “That was two days before Daddy died.” “That was 10 days after Daddy died.” “This is the first Fourth of July without my Dad.” “The last time I was at this intersection, I was waiting for the bus to see Daddy in the hospital.” And so on and so on. Grief consumes me, it hasn’t broken me, but it’s always there. It shows itself in my annoyance with frivolous things, my lack of energy, my boredom of everything. I swear, for weeks, everything tasted bland. I am angry, I am sad. I am difficult.

Featured Photo by Mikail Duran on Unsplash
Photo by Carlos Arthur on Unsplash

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