Monthly Archives: February 2012

A Mother’s Legacy

Considering the circumstances, it should not have been a great weekend. (Spoiler alert: it was the best weekend in recent memory.)

First, I’m still unemployed; and, as you might have guessed since reading it’s at the top of my list, being unemployed is the bane of my current existence. It rears its ugly head when the alarm goes off in the morning (“What? You think you have something important to do today? You don’t.”), when I’m cooking lunch or dinner (“Careful. You should probably store up for a stormy day like other warm blooded animals in the winter.”), and always at night (“Good sleep is for people with jobs. Their ex-boss doesn’t come at them with a knife in their dreams.”). My chin is perpetually up, however; looking forward to some good news this week (#fingerscrossed).

Second, and more importantly, the weekend centered itself upon a funeral for a friend’s mother. “Ruby” had lived a hard life, and it caught up to her health a few months ago in the form a brain tumor and, later, lung cancer. The diagnoses, the surgeries, and the hospice all came so fast, I don’t think my friend really had time to process any of it. As you can imagine, the funeral hit her hard. My friend had her second child about two months ago; she lives in New York while most of her immediate family lives across the state of South Dakota, so Ruby never had the chance to meet her newest grandchild, and I know that weighed heavily upon my friend’s heart.

My friend’s loss struck me to the core: Ruby was just 55 years old; a young doe by most accounts, who should have had a solid two or three extra decades to spare for her growing family. My own mother will be 51 this year – and due to an active, healthy lifestyle, she looks (and probably feels) better than I do at nearly 30. That’s the rub of it: For all intents and purposes, my mother could easily have been Ruby. They came from much the same impoverished, reservation-life background. But where Ruby turned to alcohol and smoking – maybe other things, my mother turned to education and soul-searching. My mom will be the first to tell you she isn’t perfect, but I’ll tell you she’s damn near close.

While contemplating life in the presence of an open casket, where Ruby’s body lay sunken and pulled into itself, I gave thanks to my mom for being an inspiration, someone my daughter and I – and my older sister and her children – can look up to, someone who has lived a full life, with plenty of mistakes to learn from and even more accomplishments to be proud of.

My friend is a family friend, and she once told me she envied me for having a mom who cared enough about her children and grandchildren to take care of herself and be something better.

That’s made me think, more so now than at the time she said it several months ago. As the body was lowered into the ground, Ruby’s 5-year-old granddaughter rushed from the crowd, crying, “GRANDMA! GRANDMA!” over and over – like many Lakota children, she had been raised almost exclusively by her grandmother. My heart went out to this girl, who looked on as her whole world was swallowed up by the cold prairie landscape.

My thoughts immediately went to my own child, now 3, who represents everything I live and fight for. Mimi loves her “gma” so very much; and because of the choices and sacrifices her grandmother made in life, Mimi will flourish. My mom’s legacy is not just survival, but life – living. What a magnificent gift.

And that’s why it was a great weekend: I got to spend time with my family, to cherish them now. My sister and mom both came up from Nebraska for the funeral. They picked me up in Sioux Falls and we spent four treacherous hours driving carefully along the icy interstate toward Lower Brule. We chatted the whole way. We laughed – hard. We also cried – hard. But we were together, and at the end of our travels we returned to our families, rejuvenated and ready to overcome challenges.

When I look back, I am sorry for my friend’s loss, but know Ruby is no longer in pain and that my friend has chosen to live her life in such a way as to make Ruby proud. To make her children and family proud. And to make her people proud.

Nothing like a funeral to help you appreciate life a little bit more.

The Heartbreak of Unemployment

UPDATE May 2012: I’ve been employed since mid-March (yay!). Then, the ex-boss pleads guilty to beating his stepdaughter. They say things happen for a reason. Yes. Yes they do.

So much of the value people place on others depends on employment. Aside from our name, one of the first bits of information relevant to another human being is “What do you do [for a living]?” I’ve asked this question myself – nonchalantly – many times of others. It’s generally a good conversation starter.

Of late, I’ve been a conversational dead end. I was fired/terminated/laid off/let go/castrated two weeks ago. I prefer fired as it describes the internal combustion I’ve been feeling… The layoff in itself isn’t as bad as the context: I was fired after less than five months at the post. For someone who prides herself in commitment, this is a hard pill to swallow.

And I loved the job. I was great at it. Excellent work ethic. Stellar performance and productivity. The stuff epic résumés are made of (I hope). And I felt, for the most part, that I got along well with my coworkers. Essentially, it was in the bag. I mean, I even had the whole diversity thing working for me (an ethnic, female nerd – really, if that doesn’t spell j-o-b, I dunno what does).

But it wasn’t enough.

And that’s been the hardest part about all this. I put more stock in myself as an employed person than I realized. My self-worth and confidence has been severely depleted.

Why wasn’t I enough?

I received no warning about the termination; no citations or inklings. In fact, just two weeks prior I received one of the best quarterly performance reviews of my life (if you know my work ethic at all, you know that’s saying something). So when the boss called me into his office after a full workweek and laid the “I regret to inform you” schpeel on me, it was like a wave of pure disbelief sunk me.

Just sunk me.

My 3-year-old would later ask me, again and again, why I had cried that night after work. She’d never seen me shed a tear – most people haven’t. She saw me full-out sob that night. As parents, you try to provide for and protect your children from the bad guys. But bad guys can sometimes be formless economics, or a grudgy attitude, or a severance package delivered via next day mail. You can’t really fight those bad guys. You roll over and bare your belly, hoping your jugular remains intact. My breadwinning paycheck – that was ripped and shredded to pieces, as was my ego and confidence. But my jugular — that’s still there.

And that’s my epiphany. Mimi is my lifeblood. She’s enough. My husband’s enough. My heartbeat and pulse.

My family. Our health. Our life together. It’s all enough – all I need. Well, that and Craigslist to liquidate some of the less needful things we purchased in the five months I jumped up in salary (le sigh). But it’s kind of nice to have cash on hand. Been kind of nice to hunker down and focus on what’s important. To have more time with my family, more time for grad school homework (I could actually do without that).

A good friend told me this is one of my life’s sucky moments. I’ve had plenty of those. This doesn’t even rank 5th or 10th on my list of sucky moments. Still… Carry on, she said. It’s been good advice. Because the alternative is to sink deeper. It’s carry on. Or quit.

My mom told me this experience would be similar to grief.


Pain. Sadness.

Anger. Depression.

But then:

Adjustment. Productivity. Acceptance.

I went through it all.

Telling people I’m unemployed is getting easier. I gain perspective from these people everyday. I am grateful for their words of encouragement, but moved by their own stories. Stories of spouses leaving after decades of marriage. A diagnosis of cancer. A son killed in a bad car accident. Oh, yeah. I’ve got perspective.


What do I do? I’m a wife. I’m a mother. I’m a grad student. I’m a damn good worker, if someone would hire me. The cover letters are sent. The interviews are being scheduled.

What do I do for a living?

I’m living. I’m loving. I’m loved.

The rest is just details.