Grief is a bitch

Losing a loved one is painful and personal. Figuring out how to grieve at work or support a colleague can be confusing. For me the heavy feelings come in waves, sometimes slow, heavy, and droning. Sometimes bright and sharp like a tiger in the face. It can change from minute-to-minute, hour-by-hour, and phase-by-phase. This makes it hard to know what kind of support to ask for, what to take, and how to describe my experience.

I’m reading Sheryl Sandburg’s book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy about how she moved through the sudden death of her husband Dave. She’s right that “how are you” feels like a ridiculous, unanswerable question. But “how are you today?” or “how are you feeling right now?” is a much easier question to answer.

I lost several close friends in the last few years. That’s not supposed to happen this young. Going to work is so hard. In one case I was a manager spinning many plates and in the second at a new job still getting my footing. On top of the complexities of dealing with the actual grief, my internal dialogue  in the office was louder than ever. I wondered:

Am I acting weird? Can people tell something happened to me? Should I try to act normal? Will it be awkward if I bring it up? How many details are TMI? How much time off is too much? Should I feel guilty for trying to do daily normal things? If look happy at work, will people know I’m still in pain? Do they need to know? Is it ok to feel depressed at work? Do I have to explain my feelings to colleagues? 

When will it get easier? 

Story 1

At my last job, I didn’t tell anyone what happened until I snapped at someone in a meeting. It was pretty harsh and abnormal behavior for me. My manager was out of town but thankfully a mentor figure was in that meeting. She approached my outburst with compassion instead of blame. Once she learned I was grieving, I was immediately sent home with the pre-approved time off to get to rural Indiana for my friend’s funeral.

That grieving process was easier. If there can even be an easier. There was a distinct period when I was off the clock. All my time and energy for the next week was focused on getting to my lost friend’s hometown and being with her people. After her funeral, I returned back to my daily life routine. The feelings of loss still showed up in unexpected waves but the world of her people lived in my phone, not in my daily experiences.

Story 2

More recently, while several weeks into a new job, I lost a long friend I recently rekindled with. We had a lot of history and future of friendship planned for each other. I messaged my manager over the weekend and attempted to come to work. Thankfully he and his manager insisted I go home and take care of myself. My main function otherwise was a warm body in a meeting. The regular reminders from several people that it was ok to take time I need was really helpful, especially in a new environment.

Letting my manager handle communicating to the right teammates what happened was huge. It’s just a hard thing to talk about to people you just met, especially when the information is new. Talking about it makes it real. The personal outreaches were nice. It made me feel seen and felt and cared for. In this case, the friend I lost was part of the city’s fabric. People in unexpected corners of my network knew her and felt her passing. That made it very hard to move on.

Confronting our mortality

The nature of death itself requires us to face our own aliveness. Our own fragility as a simple human being becomes real. Sheryl asks us to think of how the situation could have been worse. I think her sentiment is to help you be grateful for what you have. She talks about the relief she felt, and I agree, when other people acknowledged her pain and shared their own experiences with loss.

Both friends I suddenly lost were artists. They were deeply connected to themselves but also relied on their art forms as a channel for their voice and personal challenges. The last memorial I went to had a guided meditation. He asked us to keep our eyes open, in a soft gaze. We made eye contact with others in the room and spent time seeing each other. During a time of grief, so much talking happens. Asking for support. Giving support. Recounting memories.

In this meditation, we all practiced being together, seeing each other, connecting with our pain, and also accepting something hard and unchangeable. She was a photographer. She said she wanted to make love visible, to help people see themselves as beautiful as she saw them, just the way they were.

Some meditation practices say we cannot create (or destroy) space. But we can invite it and welcome it, which at least makes it possible to feel whatever the feeling is.

Design, Language

My polite explaination of user experience woes to American Airlines

I’ve been traveling to Detroit every Memorial Day Weekend since 2009 for the annual Electronic Music Festival. You may have read my post last spring about why it’s the best festival of them all. But as I’m maturing, I get tired faster and want to spend my travel dollars going other places, so I was on the fence making my pilgrimage this year. 

— But real quick, before we go any further, I’ll give you the miles I had, the miles I bought and the miles AA gifted me for an extremely fair price. please tweet or message if we can help each other. — 

While flight scanning, AA sent me a very kind email about how some miles of mine were about to expire. It felt like an omen to make the trip. I spent about 30 minutes trying to figure out this UI, then parsing out which flights didn’t have two connections or require me to change airports. I did eventually figure out I could uncheck flights from San Jose and Oakland, that was a win. While of course having no concept of the differences between a 12K flight and a 25K Economy AAnytime or 25K Economy Business First, I just tried to pick flights furthest to the left.

There’s some glitch in the system where after I choose my dates and select the seats, my flight on May 24 would shift to May 10. After 30 minutes of finding a loop hole around that bug, I was finally ready to book the flight and get on with my life.

It’s difficult to know how many miles I have, how much they cost, what that means about the minimum miles I need to have (or use?) and that I couldn’t pay the balance of the flight in cash. Upon expecting to purchase the flight, they tell me it’s on hold and I need to buy more miles. I’m so frustrated and ready to buy the flight I maybe want at this point, I just buy the miles. A few dropdowns and fields that don’t auto-complete later, I see the total is $10 less than how much it would cost to fly on United Airlines. Great!

Somewhere I missed the taxes and fees. I’m sure they clearly stated the numbers somewhere, but you can see how after and the clicking and guessing, I just wanted the task done. Afterwards, I see the extra fees and see that I still have to pay $10 to book a flight with miles. This  was not the cheaper option.

So of course I call them on the phone and kill them with kindness. You know I listened to static elevator music for a long time before the representative told me she could not do refunds. I asked if she could put me in touch with someone else who could help me feel better. More static muzak. Same explanation.

But with honest candor I explain to her what my experience has been like. And that I’m sure it clearly stated the costs but this is my first time buying miles and I had a holistic stressful experience that led me to make mistakes. I told her I knew she does not work on the website and that I know AA cares about their customers. I told her my experience starts from the moment I decide I want to go somewhere until this phone call. I asked “what can you do to help me?” She asked what I had in mind and I explained she had more experience helping people like me.

She offered me 2,000 in miles. Naturally, I explained I was hesitant to accept them because it would just return me to this stressful miles loop. Since she absolutely could not offer a refund, a free flight, vouchers or first class upgrades, I accepted. Of course, I cannot actually purchase the flight for 3 days until the miles I bought online can appear online.

The lesson here is to

  1. Be patient and careful with old websites
  2. Be very kind to associates on the phone. It’s just not their fault
  3. Don’t stop til you get enough

But really, will someone please buy my AA miles?

Design, Journalism, Language, London

Guardian Adverts: still brilliant and timeless

London-based Newspaper The Guardian redesigned their print product in 2005. It won multiple awards for its use of the Berliner format along with the ease of readability, consideration of readability, flow from section to section and brilliant use of color, photography, illustration and language.

Later came the website redesign and new advert campaign. I met Creative Director Mark Porter and Special Projects Director Mark Leeds for while in London internship, research and Uni courses. More on that meeting here.

What’s most inspired is how well the redesign and team translated the print vision to their website and marketing campaigns. Nearly 10 years later, their adverts still inspire me:volumecontrolgu81