On Having a Hard Time Getting Back to Work

I can’t stop thinking about the photo in the New York Times of a beautiful Norwegian woman, with red hair, crying out in agony because one of her loved ones was killed in the deadly attack on government buildings last July.

My friend Harald Birkevold, an award-winning investigative journalist based in Stavanger, told me that Norway is such a small country that virtually everyone knew someone who died in the bomb explosion or the shootings afterwards.

When something catastrophic happens to you, your regular life stops. Time gets suspended. You feel like you’re living underwater. Your vision gets blurred, as if the tears are permanently affecting your ability to see.

If yours is a public tragedy–like the Norwegian attack or, to a much lesser extent, my mom’s death–the newspapers take notice. For a day. For a week. For a month.

But then everyone goes back to life as usual. The world doesn’t stop for you. Your deadlines don’t disappear. Checks still need to be deposited. Colleagues still expect return phone calls. Bills still need to be paid. The grocery store still needs to be frequently. And your children still need to be fed and bathed and listened to and cared for.

I used to fancy myself swift, decisive, and efficient. Now, grieving the unexpected death of my mom, I walk into the bank and feel overwhelmed by the choice of which open teller to approach. I can barely make it to the grocery store. I drag myself to work but have a hard time getting anything done. I’ve totally neglected this blog.

Last night when I was brushing my teeth I came out of the bathroom to talk to my oldest daughter and accidently dripped toothpaste on the couch.

“That’s disgusting Mom,” my daughter said.

She was right. It was gross. I went to get a washcloth to clean it up and felt so ashamed I started sobbing. I came back with the washcloth, tears streaming down my face.

“It’s okay, Mom, it’s just toothpaste,” my daughter said gently. “Look, it’s already gone.”

“I miss my mom,” I tried to explain as both my older girls put their arms around me. “I wish she hadn’t died.”

We stood like that for a long time, my girls patiently hugging me while I cried and cried.

New York Times photographers are no longer snapping shots of the Norwegian families who are grieving. It’s old news to them. But not to that woman in the photograph. Her grief will last a lifetime.

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Categories: end of life.


  1. Yes, when you’re grieving, hugs from your kids can make all the difference. I wish I could give you a hug too. Again, I’m so sorry about your mom.

  2. Jennifer, I truly know what you mean, when something catastrophic happens to you, time really does stand still. Its almost like you go into another world, completed disconnected from the one you are used to. And, you wonder how everyone else can simply go on with their lives. Don’t they know that the worst thing in the world has just happened to you.

    hugs to you!
    judy stock recently posted…Having a Job is the New Green/Return of the Jobless AlumniMy Profile

  3. Mariette Bermowitz

    Although I don’t know you I know of you through Michel Voz.
    I know loss and feel your pain. It will last then be replaced by all the love that fills your life. And when you see your children and your family you will know that they are your mom’s legacy to you and the world. With deep sympathy,
    Mariette ( Michel’s surrogate aunt in America)

  4. Jennifer, Your story brought me to tears. I’ve felt that exact feeling and even though the world outside seems too harsh and indifferent,there are many of us who do understand… And many out there who do understand also. You are not alone. Please take comfort in that.
    Yes, the rest of the world is energetically at a different pace and a different place. My belief is that the time warp that you feel is real. That time warp space is a place where, for now, you are actually more connected to your departed loved-one’s spirit. YOU are closer to their spiritual world and that is why you feel disconnected to this world. You being in this space between both worlds helps the passing spirit transition from the physical connection you have with them into a spiritual connection. In knowing this, you can ease you loved-one’s transition by sending them loving thoughts and well wishes on their journey… All the while knowing that this journey does not mean that they are leaving you. Instead, know that this is just a transformation of your relationship into a forever spiritual connection. I am sending your mom well wishes and Godspeed knowing that just brings her right back to you.~
    Angeline recently posted…The 12 Days Of Christmas-The Gift Of AppreciationMy Profile

  5. Julia Perlman

    brought me to tears. Your daughters are dears. I was thinking about you today as I walked with my beautiful son. Congratulations on your fellowship.

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