Griefs and Grievances

I have chronicled my grievance hearings; however, I omitted the context of grief and numbness that seeped through my first hearing: on top of losing my career, I lost my sister-in-law.

Most of Laura’s life had revolved around WIU:  she was a faculty brat, she had attended WIU’s lab school and summer musical theatre, her friends and husband earned degrees and worked at WIU, and she loved her new office in Simpkins Hall.

WIU was at war with itself and Laura was disgusted.

Laura and I had gone to lunch the Thursday before she died from the cancer we knew nothing of.  Laura was witty, and I hoped she’d be able to relieve me of my ruminations.

A decade earlier, she had returned to Macomb right after I did, but we had not had lunch, just the two of us, until that day.

The Yummy Chin host sat us in a booth behind my dean and her assistant deans.  Laura ordered the sweet and sour chicken.  I thought little of the fact that she didn’t order her favorite drink, Mountain Dew.  I had the sweet potato tempura roll.

I was leaning over the table towards Laura so the deans would not overhear me complain about the people who laid me off.

“How are the kids?” asked Laura, who had seen and talked to them just 3 days before.

“Um.  Fine.” I didn’t know what to add, so I continued to trash talk WIU.

“How are the kids?” Her voice was weak and urgent.  Now I wonder if she was pleading–maybe for some tender images to ease her pain.

In the parking lot, her steps were slow.  I assumed she was enjoying the sun and drove us back to Simpkins hall.

That Saturday I was happy, but  Sunday after the sun reached its highest point in the south, my heart darkened with with dread.  My layoff was so discouraging–how would I teach?

Monday , I woke up at 4:30 a.m.  My chest ached with the loss of my job, fear for my future, and the pressure of anger.  I told myself that if I could just dress warmly,  I would handle my longest weekly teaching day just fine.  I put on a thick hoodie with a hounds-tooth pattern and zipped it up all the way to my chin.  This hoodie hugged my body all day.  I had read that the hounds-tooth pattern signified courage.

I taught four classes, and then brought home a stack of essay exams on 20th-Century women’s protest novels, but that evening, before I read them, Laura died of cancer.

Looking back, I know that in the weeks after WIU launched shocks onto the faculty, Laura’s skin turned green.

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A week before she died, Laura did her best to celebrate her niece’s birthday. Only looking back did we notice she wasn’t herself.

Unlike me, Laura refused to fight—not against WIU, not against her cancer.  After a winter of pain in her shoulders, back, stomach, and head, she finally took one sick day.  The cancer, it seems, had already occupied Laura from every angle and positioned itself to send a fatal shock through her entire body.

By the time I met Tom and Grandma at the ER, Laura showed no signs of consciousness or pain.  Standing behind Laura was a nurse, the mother of one of my daughter’s friends.  What a comfort.  I touched Laura’s cold, rubbery arm.  “Goodby dear Laura,” I murmured.  Something had moved on her EKG and they couldn’t be sure it wasn’t a pulse, so they waited, but before the med-vac arrived, the doctor called the time of death.

Five days later, at my grievance hearing,  anger and shock covered my pain and fear.

Dr. Eva Eger (The Choice) says there is no hierarchy of suffering.  I suffered from grief and grievance, and there was no point ranking one as worse than the other.

After the hearing in Sherman Hall, the assistant provost said he was sorry about Laura.