A Forced Reinvention

Hello lovely people! I’m excited to be sharing with you my second guest writer! I met Marcella fairly recently on Facebook. We both belong to a group there that supports grief support facilitators and professionals. We discovered we had a few things in common and it turned out that we live fairly close to each other so we were able to get together and enjoy a lovely afternoon of tea and conversation. It is experiences like this that make me truly grateful for what social media makes possible! During our conversation we discovered even more things we had in common such as the importance of spirituality in our lives, our shared outlook in discovering meaning in loss, and a passion for supporting others through the grieving process. We also share a love of writing which led us to discussing this blog.

We both feel strongly that so much hope and inspiration can be gleaned from hearing each other stories and sharing our personal journeys. Though each individual and their path is unique, there are common threads that run throughout – common struggles, common joys, common pains. Knowing that we are not alone in our struggles helps us to keep going and gives us strength in the dark times. It helps us to connect to each other. It helps us to know that we are not truly alone, others have walked this path – before us, beside us, and in front of us, clearing the way and helping to make new discoveries possible for us as we learn from each other’s challenges and successes.

As Marcella and I were discussing all the numerous griefs and losses human beings experience throughout their lives, she shared a story about a time in her life where she was forced to reinvent herself after the loss of a career that had become foundational to her life and her identity. While extremely challenging and painful at the time, it ended up being an extremely transformative and meaningful time in her life, leading to a beautiful new path supporting people through their own grief and sorrow. It sounded like a perfect story to share here with you all.

I feel it is so important to recognize and acknowledge not only how powerfully the death of loved ones can affect our lives, but also the other tremendous losses that we endure throughout our lifetime. I want to hold space for those losses and encourage people to recognize them, acknowledge them, grieve them. We tend to brush things aside and not allow ourselves enough time or compassion for what we are going through. This is just a small reminder to take time for yourself and acknowledge your pain around whatever it is that you might be grieving. Whatever it is. However seemingly small or however overwhelming it might feel. Try to take a moment to offer love into that space of pain and loss and know that people are here that care about you and your journey. We are here to support you and love you and care for you.

I hope you find some strength and wisdom in Marcella’s story. I find it beautiful and inspirational and am so happy to share it here with you all.

As always, feel free to share here or reach out in whatever way feels comfortable. I would love to hear your story and I welcome your thoughts on this piece.

Much love to you ~ Saidi

We are all just walking each other home. ~~~ Ram Dass

And now, enough out of me! Marcella’s story…

How do you describe yourself? What labels would you use for who you are and what you do in the world?

Which of those words and terms are immutable? Which ones could change?

How strongly are you attached to your self-description? What would happen if you were required to change your identity? Who are you when you are no longer who you were?

These are questions I had to ask myself – and answer honestly – as the world shifted under my feet several decades ago when my career ended abruptly.

My work life had begun in a somewhat happenstance manner, but over time its trajectory coalesced into something recognizable. Its seeds were sown during my last year of high school because walking to school with my best friend meant I’d hang out in her morning class while waiting for my first class of the day.

Her class was shop. She was an artist curious about printing. I was the daughter of a frustrated artist, interested in the cute teacher’s aide. That semester I became intrigued with wood type, metal-type cases, letterpress printing, and the magic of holding a printed product in my hand.

That sense of magic propelled me into jobs at print shops, an advertising agency, and then into magazines. Along the way, I set up my own little design studio, joined the local graphic design guild, volunteered as the graphic designer for a business women’s networking organization, and made a living as a small business owner.

Now I was making that magic happen. I turned the client’s needs into a visual idea. I conceived the design. I hired the vendors and produced the artboards for the printer. I picked up the printed product and delivered it into my client’s hands.

Creating something tangible from an idea – sometimes from only a feeling – was more than just a job for me. I was a graphic artist: not a fine artist like my father had been, but an artist nonetheless. Yet I saw my studio as simply my livelihood. Because it had grown so naturally, it didn’t occur to me that being a business owner was also an accomplishment. It hadn’t been without hard work on my part, but I’d come to trust that it would reliably support me.

Then it all changed.

What we now call tech had been slowly creeping into everyday life through DOS and Apple, through “personal computers” and “desktop publishing.” In its early days, I’d heard dismissive talk about it from magazine clients. And I’d used a very early, non-WYSIWYG layout program at a book publishing house.

But now I lived in a rural town where the computer revolution was slow to arrive. Sure, my used Mac, along with a newfangled concept called “word processing” and its marvelous Delete key, were making it easier for me to specify type for my typesetting vendor. Something called a “modem” meant I could hire a typist to “keyboard” the newsletter articles mailed to me by my clients and send the electronic file to me over the phone line. It was an exciting time!

But mine wasn’t the only business changing its workflow through the use of early desktop computers. My clients were, too. Soon, every one of them had purchased a computer for their receptionist or marketing director and added “publication layout” to that employee’s job description.

Exciting times, yes, but death to a business like mine. As an entrepreneur whose business was based on my own creativity plus an old oak drafting table with a metal T-square, I wasn’t prepared for the reality of purchasing computer equipment and programs. To computerize my studio would cost more than a year’s profit. Plus it was sounding like I’d need at least half a year to learn the programs, if not longer. That was money and time I didn’t have.

I was devastated. I’d have to close my studio and leave graphic design behind. I had no idea what I’d do for a living.

Focusing on the practical aspect – my need for income – I started looking for new career. I’d always loved reading, so I started by volunteering at the public library to see if I liked it. I certainly enjoyed the side benefits: I got to bring home a stack of new books each week! A lot of those books focused on career options and figuring out what kind of work would match one’s experience and skills. None of them helped. And I came to recognize that there weren’t any library science careers that felt like a good fit for me.

Alongside my practical efforts, I was also searching internally. Using techniques like Jeremy Taylor’s dream work, Lucia Capacchione’s other-handed writing, Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way process, and spiritual inquiry, I asked my deeper wisdom for guidance.

As I looked inside, I noticed sadness and feelings of loss. Those didn’t make sense to me at first. It felt like grief, but I couldn’t imagine why. Maybe I thought that changing careers would be as easy as buying a new car. The career books I was bringing home from the library didn’t mention grieving the loss of your previous career, but eventually I recognized that it wasn’t my career itself I was grieving. It was my identity.

For twenty years, I had been a graphic designer. That’s how I introduced myself. It felt like who I was. For most of that time, I’d been a business owner, a sole proprietor, an entrepreneur. I was losing all that. I was losing my labels: the way I saw myself and the main way I thought the world saw me.

I needed to grieve those losses before I could move on to the next thing, whatever that might be.

Recognizing that need was pivotal. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I had tried to suppress those feelings because I thought they were wrong to have. Or if I’d decided I should be ashamed for having them.

It took me quite some time to process my grief. I found ways to symbolically honor who I had been as a graphic designer, the mentoring I’d provided others, the positive actions I’d helped promote in the world through my graphics abilities. I recognized my hard work and the sacrifices that had allowed me to create and build my business. I acknowledged to myself the appreciation my clients had expressed for my work and how I’d helped them build their own dreams and careers and achieve their business and personal goals. I thought about the relationships I’d built with my vendors, the respect other business people had for me, and all the good I’d created in the both the business and nonbusiness communities through my business connections. I remembered with gratitude everything I learned in the course of building that business: the ability to speak in public, the responsibility I felt for my community, the ethics of marketing, and more. I thanked myself for all my efforts and congratulated myself on a job well done. And I mourned my losses – both my dreams for the future and the identity I’d created around my career.

I don’t know if you’ve ever done any deep grieving. If you have, you’ve felt the freedom that comes with acknowledging what you’ve lost and recognizing what losing it means to you. It’s like you give yourself permission to move forward instead of staying stuck. It was that sense of freedom – that openness to possibility – that allowed the next step for me.

A chance meeting with a hospice social worker introduced me to a whole new world, where people provide personal, heartfelt care to other people. Coming from the world of providing my services to businesses, this was completely new to me. I started volunteering for the hospice to see if it was a good fit for me. The volunteer orientation course made me think it might be.

While I volunteered with a dying person and their spouse, I also took the hospice’s bereavement volunteer course and began volunteering with their program for grieving children and their families. My experience grieving the loss of my previous identity gave me compassion for others in grief. Within months, a new position opened at the hospice: heading up that bereavement program. On the advice of a hospice colleague, I did personal fundraising (long before GoFundMe) to cover the costs of an intensive training for the position and was hired soon afterward.

That position led to my pursuing a college education, which led to a graduate program, which led to a position providing emotional and existential support to hospital and hospice patients, their families, and staff. That has led to creating a private practice in which I support people facing terminal illness, life’s end, and grief, as well as providing support for people in the caring professions who experience compassion fatigue.

The world moves forward and we have a chance to move with it. We can shift to something new, or dig in our heels and complain. Resistance, I believe, can lead to emotional, mental, and even physical problems, and a numbing of messages from our inner self. I’m grateful I was able to be open to new opportunities.

It feels like a privilege to help people cope with the hardest times they may have ever experienced, and my work is authentic because I’ve been through significant losses myself. The crisis of identity I confronted taught me about myself, and it informs the work I do in the world. As I wrote on my current website, “My heart gets to come to work with me now.” Although I think I would be content with my career if I were still a graphic designer, I can say without reservation that I feel far more fulfilled in the work I’m doing now. I’d rather be fulfilled than simply content.

~~~ Marcella Fox

Marcella Fox October 27, 2018

Marcella Fox wants people to be more comfortable with change and loss, especially as it relates to the end of life, death, and grief. Through her Oregon business, Companioning Care LLC, she provides emotional support, existential/spiritual care, and related information to people across the United States who are living with serious illness or approaching life’s end – or who love someone who is – and those grieving a significant life change. She has a special interest in pets and their people. She holds a bachelors degree in psychology and has completed graduate-level training in spiritual/existential care. She has over 20 years of experience in end-of-life issues, the most recent being in a hospital/hospice setting. She also provides compassion fatigue support and information for people working or volunteering in the caring professions. www.companioning.care (not .com)

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