Death to Phobia!

Wait–sorry about that. I meant “Phobia of Death.” I get those mixed up sometimes.

Thanatophobia--know about this? It’s a fear named after the Greek god of death: Thanatos.

Thanatos himself wasn’t so bad. He just had a lousy job. I mean, someone had to do it. But while I might be sympathetic to having a job one doesn’t like, I have no desire to meet the guy.
A stone statue of the winged god kneeling in park

Greek God of Death.

When my Grandma Snow died, I stopped being able to breathe properly. I had just had my first miscarriage and wasn’t dealing well with a double whammy of real and true loss. I was only 30 and had not yet experienced Death up close and personal. So, when ole Thanatos swung by, I ceased correctly inhaling oxygen for about three months. “How is that possible?” you cry. “Breathing is involuntary.” True. But doing it correctly isn’t. Trust me.

Over the next ten years, my husband and I lost all of our grandparents, all with whom we were very close. I haven’t had a decent intake of breath for more than a decade. But worse than that was the reality. Mortality had come home to roost, like Poe’s Raven, like a hulking, heavy dragon, like the proverbial shadow it embodies: you don’t see it until it’s there. It’s one thing being 20 and knowing “we all die.” It’s another thing when you realize as an individual type person that “all” includes you. Specifically.

That’s when I learned I also have anxiety.

It’s been more years since all of those epiphanies. I’ve handled several crises since—that happens in the life of a crisis communicator—and I’ve found my ability to play my role and do my job has helped. I don’t feel any better about my prospects, or anyone else’s, for leaving this planet, but I’ve come to learn to manage the expectations.

Yesterday, I came upon a grueling motorcycle accident. It had just happened on the freeway. No emergency responders were on scene. I would have witnessed it first-hand were it not for a semi in front of me. I had to stop, was compelled. If there was something, anything, I could do to assist the injured person crumpled on the side of the road I was prepared to do it—me, and seven other people. Many, many, many more drove on by. Two who stopped, miraculously, thankfully, were volunteer firemen, each on his way someplace else. The rest of us did what we could: called 911, moved our car to block traffic, tried to comfort the eyewitness and her partner. Then the EMTs got there, then the cop, then the flight for life helicopter. And we all lost.

I was desperate to help. I mourn the loss of a person I didn’t even know. I wish more than anything I could comfort the family, let them know their person was not alone those last minutes, that complete strangers wanted to help, would have done anything to make it better. I also wish that I could say I’m better now and I can finally breathe when I come face-to-face with Thanatos. But when what little function I had to offer was over, my usual reaction returned.

I posted my experience on Facebook (a coping mechanism for we extroverts), received a lot of love and many comments about life-changing experiences. Oh, thank God for friends! I am grateful, but have to disagree to some extent. I love my optimism but the realism of my inner Walt Whitman is burning through. The epiphanies are over. The work remains and when it is complete, we either stagger on a little longer or we don’t.

Alas for the ills we cannot cure, the hurts we cannot heal. We can’t stave off death; we can’t change it when it comes. But we don’t have to deal with it alone. Beauty is in community. I’m glad I have one.

No Gold Watch

I’m not talking about a pocket watch. And this isn’t something like The Watch in the movie Pulp Fiction (although getting to do a scene with Bruce Willis would be some sort of fabulous, I’m sure).

Bruce Willis looks down at a wrist watch in the movie Pulp Fiction.

No, I’m talking about the once-coveted “gold watch,” the reward for loyalty, the recognition of a life’s work, a career of dedication, the old American work ethic “If you stick with something long enough, good things happen.”

Yeah, that’s over.

Those days, that dream, that side of Americana has gone bye-bye. Being steadfast isn’t good enough anymore. This Life is a Highway culture values change. Covets it. And quick.

When I graduated from college a year or two ago (bear with me), new statistics proclaiming the fate of my generation were out: there were few jobs and we were doomed. A girl had good reason to feel anxious. There was no arguing these facts, faithfully reported as they were by Time Magazine–the end-all-to-beat-all before the omniscience of Internet. Time reigned supreme and predicted Generation X would change jobs roughly every five years and, in their lifetime, change careers a minimum of three times.

How shockingly irresponsible! What else could one expect from such a bunch of slackers–which, also according to Time, we all were (until Tianamen Square–but, that’s another blog).

No, back then on the verge of my career, expectations were that those who followed the work ethic of the generation before were “good” and those who didn’t were “slackers.” Not bad, exactly. Just really disappointing.

Then we got Dot Coms.

All of a sudden, the professionalism of American Suburbia burst forth in change. People skipped from office to office like flat rocks on a glassy pond. The more bounces a person’s rock made, the more successful he or she became. It got to the point where those who weren’t in six figures by the year 2000 were viewed as “under performers” or, if you were savvy enough to claim the label, “artistic.”

For we females there was a third option. Flexible family hours came back, thanks in part to the re-recognition of the Family Leave Act. Scheduling got creative. SAHM became a thing. So, if a girl had babies, she at least had an “out.” But not guys: guys got hit even harder and any feller without a job became an automatic “less than.” Ah, karma.

“Hmpf!” scoffs my late Grandma, “About damn time.”

Change was out there. People parleyed “life experience” into career goals. “The next best thing” became not an altruism, but a career path. To not hop within five years or less was a stigma.


What a reversal of fortune. Now in job interviews, one might find herself asked, “Why have you been at this company for over a decade?” In fact, I once had an Administrative Officer confess to me she was worried about one team of engineers. “They’ve been here almost ten years,” she said in a nervous whisper. “What’s wrong with them?!”

“Maybe they’re happy,” I offered. She laughed at me and walked away.

It’s not without a sense of irony I look back on my career. I’m literally between jobs: yesterday I left one; tomorrow I start another. This is something I haven’t done for a really long time. I went directly against the main. I defied the pull of populous doing what none of my compatriots did. I stayed in one job longer than I spent going to college, building a family, or growing up. The job I’m leaving is the longest thing I’ve ever done.

What did that loyalty earn me? Skepticism. There were plenty of interviews between then and now where I was looked at sideways, my choices scrutinized. Why had I stayed put? I could have said I was raising a family, I had young kids, my husband didn’t want to move–all of which were true facts about my lifestyle. But they weren’t the real reason. The truth was what I always answered, “It’s been fascinating with new challenges all the time.”

Change without changing.

But it wasn’t good enough. Push came to shove; my hands went up in surrender. I give. I’m out. It’s over. I have a ton of new stories, knowledge, experience, and excellent friends.

Just no gold watch.