What do clouds taste like?
How was your car made?
Why did Jesus die?
Why is that man holding a sign in the middle of the road?
Those are just a few of the random questions my 4-year-old recently asked me (all in the same week). They are questions that made me proud because of the way his beautiful mind is thinking… but questions I struggled with because I didn’t know how to answer them. When I tried, he just came up with more complex questions – and it frustrated him that I just couldn’t find the right words.
I think it’s human nature to want to know the why. And when we don’t, it can be beyond frustrating.
The past week of my life has been one huge, frustrating, grief-stricken WHY.
It started with a phone call at 8:15 Saturday morning. My boss had unexpectedly passed away.
56 years old. 4 amazing kids. 1 gorgeous wife.
It doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t feel fair.
Joe was the kind of guy you want to work for – the kind who expects a lot out of you at work, but respects the fact that you have a family and other priorities. A natural leader. The kind of boss who takes the whole department out for lunch on a Tuesday, because why not?
The kind who says in a group text, ‘I don’t know the work policy for a blizzard warning, but I’m not going in right now and you don’t need to either. Let’s reassess at 10 a.m.’ And when he walks in to a full office at 10:30, says with a grin, ‘Man, I must have lived in the south too long.’
At least once a week, he’d look me square in the eye and say, ‘I’m proud of you,’ or ‘You’re doing a great job,’ or ‘I am so happy you’re part of my team.’ And he meant it. I only met Joe 5 months ago but feel like I’ve known him much longer.
I had so much to learn from him and he was willing to take the time and patience to teach me.
Then in the middle of those lessons and plans and without the slightest warning or goodbye, he was gone.
I’d known about his death for two days when I walked into work Monday, but it still hit me hard.
‘What the f**k, Joe?’ I whispered as I stared at his closed office door.
He was one of the biggest reasons I felt confident and excited to dive into this new career. He was supposed to be there. I needed him there.
I sat at my desk and cried. I questioned my recent career change for the first time. I got really mad, then cried some more.
Then came the guilt.
I was feeling sorry for myself, but the family he loved so much will never see the man who was their everything. Could I have been any more selfish?
I’m told these are all normal stages and types of grief but I wouldn’t know. I’ve never lost someone who believed in me and outwardly cheered me on the way Joe did.
All I’ve wanted to do the past 7 days is lie in bed and stare at the ceiling. To cry hard and hope that when I run out of tears, the why would come to me.
But instead I was forced to be an adult, which meant helping take care of the baby who (inevitably) ran a 103 degree fever and basically refused to sleep for 5 days in a row. Being an adult meant calling poison control when the 3-year-old ate part of a bottle of adult fiber gummies. It meant holding in the tears while I played in the sandbox with my toddlers and attended a fundraiser with my family because we’d previously committed to it.
So instead of dwelling in my sorrow, I put myself into overdrive – spending time with Joe’s family, squeezing in good workouts, keeping up with work and simply getting through the day.
But in the questions Joe can’t answer at work or the stillness after my kids go to bed at night, the sadness and doubt creep back in. I’m leaning heavily on my husband and other close friends who have more experience in this department of life – the one where you have to be a grown up and deal with your grief at the same time.
As I struggle with the unknown and my inability to find answers, I’ve started to better understand why my 4-year-old becomes frustrated when I can’t tell him exactly how my car was made (apparently “by workers in a factory” isn’t detailed enough).
When the answers we’re presented with simply do not make sense, it’s only natural to wonder WHY.
At his funeral, Joe’s oldest son recited part of what our company CEO said to him: ‘Your Dad didn’t give you everything you want, but he did give you everything you need.’
I’m using that line for my own comfort and choosing to focus on what does make sense from the short time I worked for him. I now know Joe was in my life and I was in his for several reasons.
During a recent work trip to Detroit, we had a very candid conversation about faith and religion and how I’m struggling so much with both at this point in my life. I also know that conversation happened for a reason.
I’ve always believed is there is a master plan for all of us in life. Nothing happens by chance… including the sudden death of someone we care about.
At work, Joe was big on what he called “process and procedure.” So for now, I’m trusting the process and procedure that lie within the master plan. For Joe’s family. For our work family. For others who trusted and loved him.
And I know he’s watching over me with those big Irish eyes and a huge smile saying what he told a couple of us at the office from time to time: “Atta girl, you’re my favorite.”
I'm a mom to 3 beautiful, spirited, elementary school-aged humans, I'm addicted to running + strength training, I have no filter & I work full time in the corporate world. But behind the scenes of all that is where it really gets interesting...