I was heading to lunch when my cell phone rang. It was my sister who lives in upstate New York. My heart skipped a beat. My sister calls my dad at every day at noon, but never calls me at that time unless there is a problem.
As it turns out, there were two problems.
My sister, a fitness director at a YMCA, had just reported to work and found a notice on the door that the Y was closed for the foreseeable future. Someone was waiting for staff, letters in hand, telling them to file for unemployment.
The second problem, she had tried to call our father, who lives with me during the winter, but each time she called, she got voice mail, meaning he either was not at home (very unlikely), or on the phone (unlikelier still because he knows she always calls at noon), or three, for some reason he couldn’t answer the phone.
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The uncertainty of the third option is one we both dread.
After several calls back and forth, we finally learned our father had been on the phone with his cousin in Arizona. With great relief, problem two fizzled from our minds.
But that left problem one heavy on our minds — my sister’s, my father’s and my own.
For months now, my fellow reporters and I have been writing stories about the worsening economy and subsequent layoffs which are rising as fast as the stock market is falling.
Writing about people who have lost their paychecks from the comfort of still having a job is troubling, but it’s also one of those, ‘There but for the grace of God, go I’ situations.
When a layoff or closure affects one’s own family, the shock and problems really hit home.
Like many people who have lost their jobs, my sister is taking this setback in stride. She updated her resume, called her network of contacts and identified possible places where she might find work. She’s also filed for unemployment to help get by in the meantime.
She is doing all she can to reverse her situation, but the fact remains that she has lost more than just a paycheck. She has lost a job she loves, a mission she believes in and a daily routine that defines to a great extent who she is and what she does. Her coworkers are her friends, but she doesn’t see them now.
With the loss of her job, a part of her life died and although she is trying her hard to embrace change, move on and find new opportunities, she is grieving that loss.
Now, when I hear the latest unemployment figures, I consider them in a new light.
Those figures represent millions of people, like my sister, are trying to move forward while they struggling to reconcile their loss.
What all this tells me is that we — all of us — need each other far more than ever before.