Grieving at the Office

My grammie died two weeks after my younger cousin, barely twenty-one years old, had been killed suddenly, shockingly, tragically. I was bereft. Grammie was my person—the person everyone should have in her life—the one who was on my side always, no matter what. As a person who’d grown inward over the years, shutting out most people and emotional potential, I was closer to Grammie than to anyone else in the world.

The place I worked didn’t provide time off to grieve for grandparents, let alone cousins so removed in age and geographic location that we hadn’t yet found time to develop our relationship. But grieving happens, regardless of time of day or physical location. It happens regardless of anything.

So there I was with my office door closed, going through the motions of work, grieving. It’s possible I had reached the anger stage. When I clicked on the email inviting the staff of ten plus people to lunch, I fired back. Though I can’t remember my exact words, I’m pretty sure they went something like this:

“As a person with celiac disease, it is difficult and often uncomfortable for me to eat at restaurants, especially with a group of people.” I may have asked the sender to please stop inviting me to group meals, forever.

She responded with compassion: “I know you’re not yourself right now.”

In some ways (I think now) she may have been right. But also, she was dead wrong. Prior to that email, I’d made all possible efforts to join the group for social activities involving food. And let’s face it; they always involve food. From potlucks to lunches to happy hours, I made accommodations to be involved. I was the communications specialist, after all. Socializing and getting to know the people I worked with was part of my job.

That day I’d had enough, and the reason was the opposite of my coworker’s perspective. That day, with my curt and potentially offensive email, I expressed the very words I thought every single time I agreed to join the group for food and drinks. “It is difficult and often uncomfortable.” This is the truth.

In writing those words, I was being more myself than I had ever been before. It just wasn’t what they wanted to hear. It isn’t what anyone wants to hear. I get it. Most of the time, I can accommodate. I can smile and chat while secretly fretting that my food has been contaminated by a shared utensil or cutting board, and I’m in for a subsequent and indeterminate level and duration of suffering. (Heaven forbid that suffering should begin while I’m still in public!)

These are the risks I take every time someone other than me prepares my food. These are the risks I take every time the gluten-free food rests beside the gluten-filled food in a buffet. I really am risking my health to join in the office lunch fun. But don’t worry, as long as I’m not grieving the death of a loved one or two, you probably would never know it.

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This post was inspired by an amazingly eloquent and accurate description of how it feels to have celiac disease by Miss Dee Meanor, shared on Gluten Dude’s blog. Please read it here: http://glutendude.com/celiac/whats-it-like-to-have-celiac-diease/

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