being undone · best laid plans · day in the life · enter the confessional · kid stuff · time crunch


It’s very early Wednesday morning. My husband and daughter and I just came home yesterday evening from a funeral in North Bay. We found out on Friday that my husband’s aunt had died, and hurriedly made arrangements to get there for the funeral. Parts of Friday were spent in making these arrangements: my husband secured permission from his boss to be out of the office on Monday and Tuesday, reset his voicemail and email away message, called family, organized a cat sitter. I called our daughter’s school to let them know she wouldn’t be there, got some luggage out of the attic, arranged for us to stay with my parents, arranged for the the dog to stay with my sister in Mississauga and how he and he crate were going to get there. I was going to miss my graduate class–I contacted them to let them know what to do in my absence. I emailed my chair and the graduate chair, to let them know I would be absent, and when I would be back. I tried to get out in front of my email. I booked extra office hours for my return.

Did I mention we were already committed to go to an out-of-town baby shower on Saturday? In Oshawa?

Beyond stress and grief, the last four days have been marked by a 14 to 17 hours in the car, packing and unpacking, scheduling and rescheduling, gassing up, packing snacks, charging the iPad, phoning people and being phoned and getting directions and ironing shirts and trying to remember names and sleeping in someone else’s bed.

But it’s today, Wednesday, in my bathrobe with my cup of coffee and my computer in front of me, that I’m going to burst into tears.

Compassionate leave and bereavement leave are wonderful. They are humane. But when you’re gone, the work does not get done in your absence. When I am gone, my grad class meets without me, and when I come back to check my calendar, I see I can’t hold all the office hours I want because I’m booked in a lot of meetings. And I can’t catch up on my grading because those meetings have briefing notes, or I’m going to be leading them and need to prepare the meeting notes. And we have no food in the house, and my daughter’s homework is not done, and I’m running out of underwear, and I have carrying $800 worth of insurance and honorarium cheques in the back pocket of my jeans for long enough that they’re both stained blue because I can’t get to the bank, and now the toilet seems to be leaking. And who is going to write this blog post? Grading! Prep! My new passport is at the postal outlet and I can’t get there! What the hell are we going to have for supper tonight?

There’s nothing particularly remarkable about my situation. There’s nothing, really, that’s even a little remarkable about it. We all have births and deaths in our families. We all have households (even if they just consist of ourselves) to maintain and to care for. We all have work to do, work that gets interrupted by everything else. And my husband and I are so lucky to have access to paid leave, lucky that my parents live where we were unexpectedly having to travel to, that they could do a lot of childcare this weekend and make our daughter feel like she was on a special vacation. We are not just completely ordinary, but luckier than most in our ordinariness. But the particular person who is me, right now, in my family and in my work, is overwhelmed. Even if this situation is perfectly ordinary, it feels perfectly unmanageable from my particular place in the universe, today.

We all feel like this, more or less, at the end of term, or in the middle of an unexpected life event. I don’t know what to do about it, other than take some deep breaths, and try to tackle what needs doing with a little bit of patience and grace, as I write out yet more apologetic emails, as I race from meeting to meeting across the four corners of campus, as I lock the dog up in his crate again, rush my girl to the bus stop, dump half my coffee down the sink undrunk. I’ll catch up, eventually, right?

How do you handle the unforeseen?

3 thoughts on “Leave

  1. I'm helping my siblings care for my mom right now, keeping her at home as long as possible as she prepares for death. I've managed to do my sure on alternate weekends for the last 8 weeks (I live about 2 hours away, by ferry & car). I'm finally going to take 2 of my annual 5 Family Days (never taken 1 before, not in 10 years) next week to help with her daytime care as death seems quite near now. But first I had to get my students prepped to do without me as they go ahead to write their research papers. The Leave Days just make me feel better about being off campus — they don't change my workload at all. The same will be true when I take the Bereavement Leave, probably right in the middle of exams — at most, I might get someone to invigilate. Perhaps I'm only fantasizing about other jobs which would allow one to book off 2 or 3 weeks during such times, with or without pay, and not have to think about work during that time but focus on the imperative at hand. . . But at least your post reminds me that I have much academic company across the land. Wishing you strength and rest and perhaps a dozen very talented elves. . .


  2. Right now I'm dealing by not dealing. Mainly by hyperventilating and crying. Hoping to make my flight, but not actually caring if I do or if I fall off the face of the planet. Ordinarily I deal with the unexpected by creating strategic plans or avoiding.


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