Black Tuesday: 7 Sustaining Truths

If you live long enough, you’re bound to have at least one or two “what-the-heck-just-happened” life detours. You’re humming along, minding your own business, when something suddenly and permanently changes your course. It happened to me on Sept 8, 2015, a day I call Black Tuesday.

My recovery from Black Tuesday was like one of those natural alarm clocks that wakes you gently by gradually lighting the room. Instead of 30 minutes, however, my path out of the darkness took well over a year. It’s good to feel whole and happy again. As I reflect from the vantage point of time and distance, I recognize some truths that sustained me when I couldn’t even think straight. I offer them to you, in case you’re dealing with your own Black Tuesday.

Black Tuesday smacked me harder because it happened to be my third “life whammy” in a six-week period.

The first whammy hit July 31st, when a loudspeaker page interrupted my team meeting at the office. I stepped out of the conference room to take a call and learned that my dad had suffered a massive stroke. An hour later, my husband and I hit the road for the 12-hour drive from Joplin, MO to Longmont, CO. The Kansas mile markers have never ticked away more slowly.

We found his condition as grave as we feared. He would never regain consciousness. Still, I held his hand and talked to him through the night. The next day, surrounded by her family, Mom gave the okay to shut down the machines. Oh, the soul-crushing weight of grief.

The week that followed was a blur of activity and a roller coaster of emotion. Waves of grief as we wrote the obituary, laughs and hugs as we reconnected with family and friends, one decision after another as we made funeral arrangements, a steady influx of flowers and roast beef and fruit trays and more flowers. In the flurry of activity, oddly, time stood still.

At the end of the week, we had hugged every last neck and waved each car down the lane. It was just Mom and me. A few more days to help Mom begin to figure out lfe without Daddy, and then I’d be gone. Back to my old life.

Just before noon from the other end of the house, I heard the thud and the rattle of dishes and her fearful cry. I ran to the kitchen to find her on the floor in agonizing pain but still coherent enough to say, “I’ve dislocated my hip. Call the ambulance.”

Whammy #2

It was midnight, 12 long hours later, when Dr. Chiang met me in the waiting room to tell me he was unable to get the hip back into the socket. He was soaked in sweat and had been on duty for 18 hours. (Don’t ever complain to me about how much money doctors make.) We have a history, Dr. Chiang and I. Eight years earlier, he met us in my mother’s hospital room to explain how and why she had suffered a stroke in the hours after he had performed her hip replacement surgery. Now he was telling me she would need another surgery to fix that troublesome hip one more time. I knew she was in good hands, but still.

Mom’s medical history is a small book. Surgery always carries risks, and in her case, the risks loomed large. Would we lose our mother, too? My brothers made the trip back to Colorado. We took one last selfie before they wheeled her away, and we waited.

She’s a tough old gal, my mama. Tougher than that troublesome hip. She came through, smiling on the other side! And then began the long, slow road of recovery.

The next four weeks we bounced between hospital and rehab center and ER and doctor’s offices. Recovery would have been difficult for a younger, healthier person. It was especially grueling for her, having been flattened both physically and emotionally. Before her accident, she felt confident she could manage living alone. Now it was obvious she could not. With no family nearby, a move was now certain. But where? To Wyoming to be near my brothers? To Indiana to be near my sister? Or to Missouri to be near me? She settled on Missouri and we secured an apartment in a retirement home just a mile from our house. That was the easy part.

Now we had to downsize her belongings from a 3,000 square foot home to an 800 square foot apartment. We booked a date for an estate auction, engaged a realtor, and began sorting and boxing a lifetime of worldly goods. At odd hours of the day and night, I answered emails and tried to keep up with the work that was going on without me back at the office. All the while, I slept with Mom each night, helping her to the bathroom and providing reassurance through the long night hours. Fatigue settled into my very bones.

We set the moving date for Sept. 11th, and my sister left her classroom to return to Colorado for that last week so I could go home and get ready. I had been out of the office for 5 weeks by this time, and I was anxious to return to some semblance of normalcy. My husband and I enjoyed time together on Labor Day Monday, and then it was Tuesday.

Black Tuesday

I was in my colleague’s office chatting it up at 8:30 when my boss called me into a meeting. Fifteen minutes later, I was back in my office packing boxes behind closed doors. Whammy #3.

Lots of people have experienced this “change in strategic direction” spiel, but I never expected to be one of them. Fired? How could this be happening? I loved my career, loved my team, and believed passionately in the importance of my work. And then it was over. At age 55, I was a corporate casualty, dealing not just with the loss of my career, but also with the malicious betrayal it represented. It was deeply personal.

Coming as it did, when I was in such a depleted state, I took it hard. Really hard. Cried-for-days hard. But then my Mom moved to town and her grief was so much greater than my own. My focus turned to helping her adjust to her new home and close the chapter on her Colorado life.

The words of Robert Browning Hamilton’s poem “I Walked a Mile with Pleasure” resonate with me.

I walked a mile with Pleasure;
She chatted all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And ne’er a word said she;
But, oh! The things I learned from her,
When sorrow walked with me.

Time may not heal all wounds, but it does provide perspective. If you’re dealing with your own Black Tuesday, here are seven truths that sustained me while I walked with sorrow.

  • God is faithful, even in our pain. Even as it was happening, I had a deep sense of God’s presence and purpose. At the very core of my being, I know that I am deeply loved by the Almighty Father, and nothing in this world can separate me from that love. I was hurting, but not abandoned.
  • True friends are the frosting of life. Over 17 years, I’d accumulated a wealth of meaningful relationships within the company. To be escorted out of the building without a chance to say goodbye cut me deeply, but I was simply blown away by the support of my colleagues. I got so many texts, Facebook messages, cards, visits, and phone calls (several from executives), that I had to start a list to keep track. On the really dark days, I read through the list. I will never forget the kindness, hugs, tears, and support of those dear friends. I’m determined to BE that kind of friend.
  • There is {almost} always a silver lining. It may take time to see it, but keep looking. Resilient people can see blessing in the midst of pain, and they consciously pursue gratitude. I intentionally looked for the good and focused on the opportunities ahead instead of the career lost. This blog is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, and I wouldn’t be seeing it come to life without this detour. I also like to think I’m a kinder, more empathetic person now.
  • There are no shortcuts through grief. Some days were harder than others, and even now I still have some bad dreams. Grief is not a linear journey. Keep slogging forward, even when it feels like you’re wandering in the desert.
  • Life is all about choices. Bitterness is a choice. So is forgiveness. My former boss lives just a mile from me, on a road I travel frequently. I wanted to egg his mailbox, but instead I just said bad words every time I went by his house. Eventually, even the bad words didn’t feel good, and now I don’t even realize I’ve passed his house. Be gentle with yourself while you’re sorting through the feelings, but keep your eye on the prize of soul-liberating acceptance. Bitterness rots the bones.
  • You gotta own your own crap. There’s nothing quite like getting fired to plunge you into introspection. Some days I could only dwell on the injustice and wallow in my anger. Other days, I second guessed every thought and action, winding my way into a pit of despair. High performers don’t get fired, right? So I must have been a total screw up and just didn’t know it. Eventually, rational thought returned. Without discarding my accomplishments, I took a hard look at my mistakes and flaws. Determined not to let a good crisis go to waste, I went back to some colleagues and apologized for behaviors I needed to own. And then I turned the page.
  • Celebrate yoga pants. There’s a lot to love about leisurely morning coffee and yoga pants. Amen.

15 Comments

  1. I to have had my own “black Tuesday’s” and just as you have found God’s faithfulness sustained me through each one. Psalm 139 has become my favorite passage that I return to time after time as I face life’s uncertainties. Thank you Aileen for sharing a part of yourself.

    1. So good to hear from you Teresa! I love Psalm 139, too. Don’t know what we’d do without our Rock of Ages, right? Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  2. I. Love. This. So. Much. I see your courage in every single word. I’m proud of you, friend.

    1. Your affirmation means more than I can tell you. Thanks for walking with me through my Black Tuesday. It sure feels good to get my second wind!

  3. I almost started reading this at 10:30 last night half asleep with a baby on my lap, but I waited, as that Tuesday was Black and carries with it a few feelings for me, too. Your words ring strong and true, and I’m sure it feels so good to write them! Good for you, dear friend. I don’t think I’ll ever stop being inspired by your strength and wisdom!

    1. Ah, thank you, Rachel! It was, indeed, a pretty black day for all of us, but it sure feels good to be on the other side! Thanks for walking the journey with me, my friend!

  4. I am so inspired by your writing Aileen! What a gift you have been given. Thank you for sharing your heart with such deep wisdom, and truth. What a treasure this blog will be to every reader. May you enjoy every moment of this new journey!!!

    1. Thank you so much, Kim! I appreciate your encouragement, and I’ve so enjoyed our collaboration. Looking forward to watching you launch your own writing!

      1. Thank you !!! I am looking forward to that day as well. You are definitely my human inspiration right now!

  5. Aileen,
    What an impactful piece of your heart. I so admire you for not only this article but how you lead and serve others. Thank you for sharing this.

    1. Oh Rebecca, thank you for your sweet words. They mean the world to me. So thankful for our friendship!

  6. You have a way with words, Girl! I just relived so many of those moments. ‘Twas a masterful retelling. God has been good through it all.

  7. I will never forget Black Tuesday.
    You are such a lovely example of Jesus’ love, strength, and restoration. I was thankful for you as a boss and I’m still thankful for you as a friend and sister in Christ. Love you, lady!!

    1. Oh Jen, your friendship is so precious to me! Thank you for your kind words and your sweet heart. Love you, my friend.

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