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The Office Phone Rang

The office phone rang yesterday. Once. Twice. Glance at the caller ID.

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Photo by Davidson Luna

I picked up the black office phone, untangled the snaggled cord, and tucked the receiver (oh dear, that is what it’s called right) between my raised shoulder and my left ear.

“American Family Insurance, this is Katie how can I help you?”

How many times have I repeated that phrase? I started when I was sixteen, working in my Dad’s office. And now, after his death, have spent over 365 days living out his legacy, still with the company, working for a different agent.

“Hi, this is …… and I’m calling to let you know that my husband died this past weekend.”

I paused. Death sucks your breath out of your bones, even when you don’t know the person who has passed.

“Oh no, ” I am sure I said “I am so sorry.”

I didn’t know this customer and I didn’t know her husband. I do know just how jolting death can be for the living. The ones left behind.

We continued the conversation.

I began to notice, in this customer call, there lived signs of personal progress.

My stomach didn’t drop. Huh. That’s different.

For the last year anytime someone told me another person left this planet my stomach would crumple. My body would sweat, my heart would drop deep into my already aching gut. Empathetic wavelengths would extend like squid, squeezing remnants of emotional energy I didn’t have to spare out to other people.

This didn’t happen yesterday.

We proceeded to talk logistics and I was shocked by this woman’s resolve. Her ability to speak coherently, to share her concern. “He used to handle these things,” she said, “how am I supposed to now know what’s best?”

I hmm’d along empathetically, flashing back to many conversations with my own mom who instantly acquired the title ‘widow’. We spent a better part of a year rebuilding, coaching, working together on learning again to know what’s best. You certainly can’t know in the first few days. Sure you can take action, make decisions, pick a song for a funeral. But what’s best? Baby, that takes a really long time.

I clicked through our computer system and managed to rework this woman’s policies. New options saved her money on her monthly premium. Changing coverage, that’s easy.

I gracefully offered to remove her husband’s name from her policies. Erasing a person from a policy, that’s harder.

Robotically, I clicked an “x” into the Deceased box next to her husbands name, and changed her marital status to widowed.

How quickly our society allows you to mark a box, change a status, erase a name on a billing account. The process of grief is no where near this simple. I still hate this word – deceased. I hate knowing that my dad falls into that category. One simply does not erase a loved one from your own being.

I never once mentioned my own loss in that conversation. I learned quickly that saying, ‘Oh yes, I lost someone too’ doesn’t bring comfort. Instead it brings awkwardness and an urgency to change the subject. I listened and asked if she had someone nearby to help her with these decisions. Support remains vital.

As I hung up that black office phone I felt strong and empowered. For the first time, I noticed how Dad’s death had purpose in changing ME. I was empathetic, calm, and collected when absorbing other people’s stories. I could offer support, problem solve, listen and see, just for ten minutes, her situation and perspective. Her pain was separate from my pain.

This is new. This is healing.

We keep saying in our household just how true it is that people die. People die. This doesn’t remove emotion, downplay trauma, or remove loving connection. These words just make it easier for me to live with the truth of death.

This phone call brought beautiful awareness. A gift from my job that can bring comfort and pain at the same time. A deeper understanding of how Dad once worked with customers. The realization that my approach to the world has forever changed with this pulsing absence of Dad. An American Family insurance agent for almost twenty years.

 

ps. Do you know hard it is to find stock photos of office phones? Ha! No one takes pictures of these anymore. Maybe the use of an old office phone is also a beautiful thing.

 

 

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Turn that Tone Upside Down

I have a side job helping write monthly newsletters for a doctor’s office here in town. I love creating content, and deciphering notes and pulling together a multitude of sources into one space that serves as an educational resource for those seeking to improve their health.

A couple of weeks ago, feeling rushed to meet a deadline, I ticked off a quick couple lines of introduction copy for this month’s newsletter and sent it to my colleague. “How is this for an introduction?” I typed in the notes, and waited for her feedback. My tone had been pessimistic – February is a drag – something to get through – too much snow – and every once in awhile – we need a boost.

No sooner had I clicked send did the doctor call me, with kindness and laughter in her voice. “That intro was a drag Katie!” she exclaimed. “Let’s turn that tone upside down.” At first I was a little offended, but as I sat and listened to her vision for her correspondence with clients, my defense softened. The doctor went on to encourage me to encourage others – to find the joy and beauty in this month of February. Her redirection inspired me in remembering that our words are what create our reality – our intentions and tone are powerful. When we choose to share that writing, we have the power to influence other’s moods, attitudes, and perceptions. This conversation changed my month, and it changed my heart.

I’ve sense rewritten the introduction, and while it felt a little cheesy to try to find the positive, the doctor’s words continue to reverberate through my mind. We can find beauty and optimism when we go looking for it, and maybe, even more powerfully, when we create it.

IMG_3470This week I attempted to create beauty in several situations. Call it simple, but for Valentine’s Day I made my very own cheese danish pastry. While the holiday was on a Sunday, and we chose not to over indulge in any romantic dates, I did want to create a little festivity in my own house. I rolled out of bed, and followed this recipe to bring a little bit of celebration to our lazy Sunday morning routine. Routine? Does sleeping ’til 10 am count as a routine?

Cream cheese and sugar, vanilla and raspberries – when these ingredients blend together they create beautiful flavors and a sense of fancy that just made me smile.

Sunday also presented us with the choice to run errands, and use up gift cards lingering in our junk drawers  from Christmas. I went to Nordstrom Rack and got a pair of pants for nine dollars. NINE DOLLARS. I love a beautiful bargain. I tried Maintenance Moment at my favorite brewery – which perfectly pairs the light flavors of coffee with beer. Their full description is so much more delightful. Hello Colorado! You’ve achieved a combination of my favorite things. Is it bad to proclaim craft beer as one of your favorite things on the internet? Not sure, let’s take a beautiful risk.

So this week I give a nod to the universe as several loved ones have lifted my chin, and reminded me to look for the beautiful with optimism and hope in my heart. May you find and create beauty at every turn, even if it involves a roll of crescent dough.