Omen 3 Parallel Lives

Our head office in Toronto was undergoing changes in management. Efficiency experts were raging about. The shareholders had been asking awkward questions. Fraud had been discovered two years earlier in the upper echelons. Ever since, the company had been half in defensive mode, half in aggressive restructuring mode. In the previous year, I had been named Ethics Champion for the organization. I had been relieved of some of my duties so that I could spend time on this important issue. Then in January, a year ago, I returned to my unit to take back up the work I had been doing before this interesting hiatus.

By April, we had been told that our jobs would disappear. We could keep on working for the company, but the nature of the work would change. We might be doing something else. Where there had been twenty three of us in our unit, we would be reduced to three effective positions. Mine was one that would be kept, but I didn’t want it. It was onerous. I was exaggeratedly responsible for more than one person could manage without substantial help. Now the support for the position was being taken away and the pressure would increase. It was impossible.

We were encouraged to find jobs with other organizations. Everyone started to search. We were already down to seventeen from twenty three. Now, rapidly, five more found jobs elsewhere. The place seemed to be falling apart. One found a government job which was a tidy promotion for her. We held a party.

Another retired after five years temporizing on her decision to go. My job was seeming less and less meaningful. The leadership was less and less sure of what they were doing. Eight months afterwards, we were told that the management had changed its collective mind. Our target date for downsizing was three years away instead of four months. But this friend and colleague had had enough. We held a party for her.

Then Karen left to work with a property management company. It was expanding. Two others from accounting went shortly after, to the same company. I was sad seeing the heart of our group go elsewhere. The corporate memory was walking out the door in droves. So were my long term friends I had made. We held a party.

Another colleague found a job in another section of a company and no sooner had she accepted she was offered a job and a promotion two steps up in the company she left when she joined us. It was getting confusing. We held a party to speed her on her way.

Not only were we losing colleagues from the baby-boom retirement, we were losing them to other companies.

My manager flatly announced that those who didn’t find jobs would be considered losers. The plum jobs would be available now. Later, when the announcement of our downsizing was made, other employers would look at who was left and think they had no ambition nor motivation.

So I applied for a Manager’s job in a sister company. They weren’t downsizing. There were plenty of postings. I was successful in meeting the initial requirements but when it came time do go through the testing and the interviews, I bowed out. I barely had energy left to manage my own job. Familiarizing myself with a new company, managing people I had never met and a subculture I didn’t know, learning the sister company’s goals and aspirations, their goals and directions – all this seemed beyond my capabilities. I was visiting Mom every night for three hours. I was tired and no longer able to concentrate at work. How would I feel if I was unsuccessful in the next steps of qualification. Unsuccessful was equivalent for failure. I couldn’t face it and I couldn’t study. I was overwhelmed.
I bowed out by explaining that my mother was dying and it was not good timing for me.

Then our organization posted an Ethics Champion job for Montreal. If ever the position was to be staffed in our region, they would draw from the successful candidates on the Montreal competition. I sent my letter in and was informed that I would have to go through testing on my knowledge and my abilities. Then I heard no more for months. Finally in December, I was asked to go to Montreal to be tested. If I didn’t go, I was out of the competition, no ifs, ands or buts.

Mom was deteriorating and I would have to leave her for three days. I would arrive in Montreal with jet lag and have to get up three or four hours earlier than I usually do, and then write an exam. Twenty years earlier, this would have been a no-brainer. Ten years ago, I would have said “no problem”. I hesitated. I took my e-mail which I hadn’t filed since I left my Ethics Champion post over a year earlier and started to weed it out, file it, delete that which should have been deleted much earlier. It was true that the hours were less onerous. It was true that it was interesting to listen to people’s stories as they wrangled with their own conscience about right and wrong. I had no trouble conveying the company’s goals and aspiration, and the company’s ethics policy to anyone in the organization. But I hadn’t liked the answers. We were getting too picky. One couldn’t support a charity on office premises – no more Food Bank boxes; I was the bearer of bad news. “No, you can’t collect donations for the Union Gospel Mission on the work site. No you can’t put your own pictures up in the office. No you can’t go to a lunch hour presentation held at a contractor’s workplace. No you can’t do this; you can’t do that. Did I want to go back to that? Did I want to count statistics. Did I want to write position papers I didn’t necessarily agree with? Did I want to tell people that what they proposed was not ethical when I didn’t support the party line myself?

Well, what did I want to do? My wants were defined in negatives. I didn’t want my former position; I didn’t want an easy position where my heart was not engaged; I didn’t want to be working when it came down to the bottom line, that very business-like bottom line.

I didn’t want to live the remainder of my life going to work at seven, leaving work at four, going to moms by five; coming home by eight; having a what-ever-I-could-find dinner, collapsing on the couch for an hour, beginning my housekeeping and accounting at ten, bedding down at twelve or one or two and starting all over again at six.
Nagging at me were the things that I hadn’t gotten done. Mom wanted to see her friends – a tea with one of the fresh fruit cakes from Fratelli’s.bakery. Something small. No work, you understand. “I don’t want to overload you. You already do so much for me”, she said. “Just here at the Lodge. In the solarium, mid afternoon.

I wanted to go and buy her an ice cream cone in rainbow colours. I wanted to to take her out to see the ocean again at sunset time – only a drive by because I couldn’t lift her out of the car by myself now. I wanted to show her the Christmas lights, even thought she could only half see them through her peripheral vision. I wanted to take her to her beloved club for the Christmas open house and again for the Christmas Seniors luncheon.

Besides the things I wanted to do for mom, there were the things I wanted to do for me. I wanted to write. I wanted to collect and privately publish as much family history as I could, I wanted to paint again. It was my life work and I had done virtually nothing over the last five years.

With our downsizing, we had been moved to a different floor. My work station looked out onto a beautiful historic building that I loved to watch changing colour as the day progressed, back lit in the morning, bathed in a glorious golden glow in the early evenings as the sun set. Some days the green copper roof blazed against a dark storm cloud making it look like an old fashioned spaceship ready to take off. Other days, the shadows on the garret windows would move around the limestone walls like a sundial creating fantastic shadow forms.

I took my camera to work and photographed the shifting light and the changing shapes. I could look far down to a flat roof that had heating and ventilation equipment on it which, when taken as an abstract view, produced some interesting images as well. The day it snowed, someone walked across the roof leaving a trail of black footprints. All the dark shapes on the roof had become white, changing the aspect entirely.

But when the day went dark, instantly the window turned into a mirror. I saw myself slumping into my swivel chair, staring back at myself. I was getting heavier and heavier. I was getting no exercise, working here at my computer all day; driving to my mother’s residence; sitting with her all evening. I was falling asleep at my desk. Was that any way to work for an employer? And yet, the few hours of sleep I was getting before I had to get up and go around again were not enough to keep me alert at my desk. My work wasn’t interesting. I was bored.

And when had I developed jowls? And how was it that my hair had decided to live in the bad-hair-day camp on a permanent basis? I hadn’t had time to get to the hairdresser. I was beginning to wear the same thing to work two days in a row, for I hadn’t had time to iron a washed top when I got home from my evening visit. Was I going to look at this lovely image, day after day, for another two years? That was my goal for retirement. Two years.

So I burned my bridges. I phoned to Montreal, gave a politically correct reason and my regrets, bowed out of the Ethics competition and made a decision to fly the coop, come out of my cocoon, activate the chrysalis; re invent myself.

My boss caught me the next day and asked me if I could spend a bit of time with him. Of course I said yes. He wanted to tell me what he had done to ensure I could continue to work in our unit without going back to my own position, that onerous behemoth of a position. We met, but I prefaced the meeting before he could speak, with my announcement that I would retire. Not tomorrow but next month. Six week’s notice. Christmas came in between. I had planned to bring Mom home over the holiday, and then there were statutory holidays of Christmas, Boxing Day and New Year. All told, it left me four actual working weeks. Wrapping up and passing things on to others, filing masses of e-mail and tidying up my work space were going to take most of that time. I didn’t spell all of that out but he knew. It changed everything.

If my world was dismantling before me, so was his. He had virtually no staff left, trying to do the same amount of work that they had done with seventeen bodies. The organization had been so understanding with me that my work load had been light, for once in my life. No pressure. But I had been there to advise temp staff and I had a twenty three years of corporate history that helped. I didn’t envy him his dilemma.

A weight lifted off my shoulders. A young colleague asked “Were you scared to tell him? Or nervous?” I was old. At least I felt old. There was nothing they could do to me, really. “No, I wasn’t nervous. It felt right. It still feels right. It’s time for me to go .”


2 Responses to “Omen 3 Parallel Lives”

  1. paul_knightly Says:


  2. Kay Says:

    Thanks Paul. Did you read all the posts? These are my first blogs, encouraged by a dear friend ( to express the culmination of my last 12 years in looking after my mother until she died. I’m slowly putting pieces together like a puzzle. It was a harrowing task some days, beautiful on others. The last moments were sacred. I don’t regret one minute of the commitment I made. Suburban life encouraged me to share it. I hope you will continue to check in from time to time.
    Your comment makes it easier to continue.
    Many thanks

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