How do you help a friend cope with losing their job? I got an email recently from another laid-off colleague. He received notice Tuesday, effective Friday. His wife is also jobless. He put the word out, looking for leads. One more recession downsizing casualty. I’ve made three major employment shifts, none envisioned when I landed the jobs, all due to circumstances beyond my control. Disconcerting times. Unemployment is the highest in twenty-five years. But you don’t need to be a statistician to know it’s rampant. Just observe some recent offers. Buy certain automakers’ cars and, if you lose your job, they’ll make your monthly payments. Pfizer will provide many drugs free for a year to laid-off Americans. Free Lipitor. Free Viagra. (Terms and conditions apply.) Some of the unemployed find creative ways to ease their pain and vent their anger. A laid-off computer programmer organized the Unemployment Olympics in New York City. Participants needed proof of joblessness to compete in ‘Pin the Blame on the Boss,’ ‘You’re Fired’ footrace, piñata bashing, and telephone throwing. One contestant admitted to CNN, “I’m really waiting for the piñata. It’s my ex-boss. His face will be all over it.” Processing job loss can take time. It’s natural to feel devalued, unappreciated, bewildered, lonely, angry, perhaps frightened. My termination notice came on the 25th anniversary of my employment, two weeks before my marriage of twenty years ended. Plus my doctor said I might have cancer. Life seemed a tornado of confusion. The popular television comedy Frasier’s “Good Grief” episode depicts Frasier Crane coping with loss of his job as a Seattle radio psychiatrist. He experienced the five classic stages of grief: Denial (for him, obsession with grandiose projects); Anger (clobbering a piñata and cell phone); Bargaining (‘pleasing’ God by being a better celebrity and throwing a party for his fans – three came); Depression (overeating, sobbing, hopelessness); and, finally, Acceptance. Perhaps your unemployed friends will experience many of these stages. I’m grateful that close friends stuck with me and encouraged me through my deep waters. When my colleague’s recent email came, I commiserated, passed along networking and short-term work ideas, and conveyed some encouraging principles that helped me through my transitions. They included grieving the loss, hanging close with friends, and looking for a bright spot. CNN star Larry King once was fired from the Miami Herald. “It was very difficult for me when they dropped me,” he recalls. King says one can view firing as “a terrible tragedy” or a chance to seek new opportunities. Remembering noteworthy accomplishments, anticipating turning the page to a new chapter of life, and sinking spiritual roots deep also helped me. I’m glad I had personal faith as a resource for coping with life’s craziness. During my darker days, a friend reminded me of a biblical affirmation: “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose….” “Remember,” my friend said, “that hasn’t been repealed yet.” At the time, life did not feel “good.” In fact, it felt lousy, and it was hard to envision myself beyond the turmoil. But he was right. Now, thirteen years later, I’m happily married, employed doing what I enjoy, and in good health. Recession may mean hard times for some of your friends, coworkers, or family… maybe for you. There are people who care and resources – counseling, books, articles, support groups, faith communities – to help. Use them. And hang in there.
Rusty Wright is an author and lecturer who has spoken on six continents. He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively.