The small navy box stared me in the face. After my former coworker Karen slid it across the table at the restaurant, I was so anxious to open it I could barely figure out how the flip-up lid worked. My fingers grasped the square top as she smiled in anticipation of my reaction. The hinges slowly released and revealed the brilliant gift.
Two weeks earlier, I had left my job. After three years of working closely in a small neuropsychology office, it was like leaving an intimate family behind. Relocating to another state forces change. The few other people who cohabitated the office space with me were present for some of the most turbulent–yet important–years of my life.
A year-and-a-half after starting my job, I became pregnant. Frightened for the outcome of this little baby, I held my secret from them only a short while. During the previous four years, I had lost one baby at 20-weeks gestation, and two subsequent ones during the first trimester. Each pregnancy was riddled with issues, and each ended in a grief-filled demise. This fourth pregnancy, while welcomed and wanted, was not without profound anxiety, worry, and stress. I had learned through my previous devastation that the “rule” of waiting to share pregnancy news until the second trimester is absurd. There are no guarantees and no certainties ever. If all goes well, the people around you can feel your joy and celebrate too. If everything falls apart, they have the opportunity to be alongside to hold you up when your knees buckle, your heart breaks, and your bruised soul needs to feel love again.
Now standing in one of the neuropsychologists’ office, I shut the door.
“I have something I want to share,” I said. His eyes grew worried, as if he just knew I was about to quit before the workday begun.
“I am pregnant.”
Covering his mouth like he had been told a secret so great only his hand could keep it from dispersing like a puff of smoke atop a chimney, his angst quickly morphed into joy. He asked questions, he smiled, and most importantly he said, “whatever you need, we are here for you.” Those words gave me permission to breathe a little easier.
All my coworkers offered support; their positivity filled the office, my daily routine, and my soul. Each day I was with them, I knew they had my back.
As the pregnancy progressed, the complications arose. Extra appointments became weekly events, often interrupting my days, and forcing a race to and from work. Diligently controlling all I could as life dragged me through the sludge of emotional sewage, I religiously emailed out my variant schedule of when I needed to leave. Despite fear of pushing the limits with time-off requests, they never once batted an eye.
“We’ll work around the appointments,” they said. I exhaled many heavy sighs of relief.
Some days, I came back from the doctor’s office all smiles. Other days, the tears barely held themselves back, often springing loose as people asked how everything went. Occasionally I did not return at all, as the updates and predictions for the baby that the doctors conjured were so horrendous all I could do was sit on the couch at home and cry until I could no longer find enough fluid in my body to produce more tears.
When our daughter was born two months prematurely, the doctors fixed their schedules to accommodate my unexpectedly early maternity leave. Several coworkers came to visit me in the hospital; another dropped a gift off at the NICU. They sent flowers, well wishes, and were delighted when our baby girl was finally released from the hospital and we were able to drop by the office for a visit.
So as I now faced the blue box, I knew this gift would be an extension of their love, support, and caring nature. Pulling open the resistant lid, the shiny silver chain twinkled in the low-hanging light above our booth. When most employees leave a job, they get a farewell dinner, a gift card to Target, or a bouquet of flowers with a card saying “Good luck!” What I received warmed my heart and embraced my soul. Holding it closer, I saw the delicately twisted charm was subtly inscribed with two names: Sophia and Evelyn. Both my daughters–one an angel and one here with us on Earth–were immortalized. My time with these coworkers was marked by not only a beautiful piece of jewelry, but also by the thoughtfulness of these few people who cared so much about me, and most importantly, for my children. Often, when people struggle in life, it seems human nature dictates that we turn a blind eye, change the subject, and let things lie. We fear upsetting others, even when faced with sacrificing our empathy. My coworkers rose above and found their true purpose as tiny lights in my life. They were my cheerleaders, my support system, and my courage when I depleted my own. Their neverending support, open hearts, and willingness to listen to all the gruesome details was unstoppable. Through their selflessness, they guided me through one of the toughest years of my life.
As the necklace glistened, my smile gleamed. The sparkly jewelry topped off a time in my life that felt like an horrendous test of emotional endurance, but turned out to bring the most beautiful kind of joy.
Putting the necklace aside, I wiped my grateful tears away. Karen and I picked up our martinis, clinked our glasses, and toasted to ourselves. Eventually, we said our goodbyes. My job may be over, but the bonds will survive–just like my daughter.