How a Letter From a Grieving Parent Is Relevant To Literally Everyone Who Works
By Kevin Naulls
Photo © j.medvedeva/Twenty20
Sep 13, 2019
Content Warning: This piece discusses the death of a child.
When father JR Storment put his sons to bed, he never imagined one of them wouldn't wake up.
But that's exactly what happened.
Storment and his wife knew their son Wiley had a mild form of epilepsy, but they were under the impression he would grow out of it — he didn't. But he had only ever had one mild episode before.
They felt as prepared as they needed to be, after discussions with a doctor.
I'm not a parent, but I don't need to be to feel what I did when I read his heartfelt letter on LinkedIn: heartache; sadness; secondhand grief.
When he discussed getting the phone call from his wife while he was at work, and how it all began as if it were any other day, I thought: "yep, when I pick up the phone, that's how I do it."
When his wife revealed to him that their son Wiley was dead, and Storment was stunned and couldn't stop saying "no," I was in his shoes. I was holding that phone. I've never lost a child, but I've experienced great loss. And like JR Storment, I did not want to believe it.
A lot of people are talking about his letter.
And I think it's because it makes us think about our own situations.
It's about loss and parenting, of course, but it's also about time. It's about everyone who justifies working over not working. And it's inadvertently about the people who have the privilege to de-prioritize work, and about people who have that priviliege and don't cash in. And it's a reminder that our time on this planet is fleeting, and that something has to give.
Storment admits that after his company was acquired, he hadn't taken off more than a week in eight years. I can relate to that, too. I once burned out on the job because I was working so much, that I barely left my desk. I barely ate properly, my mental health suffered and I was equal parts jittery (from the coffee) and jumpy (from not sleeping).
Because everything was made to feel urgent, important. And even if I didn't agree about the urgency of the work, there was something that needed my attention and support: me.
Work: we do it for survival and necessity; we do it for creativitiy and socialization; we do it because, well, we have to.
So when Storment lost Wiley, his world stopped. Work suddenly, for the first time in a long time, took a back seat.
Which, honestly, also made me cry. Because in my mind, I thought "oh dear god, this is so f—king sad, why does a young boy have to die for me, the reader, to realize that I need to change my damn life?"
Sadly, I did need the wake-up call. And to be honest, I feel like maybe a lot of people do, too. It certainly woke Storment up, too.
From Storment's letter:
"Many have asked what they can do to help. Hug your kids. Don’t work too late. A lot of the things you are likely spending your time on you’ll regret once you no longer have the time. I’m guessing you have 1:1 meetings on the books with a lot of people you work with. Do you have them regularly scheduled with your kids? If there’s any lesson to take away from this, it’s to remind others (and myself) not to miss out on the things that matter.
I haven’t gone back to work yet. So, if you’ve emailed or messaged me, it’s likely I haven’t replied. When I do go back, I may end up declaring an email bankruptcy.
The big question is how to return to work in a way that won’t leave me again with the regrets I have now. To be honest, I’ve considered not going back. But I believe in the words of Kahlil Gibran who said, 'Work is love made visible.' To me, that line is a testament to how much we gain, grow and offer through the work we do. But that work needs to have a balance that I have rarely lived. It’s a balance that lets us offer our gifts to the world but not at the cost of self and family."
I mean, that said it all for me. Granted, I don't have a lot of money and can't just take long breaks without consequence, but the insight I got was that even if I'm not scheduling one-on-ones with kids, I'm not taking care of myself. And if I'm not my best, and I'm not fostering good relationships with people in my life (which for me, includes nieces, nephews and my best friends' kids), then what kind of life am I even fighting for?
If you're a parent, I can only imagine you want more time with your kids. And that's definitely not always possible. Work just is busy, and if you want food on the table, transit money in their pockets and a roof over their heads, then you have to do it. There's no way around that. Sometimes you have to work two, three jobs. Sometimes it's just you. Sometimes, one of you is ill. Sometimes there isn't a mom or a dad or a relative to help out. Sometimes you're not a dad with an acquired tech startup.
Every life is different.
But what I've taken away from this letter, which sadly came out of what is quite possibly the saddest situation I can imagine, is that I need to remind myself not to miss out on things. That may not mean I can get to everything, or see everyone, but a check-in every so often is a good way to ensure I actually do something that isn't work, even once in a while.
I need to de-prioritize work in the ways that I can.
That doesn't mean shirking responsibilities, or jetting off to live on a commune. For me, it means telling myself that it's OK to not check my email after five, ever. It means telling people if they need to get a hold of me after hours, it should be urgent (and I should explain what urgent is). It means being present in the moments I do have, even if they are quite brief (and sometimes they are very brief), because work and life will still be lurking even when those those happy moments stop. It means taking sick days if I need them. It means using my vacation time and not feeling guilty about it. It means doing the things I need to do to be my best self for my own life and the people in it. It means asking for help.
Because, time is fleeting. I am going to die someday. And I'd like to know that I didn't spend my life clocking in and clocking out, missing memories that I could have had had I just stopped for a second and wondered why.
Storment ended up taking his family camping, because it's something his son Wiley wanted to do while he was alive, but they never had the time to. Work-life balance had yet to be achieved. After his passing, it felt like a proper tribute.
I think a lot can be gleaned from this letter, but mostly I hope that I won't need another reminder like this again. That we don't have to say "rest in peace" to more Wileys. That I won't just fall back into the hamster wheel, chasing an end that I could provide for myself, if I only just stopped for a second.
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