A few days ago, my mother was told she was going to be laid off. She’s a receptionist at a medical office. She’s been there for 16 years.
It was out of the blue, and as she sat on my couch in shock and sobbing, and as I sat there in the rare reversed role of comforter, I began to realize what she was most upset about was not how she would pay her bills, though that is big concern, but rather, how hurt she was.
She saw them as her family. New doctors, multiple office managers, ever-changing policies, she had been there through it all—not for the money—but because she cared.
She may not look as important on paper as a doctor or a nurse or a medical assistant, but she knew the name of every patient and drug rep who came through that door.
She wasn’t just a receptionist, she was an advocate.
She was the one who fit you into a jammed schedule when you were too sick to wait, the one who got you the paperwork you needed, the one who got you in with the specialist during the scariest moment of your life, the one who saw you struggling with a newborn baby in a waiting room full of illness and shuffled you into a room, no questions asked.
And she came home that day with the very hard realization that the very people she loved and devoted 16 years of her life to saw her as disposable. It broke her heart.
It got me thinking about my parent’s generation. I come from an honest-to-goodness blue-collar family, my father working for the Ohio Turnpike for over 30 years. Come December, he too, will be laid off, replaced by a machine that takes quarters through a slot over a smile and a hello.
A whole generation of disposable people, loyal to their companies, because that’s what you did. You didn’t bounce from job to job, always looking for something better. You dug in and stayed for the long haul, never mind the demotions, downsizing, pay cuts or loss of pensions.
And then I look at my generation. I don’t have a single friend who is still at the job he or she got after college. Social networking sites like Linkedin make job shopping a breeze, trading our resumes the way our grandmothers traded pie recipes.
Young innovators creating billion-dollar companies from scratch and then walking away from them with lottery-sized pay days.
How foreign it must seem to our parents, to see so many of us jump in and out of careers, relatively unscathed, no emotional investment to cry over, more concerned with meeting overpriced car payments than saying goodbye to the people we spent our days working beside.
When my mother came home that day, tears streaming down her face, choking out the words of her loss, my head was already four steps ahead of her, cold and clinical, planning out her next move.
She wanted no part of that. She wanted to grieve. She couldn’t plan her next move because she never saw herself as anything more than what she’d always been.
The woman at the window asking you about your day and helping you when you were sick.