Friday, April 24, 2009

The Hardest Work

About three months ago my oldest brother, S., asked if he could come live with me. He and his wife had been living in Denver but after almost a year of being out of work, he was about to lose his house. Since his wife's children lived in Utah, they decided to come even without a job.

About the time S. moved in, I too lost my job but at least I would have some unemployment benefits (my brother's were long gone) and I worked a few part-time jobs. I’d also gone through a period of unemployment a few years back, which had had a relatively happy ending, at least temporarily. So my load isn’t as heavy as my brother’s.

What makes his situation even more difficult is that his wife, who has massive and expensive medical problems, is living with her children (who couldn't take the family pets, which is why my brother is with me). She also thinks about his job situation more in terms of her own comfort, or lack of it, which means she’s more inclined to say “you’ve got to get a job, you’ve got to get a job” instead of offering any emotional support or empathy. And while they no longer have a house payment, the medical bills are nonstop.

Right about now in the story people who hear this start offering advice: have you applied for Medicaid, have you tried this or how about that? And the answer is usually yes, we have and this is what's happening and why. (Sadly, Medicaid is based on last year’s income so if you’re not employed this year, you’re out of luck until next year.) There are some great programs for prescription drugs, also, for situations like this; unfortunately, they don't cover all drugs.

People also have lots of advice about what to do in looking for work, how to be more aggressive in one's jobsearch or have fewer expectations in terms of the kind of work and the rate of pay. True, something is better than nothing in most cases ($8 an hour vs. $0 an hour) and I speak from my own experience. A few years ago my teaching schedule went from almost full-time to barely 10 hours a week, so I took a job that paid about a third of what I was used to. But by then I was just glad to know I had some kind of income to anticipate--for groceries, gas, anything, even if it wasn't enough to pay all the bills.

Many people will relate to this and know the frustration of having a loved one go through something like what my brother is going through. How can you help when you can’t give someone what he or she needs most—a job that will pay the bills and give benefits and a place to go everyday and do something needed? And even if you could help financially, that's only part of the problem and solution.

Just yesterday I read a phrase about unemployment: The hardest work is being out of work. The need and desire are there, but it’s not a situation where we have much control over the end result. And while we have some control over the day-to-day details of the jobsearch, it takes enormous strength to keep looking and trying when there’s nothing to feed the hope.

So this is just a thought on behalf of my brother and others like him who are doing everything they can. A job loss is like other losses, including death. It may be that the best thing we can do for people won't be to offer suggestions or advice or platitudes. They may have tried, and may be trying, everything we think they should do. I don’t have many suggestions for my brother either. But I can ask how he is. I can listen. And bring home chocolate chip cookies to eat while we watch “House.” (Now there’s a guy with problems!)


Jennie said...

When someone who wants to work is unemployed it truly is one of the most difficult situations to face. There's something about being unemployed that saps self-esteem, fills a person with undeserved guilt, and life seems to hang suspended. I hope your brother finds something soon even if it's just a temporary "while he waits and looks" kind of position. Flipping hamburgers, delivering newspapers, or mowing lawns is better than sitting around waiting for the phone to ring, but when even that kind of job is hard to find then loved ones have a hard time keeping depression at bay.

Lynn Gardner said...

My prayers are with you and your brother and his family. That's about all I can do besides put their names in the temple. Good luck - and many blessings! Love ya Lynn

Cheri J. Crane said...

This is truly a challenging time. Our oldest son had to move home a couple of months ago after he was laid off from his job in Logan. He looked for another job for weeks before throwing in the towel. Thankfully, he was able to secure employment at the same restaurant where he cooked a while back.

These days we just have to hang in there and help each other the best way that we can, trusting that eventually, things will get better.

You're doing great things, Val.