A little help from your friends

Laid Off

April 02, 2009|By Mark Franek

My fianc?e and I have six college and graduate school degrees between us. For nearly two decades, we've worked in non-finance-related, white-collar professions. Last winter she was laid off without warning and without a severance package. This spring I found out that my contract will not be renewed at the college where I teach.

With no kids and good credentials, we are fairly advantaged members of the swelling ranks of the unemployed. The situation for us isn't dire. Yet. But we are experiencing emotional and financial realities that our parents and our professors virtually promised us would never happen.

To quote the last line of a poem by Emily Dickinson called "After Great Pain": "First-Chill-then Stupor-then the letting go."

My fianc?e, who has been jobless for about six months, is in the "letting go" stage. She has started her own business and is busy every day chasing potential clients, updating her Web site and organizing her home office.

Her business is showing signs of life. Our friends have helped immensely by referring potential clients to her services via word of mouth, e-mail, Facebook and LinkedIn. The social networking aspect of the Web has been a godsend. It doesn't translate immediately to dollars, but it makes one feel a part of a wider community.

I, on the other hand, am still in the "stupor" stage, which for me is a state of mental numbness and bodily lethargy. But it's fading.

Our wedding is going ahead, but not exactly as planned. We explained our circumstances to the folks at our contracted businesses, and several let us out of the deal without penalty. We are getting married in our backyard, and then heading to the city for an intimate meal with a much smaller cast. We will go on our honeymoon when one of us gets a job with steady pay.

Meanwhile, if unemployment creates uncertainty for us, it is also terra incognita for our friends and family members who are fortunate to still have their jobs. There is very little advice out there for people who want to find appropriate ways to help friends or loved ones who recently received pink slips.

Giving or loaning money is a sticky wicket, but there are other things friends and family can do that don't require much effort but still make a big difference.

First, keep the lines of communication open and light-hearted. It also helps to exercise empathy - and patience. My friends and family - and to some degree, my fianc?e - have all shown an amazing capacity to endure my rants, which are part of my overall coping strategy.

(One big, recent rant: Last month, amid the AIG payout scandal, my credit card company informed me that my annual percentage rate had increased due to "adverse market conditions." The irony was so thick, you could cut it with a derivative.)

Small kindnesses go a long way. Recently, friends of ours invited us to dinner at their house. Mercifully, they didn't use the fancy dinner plates, break out the good wine or expect us to talk about our situation.

Friendship and support are the currency of compassion, the lifelines to better times. We will get through this.

Mark Franek lives in Philadelphia. He is a co-author, most recently, of the book "Philadelphia Friends Schools." His e-mail is markfranek@gmail.com.

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