Crying on the phone to government agents (a rant)

My baby is dead. I’m unemployed, and now, I owe the Canadian government over $2,000 because of a mistake they made on my file for receiving employment insurance (EI)… MY money that I earned while I was employed. I’m cut off because, lo and behold, I was entitled to benefits from the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan this whole time. I hope they accept monopoly money…

But why would they bother to inform me of this when I first signed up for EI, when Henry had just died, back in September, and I was in too much emotional distress to find this stuff out for myself? No, nononono, it’s much better to let me collect benefits, then send me a letter (that I received today), mid-November, saying that I was eternally ineligible to receive disability on EI, and, woopsie-doodle, can we please have our money that we mistakenly gave you this while time? Yeeah, that’d be great, thanks.

What is with this week? Seriously??????? Why? What the bleeding fuck?

The good news is that I’ll be receiving more from QPIP than I had been from EI, and it’s retroactive, so that’ll soften the blow from my fish-face-slapping debt to the EI folks. Had I known this – just like my conversations this week with Dumdum the idiot-face receptionist at the OBGYN, I would have freaking DONE that in the FIRST place had I known!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Why does someone like me have to jump through these firey hoops? I’m not normally one to yell or cry on the phone, but these employees at Service Canada (who process the employment insurance claims) have each assured me, every time I’ve spoken to one of them (I’m going on five different agents in the last two months alone), that going on disability was THE thing to do in my case. Hearing about being eligible for QPIP is brand new news to me. And they’re making my life absolutely miserable. Aren’t they there to serve us? Help us? Am I just being naive? Oh wait, I forgot – we don’t have a government that supports systems that actually help people.

Thankfully, I was able to speak with a Service Canada supervisor today to file a complaint (yes, another one…. *sigh), and SHE even agreed that something went wrong on her end. I have no idea what will come of this. Maybe they’re just used to slugs who try to take advantage of the system (whatever, I’m not judging anyone, that’s just an assumption), but I’m someone who actually needs assistance right now. So, you know, like, try to recognize that, or whatever.

I can’t even talk to these people without breaking down in tears because each time, I end up needing to explain my situation (put notes on someone’s file? pffftttt.. who does that???!!!), and then I end up getting very stressed out, which turns into me being very bitchy to them on the phone. I try to be apologetic when I really lose my temper, which is often these days. I know they’re not out to “get me,” but I’m seriously starting to wonder if it’s in their training manual to make sure that they make claimant’s lives as absolutely difficult as possible.

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Cranky lady

Depending how you count it, because we lost him on a Friday, today marks one month since my physical separation from Henry. I haven’t felt him for a full 1/12 of a year. But this loss feels eternal.

Even before losing Henry, I was never a particularly patient person. My tolerance for listening to complaining, blaming others when “you” should just grow a pair and own up to something, passing the buck because you’re too lazy, unwilling, or don’t care to do something that you just need to do generally ignites my short fuse.

Unfortunately, children are experts at all of the above. And mega-unfortunately, on a good day, it’s really difficult for step-parents to be an all-encompassing bucket of love when it comes to raising a kid – full time – that’s not your own, especially when the ‘ex’ is less than inspiring, making home life with the step-kid more challenging.

So take a big salad bowl and mix in one part grieving impatient me, one part cute but bossy know-it-all 10-year-old boy who isn’t my kid, and one part amazing yet lenient father and partner, and you have a messy explosion-salad. I wrote an article last year for Montreal Families Magazine on the challenges of step-parenting, and that was before the life-shattering changes losing a child brings.

I make myself sparse at home when I know I’m having a bad day. That comes with a frequency of about once or twice a week – days where I spend a large portion of my time crying in bed, skipping supper, etc. On these days, I hide in my pottery studio, go for walks or find something to do, essentially removing myself from the picture, which is *cue sarcasm* totally awesome.

It’s hard to feel like I’m allowed the space to mourn at my own pace when my step-son is home which, with full custody, is nearly all the time. He is a good kid, but he’s high-energy, demanding and, let’s call it something that sounds fun and politically correct, spirited.  Since losing Henry, I have had a hard time being his step-mom.

Apparently, he has been telling people that he’s proud of the way he’s been supporting me by being less argumentative than usual (read: still argumentative, just a pinch less). I know I have to praise these small efforts, and I do, but that just makes me laugh. And it leads to rifts between my partner and I.

The last month can be distilled to days of empty silence while my step-son is at school, then around 4 p.m., when the bus drops him off, I morph into a cranky lady that wants to hide.

On days where I feel like a functioning human being, I put a big effort in being with my little family, but that doesn’t often last long before the shadow of grief stretches over me and I must retreat before my raw nerves feel chomped on, or before I might say something I regret. And I’m already usually the bad guy at home just because I am a step-mom, and I am who I am.

I’m not looking for pity or to be reprimanded – this has just been a really challenging part of my grieving process. Are there any other step-parents out there who have also lost their own child? Have you also felt a little bitter that you’re helping raise someone else’s kid while yours lays dead? What the hell am I supposed to do? Me, my partner, and my step-son don’t deserve to live in this uncomfortable and eggshell-laden home life, but most days, that’s how it feels.