In the age of automation, many of us are spending more and more time at work. In 2017, only around 23% of employees used all of their vacation and paid time off. In the same year, the same percentage of workers used only 25% or less of their time off.
Many of us feel obligated to put in as much time as we can. This is something that J.R. Storment, co founder of Cloudability knows all too well. The self-described "workaholic" admits to not taking more than a week off work in the last eight years. But now the father is urging parents to put ‘family before work’ after the sudden death of his eight-year-old son.
Storment took to LinkedIn to describe the tragic circumstances around his son's death. The letter, titled "It's later than you think," describes how the father learned that one of his twins had died in his sleep during a conference call.
"Eight years ago, during the same month, I had twin boys and co-founded Cloudability. About three months ago Cloudability was acquired. About three weeks ago we lost one of our boys."
"When I got the call I was sitting in a conference room with 12 people at our Portland office talking about PTO policies. Minutes earlier, I had admitted to the group that in the last 8 years I’d not taken more than a contiguous week off."
"My wife and I have an agreement that when one of us calls, the other answers. So when the phone rang I stood up and walked to the conference room door immediately."
"I was still walking through the door when I answered with 'Hey, what’s up?'"
"Her reply was icy and immediate: 'J.R., Wiley is dead.'
'What?' I responded incredulously.
'Wiley has died.' she reiterated.
'What?! No.' I yelled out, 'No!'
'I’m so sorry, I have to call 911.'"
Wiley had recently been diagnosed with a mild form of epilepsy, which doctors believe was the reason for his death. Sudden Unexplained Death of Epilepsy, or SUDEP, is a rare condition associated with the illness that affects 1 in 4,500 children with epilepsy. SUDEP is unpredictable, unpreventable, and irreversible once it starts and causes the brain to shut down.
Storment describes what happened next:
"That was the entire conversation. The next thing I know I’m sprinting out the front door of the office with my car keys in hand, running ferociously across the street and muttering “oh F**k. oh F**k. oh F**k.”. Half way down the block I realize I don’t have the opener to my parking garage. Running back into the lobby, I all but shout “Someone drive me! Somebody drive me!” Thankfully, a helpful colleague did."
"By the time I got home twelve minutes later, our cul-de-sac was packed with emergency vehicles. I sprinted through our open front door and ran straight towards the bedroom that the boys share. One of a half-dozen police officers there stepped in front of me blocking the way. When a child dies suddenly, it becomes a potential crime scene. "
Storment wasn't allowed to see Wiley for two and a half hours, but goes on to explain how he and mourned when he was finally able to see him.
"When the medical examiner finally finished his work, we were allowed in the room. An eerie calm came over me. I laid down next to him in the bed that he loved, held his hand and kept repeating, 'What happened, buddy? What happened?'"
"We stayed next to him for maybe 30 minutes and stroked his hair before they returned with a gurney to take him away. I walked him out, holding his hand and his forehead through the body bag as he was wheeled down our driveway. Then all the cars drove away. The last one to leave was the black minivan with Wiley in it."
Storment goes on to describe how Wiley was just as obsessed with business as he was, starting a smoothie stand. Wiley also told his father how he wanted to get married to girl he met in kindergarten, who he kept in touch with via handwritten letter after the family had to move.
That made signing Wiley's death certificate, which stated “Occupation: Never worked” and “Marital Status: Never married,” particularly hard.
Storment went on to implore everyone to have a healthier life-work balance.
"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."
"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."
"While I sat writing this post, my living son, Oliver, came in to ask for screen time. Instead of saying the usual ‘no’, I stopped writing and asked if I could play with him. He was happily surprised by my answer and we connected in a way I would have formerly missed out on. Small things matter. One silver lining from this tragedy is the improving relationship I have with him."
"Our family has gone from having two units of two (the parents and the twins) to now being a triangle of three. That’s a big adjustment for a family that has always been four. Oliver’s brilliant reply when we discussed the shape of our new family: 'But Papa, the triangle is the strongest shape.' By some sad and beautiful irony, Oliver has met three sets of 8-year-old twins in our new neighborhood since Wiley passed."
"I’ve learned to stop waiting to do the things the kids ask for. When we sold the business I gave each of the boys a $100 dollar bill. They decided to pool their money to buy a tent for camping. But we didn’t make it happen before Wiley died. Another regret. So, after the first round of family visits after his death, I took Jessica and Oliver to REI to get gear and we left town quickly to camp near Mt. St. Helens."
"Somehow, we got to the wilderness without enough cash to cover the campground fee and had a slight panic. Jessica then realized that Wiley’s $100 bill was still in his seat pocket. He got to spend his money on camping after all. Collectively, the family said a big, “Thanks, buddy” out-loud to him. It was one of many bittersweet moments we will experience for the rest of our lives. Each happy time brings with it the sadness that he doesn’t get to experience it."
"One of Wiley's happy times was listening to music and dancing. Damn, could that kid dance. He loved the Oregon Country Fair and the year before we left for London, we listened to a band there play a version of 'Enjoy yourself (It’s later than you think).' The words stuck with me that day three years ago and painfully so now:"
“You work and work for years and years, you're always on the go
You never take a minute off, too busy makin' dough
Someday, you say, you'll have your fun, when you're a millionaire
Imagine all the fun you'll have in your old rockin' chair
Enjoy yourself, it's later than you think
Enjoy yourself, while you're still in the pink
The years go by, as quickly as a wink
Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it's later than you think”
"Out of these ashes have come many new and restored connections. Thank you for being one of mine. And I hope from this tragedy you consider how you prioritise your own time."