Thursday, January 15, 2004

Death At One's Elbow

A man at work died a couple of days ago. His desk was sort of diagonal to mine, and although we'd only ever exchanged 20 words to each other (it's hard to talk to co-workers when we're all constantly on the phones), I found him to be very nice. He wasn't that old, either - maybe 50 or 55? He wore a baseball cap and worked full-time and his name was John. Maybe he had a wife. Maybe kids. I'm not sure. But that's essentially everything I knew about him.

The manager sent an email, informing us that he had passed away. What's saddest about this whole situation is how normal everything was after that. No one seemed visibly upset, the admin lady chipperly ordered flowers to send to the funeral, and somebody sat in his desk. I thought there'd be a grace period of a week at least before someone moved in, but it was pretty much instantaneous.

I've never experienced death in a work environment. When someone died in public school or at university, it was a huge production. Flags were lowered, flowers and cards were laid, speeches were given at memorial services, balloons were released, poems were written. If you didn't know the person personally (and I did on more than a couple of occasions), you knew someone who did know them, and it would always be a really sombering experience. It reminded us that we are all going to die someday, and just because we're not 86 and bed-ridden, we could still go at any time.

Maybe - like me - people at work were sad on the inside and being normal office-zombies on the outside. I'd like to believe that.

All I know is that I don't want my death to be announced via an inter-office email memo.

I'm so sorry, John.

(Now playing: "Picture Me Big Time", Guided By Voices)


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