Dealing with Death

This week started as Monday morning I learned that one of my coworkers passed away unexpectedly.

We worked together for something like eight years – nearly half of my career and a quarter of hers – and although she was going to be out on leave for most of the summer for medical reasons, I never could’ve imagined it turning to this.

I guess I’ve been kind of lucky recently because I think the last funeral I went to was my Grandpa’s in 2014 and then my wife’s Grandma a couple of years before that. Even with the global pandemic, I don’t think that I knew of anyone personally who has died from it, and so other than Cleo passing last fall, I’ve been mostly spared from the sorrow that comes from that kind of loss…

Monday was mostly a day of shock for me and I spent the rest of the day working in my office alone with the lights off after sharing what limited news I had with my co-workers.

Tuesday was when I started to feel the sadness seeping in. I’d learned more specifics about what had happened and more people were reaching out to me, which has felt very stressful in a guilty sort of way.

By today I just didn’t really want to interact with anybody, which has been tough because Sara isn’t feeling well and the kids have been a lot to handle today on top of trying to squeeze in a little work here and there because the job doesn’t stop. In fact, it only grows because not only do I have her extra work, but also the work involved with her passing … which I also feel guilty even complaining about because it is my job, but here we are regardless.

Tonight I went swimming after the kids went to bed for all of about ten minutes until a thunderstorm rolled in and called me out of the water. Even though it was a little cold because it rained some today, and it was dark so the only lights were the pool lights, it was nice just to embrace the quiet for a few minutes and try to take a breath and get my bearings around all of it.

I feel like I really haven’t had a chance to grieve yet, per se, because I need to work on an announcement to go out to the whole company about her career, and there are a lot of other unknowns that I still need to talk to HR about because they don’t exactly have a documented process for this sort of thing. Everyone around me has offered to help in any way that they can, but when you’re trying to figure out what it is you’re supposed to do yourself, there’s just not much that others can offer at this point.

Tomorrow I need to talk to her family again and see if they’ve made funeral arrangements, and I need to get a handle on what my own responsibilities in all of this are. Apparently I also have to get access to her email to see if there’s anything we need to keep before IT removes her account, which makes me a little uncomfortable.

And yet through all of the sadness and discomfort, I keep reminding myself that my feelings are nothing like what her husband and daughters are going through right now. I worked with her for 40 hours a week – a good portion of the time remotely where we didn’t even see each other face to face – whereas she was the rock of their family 24/7/365.

I will say that I’ve tried to hug my family a little tighter and appreciate everything around me, despite the chaos, ever since hearing the news. It’s scary to realize that things can change on you just that quickly, and that nothing is guaranteed in life except right here and now.

It reminds me of this eulogy that Richard Hunt gave at Jim Henson’s funeral back in 1990 that I turn to in times when I need a little inspiration…

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