Monday, December 30, 2013

After the holidays

I always like the idea of 12 days of Christmas. It was especially helpful when we had to travel a bit to visit relatives, rather than have to try and see everyone on the 25th.

Apparently, some other people think the same way, as i received a few Christmas cards on Boxing Day. Which we don't celebrate here in the US, so it was a back-to-work day for me. I also got a late Christmas card on the 27th, and smiled as i opened it. So, when i saw an envelope on the 28th, i thought it might be a late Christmas letter and opened it eagerly.

It was a letter all right, written in delightfully clear penmanship, from a friend and former colleague's sister, C. I knew C, had spent some delightful times chatting away with her, as she and K lived together. I last spoke to K, my friend and former colleague late spring or early summer. C had moved closer to her job, which had moved from the city to a more southern location. They were thinking of taking a vacation, travelling northeast to Boston where they'd lived for a decade, and i invited them to stay with me if they wanted or i could meet them in Boston. It was all conjecture at that point. The summer came and went with no phone call, and i thought of her again in the early autumn. I meant to call, but got busy and during the holidays, i knew she often spent time with her son or siblings, so decided i’d call afterwards, in time for her birthday on 14 January.

The letter was brief. C said K had some health issues. Yes, I knew about those as K and I had discussed them a bit. And, that K had died unexpectedly in mid-October. My eyes filled with tears immediately. C wanted me to know as K was quite fond of me, and felt that I had been a good friend over the years.

I looked for her obituary on-line, still not quite able to believe the letter. The obituary was as brief as the letter, so there was no explanation other than “passing away unexpectedly.” She died on the day I was going to see Macbeth er, the Scottish Play with Kenneth Branaugh and Alex Kingston. The HD showing was cancelled due to technical difficulties and was later rescheduled. I didn’t make it to the rescheduled showing because we got a bit of snow and I was concerned about driving home in a blizzard. K always had her nose in a book and read all sorts of things, so she would have found it fitting that I was seeing something literary. And my mind dwelt on that, as often happens when one is shocked upon hearing news and frantically searches inside one’s self to make sense of it all. We first met nearly 18 years ago now, and she helped me tremendously. When I started at my current job and we needed someone else to do the same work I was doing as there was too much for one person, I called her at the old company. She no longer worked there. A former colleague at another company where many had gone (when I applied there for a job, I was known as “another refugee from that company”) had the old phone list and supplied me with her home number. I knew the phone was in her sister’s name but couldn’t remember C’s last name to save my life. K had married and divorced before I met her, and kept her married name.

And so I called to say hello and to see if she’d be interested in doing some work for us. We needed someone who could use Word very well, and I knew she could. She loved science, and this would most likely be right up her alley.

She ended up working for us and was hired on as a regular employee after several months. She stayed until she was laid off about two years ago now. Our boss at the time told me it was because of workload, or rather lack of it. There wasn’t enough to go around. But, she and K got on like oil and water, and everyone felt it was based on a personality clash, nothing more, nothing less. K had hoped to remain working until 65 to boost her retirement a bit, but at least she was 62 and could draw social security if she didn’t find another job.

What I didn’t realise that day I called her to see if she could help us was that she’d been laid off from the company where I had met her and had been unable to find another job. She had oodles of experience, but not the schooling companies wanted, and she was an older worker. She later told me she had grown quite desperate, as her benefits were running out as was her savings, and she was in a pickle.

And then I called. Did she want work? Did she ever. And then it was my turn to walk her through what we did, what we needed her to do. We had a few other contractors to help as well. Our then boss and owner of the company wanted to make one of them a permanent employee, and K got the nod. On some very bad days, I’d apologise to her for getting her in this mess. She’d smile and say she was grateful for the job. On some very bad days she had, I reminded her that she had won out over a Ph.D. for the job. She had, too.

And then I got the chance to move back to the coast and keep my job, become a telecommuter. She was glad to see that I was able to have my dream become reality. We’d chat on the phone after hours from time to time, and would discuss projects and things in general, just like always.

After her departure, I’d send jobs that she might be interested in. After about six months, she decided she’d most likely stay retired, and we chatted about that.

That was the thing. No matter how much time elapsed, we always picked up the conversation where we left off. We were both curious about all sorts of things, so after a cursory catch up of work stuff, the topics could cover anything and everything.

I’d been thinking about what I was going to tell her when I called wishing her a happy 65th birthday.

I stared again at the letter. It was real.

I let some of my former officemates know the news. Some work for other companies now, and all were saddened by the news.

She was one of those really quiet people who showed up at work to work. What a concept. She was not the chatty Kathy sort. Heads down, get work done, and when she went outside for a smoke, she’d take a book to read.

Once you got past that quiet exterior, you found someone witty, bright, articulate, thoughtful, kind, and a solid citizen. The kind who hated injustice, questioned authority, played by the rules that made sense. Who liked decorum without being stuffy.

I shall write a note to her sister. I know how hard the holidays can be when loved ones aren’t around, and I’m sure there’s been just enough time since mid-October for the shock to wear off a bit and for the painful realisation to sink in that she’s truly gone and isn’t coming back.

I should like to do something to honour my friend. Not that she’d ever expect it nor request it, but I’d like to do something all the same. I’m thinking a donation to my local library in her memory just the ticket.


  1. I'm so sorry. I think a donation to the library would be quite fitting.


  2. Proving once again, life isn't fair, dammit.
    Libraries are chronically short on donations, no matter how often they get one. Good job.

  3. A sad time for you. I always think an 'in memory of' inscription somewhere would be nice, maybe inside an interesting reference book?

  4. I am sorry for your loss. But, strangely, I have a curiosity. You mentioned that she and her boss got on like "oil and water." Why was that? She sounds like such a decent, good person. I am always interested in why some relationships just crash and burn. I always pick a song that reminds me of a person when they die and commit it to memory and then every time I hear it, I think of them and honor them in my head. You might try that?

    1. I don't really like to talk about workstuff on my blog, so i'll just say they brought out the worst in each other. Actually, this boss seemed to have a penchant for that.