Last Thursday, barely one hour into my workday, I learned a coworker had passed away. L was not just any coworker, we met the day we interviewed for the jobs we have. I was in my own little world, texting P, when L arrived, anxious and excited about the interview. She tried to make conversation, but all I wanted to do was text P, keep to myself, and just get the damn interview over with. L was not deterred by my one word answers, nor by my body language. Within minutes I learned that she had three children, she was employed at a local casino, had a degree in accounting, and wanted the position so bad. She explained that while there is nothing wrong working on your feet, and wearing a uniform, she wanted to set an example for her kids to aim higher. Ironically she had attended a funeral, and in typical CA fashion (ever seen that SNL skit?), told me in detail the route she took to get to the interview. She wore me down and I am glad she did, because I've learned so much from her these past eight months. We worked in different programs, and of course trained in different classrooms, but she always made a point to look for me during breaks. She graduated a month ahead of me, and was so genuinely happy when I graduated and came to the office permanently.
L was very hard working, extremely kind and helpful, but she was struggling at work. It was difficult to hear her supervisor and assistant supervisor belittle her in public, and on a daily basis. She was afraid that every day would be her last. It was that fear that made her come to work sick, She had been unable to shake a cold, was coughing a lot. Now that is not unusual in our office. I'm perhaps the biggest annoyance, because my asthma and allergies kick into overdrive whenever I'm at work. But there was obviously more to L's cough. Early Thursday morning her eldest daughter checked on her when she no longer heard the ever present cough. The daughter was initially relieved that her mother was getting much needed sleep, only to be horrified by what she found.
Early this week we received news that another coworker went to the ER with flu symptoms, and in a very short time was in the ICU on life support. I arrived at work yesterday to find my supervisor in tears, C passed away Wednesday night. That one was not such a big shocker, since we knew he was on life support. Then my supervisor delivered even more exciting news, a young coworker (25), CM had been hospitalized that morning with... you guessed right, flu symptoms. I have never before seen so many people reach for their Clorox wipes and frantically scrub every item in their cubicle. L and C were only 47 years old. And while I'm sure there are many contributing factors to their early demise, what everyone at the office is focusing on is the flu. Cough and you are looked upon as though you are Typhoid Mary. Besides the paranoia there's been incredible sadness. I was surprised (and P plain worried) at how hard I took L's death. She confided so much in me and a lot of my tears were fueled by anger at how lousy she was treated. That afternoon I found another coworker in tears in the stairs, She too had heard the vile words from the supervisor, assistant supervisor, and other coworkers. We could not comprehend how someone so hard working and kind could be treated in that manner.
Today I attended my first funeral mass in eight years, last one was for P's grandpa. It was also the first funeral related thing I have done alone. P offered to take time off to go with me, but it was barely half an hour from home, and I did not want him to use his hours. You know us, always thinking what if SS gets sick. L's son is an altar boy at their church and was part of his mother's mass. I can't begin to imagine how difficult it was. L's children are 20, 17 and 15. They are stunning and incredibly poised for their age. They are also kind, giving, like their mother. The 17 year old ended up comforting me. I have no idea how that happened. L was a single mother since shortly after her youngest was born, No child support, and forget emotional support from the father. L did an amazing job raising her kids, and there are many relatives surrounding them. The kids will be as OK as they can be given that they lost their only parent. L, thank you for not letting me keep my head buried in my phone last April. Thank you for coming over to that last table in the break room and making conversation. Thank you for confiding in me, and for never speaking an ill word about those who shamelessly tormented you. Rest in peace my friend, you will be missed.