A gentle reminder
Last week, a colleague at work died. To put this in perspective, he was a 20-year-old intern, still in college with what I assumed was a bright future and long life ahead of him. In every interaction we had, he was enthusiastic, outgoing, smart and self-effacing. He didn’t take himself too seriously and brought a levity to an office — and an industry — that often does take itself too seriously.
Because I am a middle-aged woman with a young adult daughter, I cannot help but feel a certain maternal protectiveness toward these young professionals I encounter in the workplace. I look at them and see all the potential, the earnestness, the hopefulness about the future that so many people my own age have lost to the disappointments of life. They inspire me, and in turn, I hope I give them some added perspective on life.
When I heard of this young man’s passing, it felt like a punch to the gut. I do not know the details, but in the past couple of months, I know he had been having a hard time. I cannot imagine the pain his parents and family are going through right now. My heart aches for their loss.
I have always been acutely aware of death and of my own mortality. I grew up in the country and spent endless hours wandering around in nature. When you are quiet and observant, you see death taking place all around you. You see baby birds fall from nests, spiders capture their prey, and tiny kittens abandoned by their mothers. You watch in horror as your grandfather’s bird dog kills a cat and as a playmate crushes toads beneath their sneakered feet. Even my bedtime prayers reminded me that children could die in their sleep. Death was everywhere.
When I was in fifth grade, a classmate died of leukemia. It was the first time that someone I knew, who was not old enough to die, died anyway. It shook me to my core. I couldn’t bear to look at his small body dressed in a baseball uniform lying in a casket. During one horrible year of my childhood, I lost both my grandmother and my great-aunt who I thought of as a grandmother. After my grandmother died, I was scared every time I spent the night with my grandfather. What would I do if he died while I was visiting? He died five years to the day after my grandmother, alone. I was relieved I hadn’t been there when it happened and that made me feel…