Can’t think of a title
EDIT: For about a week now, I’ve been trying to decide whether to post this online. It’s been sitting on my laptop in the meantime. I finally decided this is where this post belongs. Remembering things in this post is kind of why I started the weblog anyway.
This week was kind of difficult for me on an emotional level because a co-worker of mine (in Dallas) committed suicide early last week. I found out on my way to the airport, so I had a few hours to think about it while I waited on my flight to L.A. I normally wouldn’t write much about this, but I was surprised by how I felt and what I experienced as time went by.
“Co-worker” is kind of vague; he was also a friend. I enjoyed working with him and he was fun to be around. He never complained (ever), always did his job exceptionally well and never missed a beat.
At first, I was only told that he had passed away at his home; I didn’t know how. Other co-workers had been concerned because he missed two days of work and didn’t call in, so they went to his house with the local police. They found him inside.
My initial reaction was a numb feeling and some shock. It didn’t really compute. Then it started slowly dawning on me that he wouldn’t be at work next Monday when I got back. That took a long time to sink in because he’s one of the few people that I interacted with daily, almost without exception. Then I tried to remember the last time I’d talked to him. I think I was subtly concerned that maybe our last interaction was negative. I don’t even know why the thought crossed my mind because I don’t remember ever having a negative conversation with this guy. He was probably one of the easiest people to get along with in the entire building.
Eventually, I remembered that the last time we talked, we didn’t talk. I was heading up to my desk and gave him the thumbs-up, he responded with the smile-and-nod. That seems appropriate.
More time passed and then a sort of morbid curiosity started creeping into my mind. How? Natural causes, some sort of attack, suicide? I couldn’t figure out why I really needed to know or wanted to know, but I did. I now realize that I became very aware of my own mortality. I thought it was possible that he simply quit breathing, his body decided to stop. And if that could happen to him–he was in good health and didn’t have any unhealthy vices that I knew of–then it could happen to me. Just like that. All of a sudden my co-worker’s death was about me. How did that happen? I think it was a combination of two things: selfishness and a defense mechanism. Selfish or not, it was a lot easier to think about myself than a deceased friend.
I had about 16 hours to think about everything before work the next morning. It was there that I heard he’d hung himself. I was told that any number of things could’ve been overwhelming him, but that no one really knew why he’d done it. My initial reaction to this was sorrow. I felt sorry for him and wished I would’ve somehow known he was considering this. Mostly, I think I imagined how overwhelmed he must’ve been by something, by life, that he took his life. It hurt me to imagine someone dealing with that kind of weight privately, without talking to anyone. I can’t think of how to articulate this feeling. It’s just the idea of someone, alone, bearing so much that he could think of no other way to deal with it. The solution he chose was to die at his own hand, alone.
Then selfishness reared its ugly head again. I felt a little relieved. It took a couple days for me to figure out why: again, it was my fear of my own mortality. His body hadn’t just stopped and mine probably wouldn’t either. Then the relief came from rationalizing that at least he chose to go. He made a decision, it wasn’t made for him. That’s just another defense mechanism.
So now I’ve been back to work and it’s a little strange. There’s definitely the “big white elephant” that no one is talking about. But maybe they talked about it more last week while I was in L.A. Every now and then I’ll hear another detail: he was dressed for work. But those details don’t seem as significant to me as the detail that I’d worried so much about before. They just help to paint a more vivid picture, a sadder one.