The strangest thing happened today. At ten minutes to 10:00, one of our managers ran through the office saying, "mandatory meeting in the conference room in ten minutes!" We all filed in to the conference room with puzzled and quizzical looks on our faces. Two managers did not show up, the one manager was obviously agitated and put two boxes of Kleenex out on the conference table. We all shifted in our seats uncomfortably. "What could it possibly be?" "A few people joked around quietly but most of us sat in silence. When most of us were finally assembled, our new director, who has been at his post for all of one month informed us that one of our co-workers, Sandi, passed away last night. For about a second there wasn't a sound as the wind was collectively knocked out of the thirty or so of us all bunched up in that room, then a few sobbed loudly or cried out in anguish and shock. It was a surreal experience. She was 64.
Just yesterday she stood in my office asking me if I had seen a missing file folder. I hadn't, and she walked out scratching her head and talking to herself, wondering where she may have put it down. She was the person that ordered everything. Soup to nuts. Bathroom running out of toilet paper? Tell Sandi. Need a new keyboard? Tell Sandi. Floor mats wearing out? Tell Sandi. She also ran the cashier's office. With an iron fist. You could hear down the halls sometimes squawking like a chicken when the drawers didn't balance. When I moved my office last month, she moved into my old space. I was critical of the fact that she hung a poster of Tim McGraw with a smoldering come-hither expression on his face. Sometimes after she had been to a country-western concert, I'd purposely avoid her because I had already overheard her telling the same story recounting the evening's events in the break room and again at the front counter. A few months ago she generously allowed us to use her office to start our knitting group. We ended up moving it since she had a difficult time attending regularly. She had a crocheted baby blanket she was working on for a little girl who is about to turn 2. She used to joke that she just might finish it before the little girl started high school. Yesterday as I walked past her cubicle, I saw her with her head down on her desk, as I passed, she looked up and her face looked tired, exhausted. Apparently this morning, her niece could not wake her.
Our department is walking around like zombies today. Some people went home. Others just sort of hung around. We shared Sandi stories and alternately laughed and wept. It's such a strange thing when someone at work dies. I've never before experienced it. Some people were very close to her, others, like me, hardly knew her at all, yet I interacted with her almost every day. It's really kind of a surreal and odd thing when life intersects with work. In some ways, we are like family. We see each other every day, we get along or don't. Yet there is a strange facade stretched over the whole dynamic. People are ashamed to burst out in tears, yet we all understand it. At work we are supposed to be calm, cool and collected -- "Professional." Today was a very strange day. We floated around, didn't do much, alternately opened up, then retreated back. We don't know how to "be." We are all trying to find our ways of dealing with the hole that has collectively been blown in our hearts.