I have a series of emails dating from the winter of 2015-2016 that I cannot delete, yet I do not reread them either. My inability to do something with those emails is a reminder that grief impacts us in funny ways, especially when it occurs in an unexpected place: at work.
When I woke up that morning and read the email on my phone, I felt hollowed out. The tears started. When I tried to speak to anyone the day we received the news it was impossible to hide my feelings so I did not bother trying. It had been six months since I had seen my friend and coworker. Such is the slow march of cancer. He left for Christmas holidays and never returned. Tears had been spilled, anger had been expressed, the need to keep the team supported took over all else. A sense of loss had already crept in long before the news actually broke.
8 hours a day. 5 days a week, for 5 years
There are a lot of wonderful memories stored up from that time. In life, we are not prepared to bury coworkers the way we are conditioned to the passing of family. The hole they leave in our lives when we lose them is not fleeting. The people we work with are the number one reason we are afraid to move to another company. The relationships we build with the people we work alongside every day grow strong due to familiarity. Because we see them every day, many of our coworkers come to know about our families, our struggles, and our achievements. They may help us build a deck one weekend; go for a beer after work to share our frustrations, or lend us an extra bit of help at work to get us over a slump.
My friend was one of those. He was one of the first people to interview me when I was hired on. We bonded quickly over my dry sense of humor, and a shared love of learning. Soon we were trading podcasts and book titles and discussing the merits or lack thereof of what we were learning. He grew to appreciate the dark beer we served when we hosted him at our house. He was an optimist who was quick with a laugh and a realist who told it like it was.
He was my friend and I miss him.
I wasn’t there to see someone else sit in his desk. I had moved on. They say time heals all wounds though I find that to be a load of crap. I still cry now and then when talking about him or whenever The Tragically Hip come on the radio. (The two are now forever entwined in my world). These things just sort of sneak up on me and I am caught off guard by a quick and powerful wave of emotion that thankfully subsides before most people notice.
The truth is I don’t know how to grieve for him. When to close the book. Which brings me to those emails. The majority of the emails I have saved between us occur after he knew he was ill. On the surface, there is really not much inside. They contain a lot of positivity: jokes, favourite lines from Monty Python and an unhealthy amount of cat memes. I imagine his logical self, watching me hover over the delete button and saying “they are just emails of kittens – don’t be so sentimental”. Did I mention he could be very blunt?
He would be right of course. Compared to five years of memories, what are a bunch of silly emails? I’d like to think he would understand my hesitancy. I don’t delete those emails because part of me feels it would be letting go, and I’m just not ready to do that.