On Dying

We found out today that one of our coworkers is dying. They were moving him to hospice tonight. I had known he was ill for the past few months—known only because he had a lot of doctor’s appointments, and missed a lot of work, not because he had said anything to me. It was only the last few weeks that he started to look really ill—gaunt and sallow. Still, I didn’t ask him about it. I figured if he wanted me to know, he’d tell me. And he never did.

It feels strange to be writing this, like a eulogy for someone who’s still alive, and who, quite frankly, I didn’t know very well. But still, he always stopped to say hello, and talk about the books he was reading. He was so chatty, I once told him to go fuck himself, because that’s the kind of co-worker I am. The last time I saw him, he was in the kitchen, in the middle of a conversation with two women I knew he did talk to, about his health, about his (how nice that we can possess it!) disease, so I didn’t want to interrupt. I made some comment about the weather and told him to keep warm, then left. He looked terrible, like my grandmother before she went. Maybe I was giving him space—and maybe I was running away.

It feels strange, too, to be on the periphery of such a tragedy. He’s 60, and his only son just graduated college, not even a month ago. He hadn’t gone to college himself, and he was over-the-moon proud. I want to be able to offer him something, but it isn’t my place. When your years on this earth have, quite suddenly, become days, you don’t want to waste them on barely-knew-you co-workers. Or at least, I wouldn’t. I would deny such callous, selfish souls entry into my tragedy—because it isn’t about them, or, in this case, about me.

So instead, I light a candle and pray a prayer. I don’t know his thoughts on death, and he doesn’t owe me any of them. I’ll pray the simplest prayer I can for him—for peace.

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A Nicer Person

I refer to this woman at work as “The Millstone.” Maybe it should have been the Albatross. I’m not sure what ancient code I violated, but I’m pretty sure I’m being punished. How much invective, vitriol, and vituperation should I accept, really, when I’m fairly certain I’ve done nothing wrong.

I’ve been Trying (yes, with a capital letter, I’m that Earnest about the whole thing) to be a Nicer Person, and the Millstone is the inspiration. Not because I think I deserve her denunciations, because I don’t. They aren’t, even, usually about me. She’s angry at someone else, but she can’t yell at them, so she yells at me instead. It’s terrible fun. I think she thinks it means we’re “friends.” Really it means that when I hear her clopping down the hall in her sandals, I want to leap from behind my desk and shut my office door. Or at the very least ask, “What now?” with a withering glare. Instead I rearrange my face into blank pleasantness and answer every comment with a noncommittal, “Uh-huh.” Yes, I’m pretty sure I’m headed to sainthood.

So why Nicer? If I’m already so terribly nice? I never understood the expression, “Wherever you go, there you are,” until I met this woman. She could win the lottery tomorrow (come on, fingers crossed, big money!) and she still wouldn’t be happy. She couldn’t be: She doesn’t know how. She’s the victim of everyone and everything she can’t control (read: the entire universe), and the least little thing sends her into an infuriated panic, about how awful and monstrous every damn thing is, every last person.

I recognize a tiny sliver (read: a generous slice) of myself in her need for control, in her constant feeling as though she never has any. There’s a paradox there, a paradox I am learning to understand, from the Millstone, who, it turns out, is a terribly motivational teacher.