One of my co-workers died yesterday.
His name was Bryan Forrest, he wasn’t too much older than me, he had a wife and two kids, and he died of a sudden heart attack. And I don’t really know why, but I’m shaken to the core.
Bryan was a genial wiseass. He’d perfected the art of doing nothing at all, and he was never duplicitous about it. But he was so sly that everyone forgave him. Bryan was direct and honest – my first conversation with him revolved around Jesus and why I didn’t go to church. Mind you, this was not just our first real conversation, but the first time we’d ever spoken. And it put me off a bit, but I came to realize that’s just how Bryan was.
I didn’t know him well at all. News of his death hit the plant at 3:30 a.m., the time Bryan was to report for work, and scores of people were devastated, crying their eyes out. The company did an awkward 20-second moment of silence, and put up a form letter memo into which they’d obviously inserted his name. (From: Front Office Re: Loss of BRYAN FORREST.) And life just went on.
My last conversation with Bryan was about (what else) his amazing ability to avoid any kind of work for huge stretches of time. He told me, upon completion of my break, to get back to work, and I laughed at the irony. He spotted it too, and said, “Some things never change, do they?”
But some things change all the time, and lately they seem to be changing with increasing, frightening rapidity. We did a little discussing at work and found that no fewer than six of us had taken time off in the last month for funerals. Six of us. It’s starting to feel more and more like death is circling above, indiscriminately taking whomever it wants, and closing in.
And I probably wouldn’t feel this way if I hadn’t been one of the above-mentioned six. I took off for Massachusetts last week, however, because one of my best friends, Ray Tiberio, became the first of my close-knit circle to lose a parent.
I honestly don’t remember the first time I met Fred Tiberio, simply because his house has been a second home to me since high school. His family has become like my family over the years. There’s no getting around it – Fred Tiberio was a big, big guy. He was tall and wide, and his very presence could be imposing for those who didn’t know him. Once you did know him, however, it became obvious that his heart and spirit were at least as large as his form. Mr. T. let you know when you were family, and once that happened, he’d move the world for you if he could.
Mr. T. beat back cancer for the last eight years, suffered the loss of both kidneys and depended on dialysis three to four times a week. Still, he was always cheerful and ready with a kind greeting, and he remained remarkably funny, even up to the last time I saw him alive. It wasn’t the cancer that took him – it was a sudden brain aneurysm, and if you can tell me how that makes sense in a just world, I’d love to hear it.
As if that wasn’t more than enough death, Mike Ferrier, another close friend, lost his aunt that same week. She had been going in for a surgical procedure, and passed away before they could operate. I had never met her, but anything that affects my best friends in the world also deeply affects me, and I’m filled with an overpowering urge to help, to do whatever I can to ease whatever pain I’m able. And the entire time, I’m doomed to realize that it’s hopeless – there’s nothing I can do or say that will ever help fill the holes these people have left.
There was a stretch of time, the day of Mr. Tiberio’s funeral, in which Mike couldn’t reach his parents. He was under the impression that they would meet him at the church, but they never did, and they weren’t answering at home. And I swear, I was terrified, probably as much as Mike was. There has been so much death this year that a small, paranoid part of my brain insisted that I was in for more, that Mike was in for more, that this whole dismal year would never end.
It turned out to be a miscommunication, and the Ferriers were fine. But man, no one should have to feel like that. There shouldn’t be this strange black shroud over everything, these nagging feelings of hopelessness that twinge like tiny daggers every time someone doesn’t answer the phone, or doesn’t come directly to the door.
And hey, God, if you’re reading this, I’d really just like to say that you’ve made your point. We understand. You can take any of us at any time, and we’ll never know it’s coming. We get it.
Now knock it off. Please.
Services for Bryan are this weekend, but I don’t think I’m going. I haven’t been able to leave hugging-and-crying mode since Friday, and I’m spent. I need to recuperate, to make sense of everything that’s happening, and to talk to some friends and make sure they’re okay. And then I need to start hoping that 2004 is brighter, sweeter and greener than 2003, because frankly, this year has sucked beyond description. And I can’t wait to put it behind me.
See you in line Tuesday morning.