Someone at work died last night of a heart attack. I barely knew him, even though I’ve worked here for a decade and he’s been here longer (it’s a large institution). But the whole place is walking around in shock. People are talking about him, about his death, and about their past interactions with him.
But I can’t be the listener. I just can’t. I know I have trouble understanding and dealing with attachment. I know I have bad reactions to loss. I know that I have spent so much of my life both ruthlessly suppressing my feelings while simultaneously trying to learn how to understand and express them. All of this is part of it. Also, I’ve been carefully and cruelly trained to always make other people’s feelings more important than my own, as well as to meet other people’s needs at the expense of my own, and I have worked so very hard to try to unlearn this. So to suddenly find myself in the middle of this sea of shock and grief, with people wanting to talk, or even when they don’t, when every instance of eye contact is accompanied by sad faces and head tilts and resigned shrugs and meaningful sighs… I just can’t.
At first, this guy just seemed gruff and distant. We never really interacted much except for nods of acknowledgement when we passed in the halls. Once, I left a note on someone’s shiny new truck when it was parked so close to my driver’s side door that I couldn’t get in: Great parking job. I had to use my passenger door. Better luck next time, buddy. I signed it with my name and department, because I believe in accountability, and I’m mostly spoiling for a fight. A few days later, this guy hailed me in the hall: “Hey, that parking job? That was me. I’m really sorry. I was in a hurry and I wasn’t paying attention.”
From that moment on, even though that was the most we ever interacted, I liked him. I respect people who own their own shit, you know? And I can see clearly that he was well-liked and respected, that he had extensive social ties among his colleagues, and that he will be sorely missed. I don’t feel it, because I didn’t really know him. And I don’t WANT to feel it, because I don’t dare open up my own well of grief and loss, not if I want to continue functioning.
So I keep my head down. I keep my headphones on. I stand up and reach for my bathroom keys when a conversation starts. I avoid it. I run away from it. I am of no help or support or consolation to anyone around me. I feel selfish. And I feel like people think I’m a cold-hearted bitch.
What people think doesn’t matter. I’m dry-eyed at my desk getting my work done. Sure, I bought four chocolate bars on the way back to work after lunch. But they’re purely medicinal.