Profile pictures can be quite interesting topics of discussion. Depending on the context of the profile picture that one uses on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, the reactions can range from “wow, that profile pic makes you look so fine” to “AAAAAHHHH!!! Turn it off! Turn it off!”
Recently, I have changed my own profile pic on my personal Facebook page (and no, I won't post a link to it on the blog). But I will post the whole image of the photograph directly below for all of you to see.
I know what you're saying. What the heck were you thinking choosing a photograph like that? I'm standing in the kitchen area of the employee lounge, I'm wearing my work uniform (well, the vest at least), and my expression looks as if I am about to mimic my best impersonation of the Incredible Hulk.
But there's a story behind this particular picture that I want to tell all of you before I really get into the real topic of today's blog entry.
This picture was taken a little over three months ago. In fact, I even remember the date. Friday, June 22, 2012. On that date, all of us employees gathered together in our tiny little employee lounge to bid someone a fond farewell. And for me, it was someone that I knew very well.
The person that we were sending our best wishes to in his retirement was my old supervisor. His name was Alex, and he and I worked together for approximately seven years together. Throughout those seven years we ended up forming a very close friendship. Although he was considerably older than I was (and I won't reveal how much of an age difference there really was, as he used to always smack me whenever I brought it up), in many ways, he was young at heart. He always had a joke to tell (sometimes very raunchy ones at that), and he was always willing to go to bat for you whenever you needed him to do exactly that. There have been times in which we have disagreed with each other (including one particular dark day in December 2009 in which I completely deserved the stern lecture I received from him for my particularly poor attitude back then), but for the most part, we got along great.
So when Alex came to us in May to tell us that he was retiring from his job effective June 2012, my co-workers and I were quite saddened to hear the news. Although we knew that he hadn't been feeling well at that time, we thought that it was probably the best thing for him to retire so that he could focus on getting better.
I was actually asked by our personnel manager if I wanted to plan a bit of a sendoff for Alex on his last day, and of course I jumped at the chance to do it. After all, of all the people who knew Alex, I was one of the ones he was closest to in the store. How could I not be a part of his send-off? We chose the cake, we selected the card for each of the employees of my store to sign, and I was asked to compose a retirement speech for Alex. I'll be the first to admit that I was incredibly nervous about reading a speech in front of the hundred or so people who were in the employee lounge at the time, as public speaking is NOT MY FORTE. But I stared fear directly in the face and got through the speech as best I could. In fact, that photo was taken while I was reading the speech out loud. Somehow, I got through it, and all ended up fine. I could tell that Alex was really moved by it, and in the end, that was what I had hoped would happen. A few people told me that I did a great job, but it was in honour of Alex. I had worked extra hard on the speech because it was for him. It was his moment, and he needed to know how much he meant to not only myself, but to the number of co-workers that he worked with over the seven-and-a-half years he was with the company.
I remember that when the time came for Alex to leave the store for the final time, I told him to not be a stranger and that he should come and visit the store lots and lots because we all wanted to hear about how he was going to spend his retirement. I had no idea that conversation would end up being the last one that I would ever have with him.
On Wednesday, September 19, 2012, my former co-worker, my former boss, and my friend Alex passed away. And, when I heard the news, I felt immediately sick and unable to process the news.
Just three months earlier, we were celebrating his success within the store, and we were all sending him our best wishes. It was like a kick in the stomach when I received the news that he had passed on. It was so shocking that it has taken me eight days (well, six or seven actually, as I found out some time later) to really sit down and express how I was really feeling.
You know how there is something called the Seven Stages of Grief? I think that I ended up feeling all seven stages all at once when I left work the day I found out the devastating news. I'm still having a difficult time trying to make sense of it. I probably will have this feeling for some time to come because he was such an important person in my life. When it came down to sign a condolence card set up in the store for his loved ones, I really struggled with what to write inside of it. I didn't want to come across as not being genuine, but at the same time, I didn't want to take over the entire card to offer my support to his family.
So, I thought I'd share my feelings right here using the Seven Stages of Grief.
STAGE ONE: SHOCK AND DENIAL
When I first heard the news about Alex, I think that my heart may have stopped beating for about a microsecond. Remember how I said that hearing the news felt like a kick in the gut? Well, that's exactly how it felt to me. And even after hearing the news, I still couldn't believe that it was real. I mean, three months earlier, he seemed fine. I mean, sure, he walked with a cane, but a lot of people do. Certainly that didn't mean that he was on his way out, I thought. I actually believed that he would come back better than ever once he spent some time away from the store. There was no way that he could have gone downhill that quickly, I told myself. There was just no way.
STAGE TWO: PAIN AND GUILT
It probably wasn't until I got home from work that day that the pain of what had happened really hit me. I think that I was subconsciously trying to keep a brave face during the rest of my shift on the sales floor even though it took everything in me not to break down in front of a customer who was asking where the chocolate milk was being sold. Once I got home, I completely shut down, and was very upset. At the time, I was also having some personal conflicts with a couple of other people, so it was a really bad time. Remember that time last week in which I was half-heartedly into this blog and informed everyone that I didn't feel like writing at that time? That was everything happening all at once. As far as the guilt goes, I'll admit that I did feel some guilt. I remember that Alex had given me his phone number, and I ended up losing it about a week later. I always felt guilty for losing it, and I really wished that I could have had one more conversation with him before he passed away...and when I kept thinking about that, I broke down even more.
STAGE THREE: ANGER AND BARGAINING
Soon my pain shifted towards anger over the whole situation. What had happened was incredibly unfair to my friend. He had just retired three months earlier. He should have had at least ten, twenty years to enjoy doing what he wanted to do. All that time was taken away from him, and that made me so angry at the world. It was just too cruel a fate. He should have had more time to enjoy his retirement. I never really did much bargaining though...I was too upset to even think about that at the time.
STAGE FOUR: DEPRESSION, REFLECTION, AND LONELINESS
That whole night, I stayed in my bedroom in the peace and quiet, thinking about things. I didn't want to be near anyone else at that moment. I just wanted to be alone. It was too much to bear. I couldn't even imagine what Alex's loved ones must have been experiencing at the time. I would think that their pain would likely be ten times worse than mine. I did a lot of thinking about the time that Alex and I spent together as co-workers, and most of the time was filled with wonderful memories. I remember first meeting him seven years ago, and he would always use to poke fun at me. At that time, I worked in frozen foods, and he would often call me by a nickname that I really can't repeat on this blog as it's kind of offensive. (But if you really want to know what it is, I suppose you could private message me on Facebook or leave a comment on this blog with an e-mail address, and I will tell you.) At first, it was annoying...but I sort of grew to like it. And that was Alex's way. If he liked you, he gave you a naughty nickname. It was like a rite of passage. It's all I can do to keep holding it together...to remember the good times we shared with each other, you know?
STAGE FIVE: THE UPWARD TURN
It's taken me a few days to reach this point. Although I tried to distract myself this past weekend by going out of town on an excursion, I was still feeling down. I was so down that I actually felt car sick and had to get out of the car to breathe in some fresh air. Whether that was actual nausea, or whether it was brought on by grief, I haven't any idea. But by the following Monday, I was feeling slightly better, and I was able to cope a bit better. Of course, there were moments in which I couldn't help but think about Alex. I'll admit that trying to get back into a regular routine at work was challenging - I actually shed a tear when I came across Alex's old cooler jacket while I was doing the temperature checks for my department – but it was something that I needed to do. Alex wouldn't have wanted me to feel sad for very long, and the more I kept telling myself that, the better things ended up getting...
STAGE SIX: RECONSTRUCTION AND WORKING THROUGH
...and the better that things got, the better I felt about the job. I remember several of my co-workers coming up to me and asking me how I was doing, but I was more concerned with how they were feeling. After all, Alex ended up touching a lot of lives while he was working at the store. He was well liked by the majority of the people at the store, and it dawned on me that I wasn't the only one who was grieving his loss. Knowing that other people were feeling sad helped me talk about it more...and everyone knows that the more you express your feelings, the better you feel.
STAGE SEVEN: ACCEPTANCE AND HOPE
So, here we are. September 27, 2012. At this point in time, I have accepted the loss of my dear friend. I still feel sad, and I am probably going to miss him for such a long time, if not forever...but I've also made peace with the fact that he is no longer suffering in pain. I have the feeling that he probably knew that his time was limited on this earth, but never told any of us just how serious things were, for he didn't want any of us to worry, and I get that. There's also no funeral service or memorial planned for him, which was also quintessential Alex. Alex and I even had a bit of a conversation about that a few years ago, and he said that when he died, he wouldn't want everyone grieving him at a memorial service...he would rather have people remember him for who he was. So, as far as closure goes, I always have this blog entry to look at whenever I start to miss his presence. As long as I remember him for who he was as a person while he worked at the store, then I can have that closure.
I can also begin to move forward from this, and knowing Alex, he would likely tell me to do exactly that. As I said before, Alex was never the type of person who wanted us to fuss over him, or worry about him (which is why I don't have a picture of him included in this entry...mainly because I think he was just as camera-shy as I was in many ways). He took life by the horns and he rode it for all it was worth. And, in some ways, I think he ended up passing his way of life onto me, and I hope that one day, I can find a way to embrace life the same way he did while he was still living. In some ways, it might end up being the ultimate way to show my gratitude towards him for his friendship over the years.
I think that I'll always miss him while I am still living...but he would want me to go on and pursue my dreams because he never once gave up on me. He always supported me whenever I was at my lowest, and I could talk to him about anything. I think that our talks will likely be the one thing that I will remember the most about him. He may have doled out advice amidst a slew of F-bombs and dirty jokes, but that advice was golden.
In fact, one of the last things that he ever said to me before he retired from the store was that I should never, ever sell myself short. And, I will hold his words in my brain for the rest of my life. He knew that I always had low self-esteem, and during our seven year friendship, he not only improved my self-worth with his advice, but he did it so effortlessly that I knew I could always count on him to be there for me no matter what. He certainly proved his friendship to me over the years when he visited me in the hospital several times when I was recovering from my gall bladder removal surgery from hell.
So, I dedicate this blog entry to my friend Alex, and I hope that he is in a better place. Who knows? If there is such a thing as Heaven, maybe they have wireless internet up there and he's able to read this right now...and I hope that he would find this piece just as touching as the speech I wrote for him three months ago.
That's all that I have to say today.