Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Loss

When I left my job at the Big Cancer Hospital (my previous life before librarianing), I felt pretty good that I was leaving the constant threat of death behind me. At BCH, I had gotten used to meeting patients and doing my best to remain detached, but friendly. All too many of the patients I got to know would do well for so long, only to have a sudden recurrence, get very sick and lose their battle with cancer.

So, moving to a library, I was glad that I would be leaving the grief part of my job behind. I had gotten pretty good at compartmentalizing it all, and keeping emotional distance from patients so that I could do my job. But here, there was no need for that, and it was a relief.

Then, last Thursday, a little less than two months into my new job, I got a phone call from a coworker. At our library, with only 4 full-time librarians, one of those women had died suddenly and unexpectedly from an accident. And not even something understandable like a car accident -- instead, a freak accident. A trip and fall, that somehow led to her death just outside of her own home. It was unbelievable, and unfathomable, that the woman who had left the library the day before, rolling her eyes about a student issue and telling me that she had to go, but welcomed me to handle it in whatever way I felt was appropriate, was gone. A laugh and a "what can you do?" look was the last thing I shared with her, before she waved and said she'd see me tomorrow.

But we didn't, and it was strange, walking into the library to see her seat empty, tasks already lined out for that day, post-it notes on her computer screen telling her about things she would need to take care of.

I knew her for only a short time, but this woman - Laurel - was delightful. She loved the students, and they loved her. She never judged their life choices or their personalities. She embraced everything about them, and gathered stories about them like gathering shells on the beach. Everything was unique, and she always needed another.

At BCH, I could always expect the loss. They had cancer, after all, and there was no reason to believe that every single person would beat the odds. I always assumed they wouldn't, and that my heart would be broken, so I wrapped up my heart and didn't allow it to get broken so often. I grieved for them, but in more of a distant way. So now I find myself falling into that same sort of grief, making sure it doesn't hurl me into tears and sadness unexpectedly, but rather just sits with me so that I know it's there, but I don't have to acknowledge it if I don't want to.

The funeral is tomorrow, and while I know it'll be sad, it'll also be nice to have some closure for everyone who knew and loved her so well.

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