Change is constant and unpredictable. I like to entertain the idea that I have my life under control, but in truth, there are so many factors that are not within our grasp or sphere of influence. We wander, sometimes almost zombie-like, through life, greeting colleagues mindlessly, trying to be productive, half-smiling as spring comes and we manage to escape the office while the sun is still shining. Then something unexpected – and shocking – shakes up the still waters. I embrace change – invite it, welcome it, seek it out. But when you choose change and guide it (as much as is possible), you weather its rougher bits with greater ease. When blindsided by unexpected and cruel change, even the kind that has nothing to do with you, it is an entirely different story.
I learned on Tuesday that a former colleague and acquaintance, Anna, had died on the weekend. She was only 30 and leaves behind a husband and a new baby. After hearing, I spent most of the day in shock, working in autopilot mode, finding that I came close to breaking down if I thought too much about her.
I had stopped working at the company a while back, and she was on maternity leave – so we were not in contact or anything. We were never close friends but had a strong working relationship (eventually). I will admit that before we worked in the same team, I found it very difficult to relate to her (though I felt like I tried), and when she joined my team, I felt considerable doubt about how that might work out. It turned out to be a breath of fresh air, though, because she was so honest, so direct (brutally so at times). She was diligent, intelligent, did her work, followed through on her promises. You could always count on her work being ready – she delivered. She was down to earth, incredibly funny – a very real person, and I came to respect her tremendously.
On the weekend, I had gone home to the country and was looking through my cupboards, filled with baking supplies for planned future bakes. I had a lot of stuff on hand to bake some of her favorites just before the end of 2012 before I left the company and before she left on maternity leave. Seeing things like plum jam and polenta in the cupboard (to make polenta-plum cookies that she had liked) made me think of her a lot during those few weekend days. And then once the weekend was over, I learned that she was gone.
I know it is something that people always say when someone dies suddenly, but there is something startling about the realization that your last conversation, probably about nothing special, was really your LAST conversation with them. To reflect on the fact that we talked about something like the endless editing and revision process on a go-to-market pack for mobile operators seems so very mundane in the big picture. You would have no way of knowing that that was the last time. Not that there is anything merciful about death, but at least with old age or terminal, long-suffering illness, those left behind have some time to prepare. I don't think anyone is ever really ready to deal with the loss. I cannot really imagine in this case – I feel a certain kind of devastation and depth of feeling and grief about this woman I barely knew – what could her family and friends be feeling?
I hope, above all, that Anna will rest in peace.