The next thing that happens is it’s all over.
December 20, 2013 6:50 AM   Subscribe

Well, that's it, my New Years resolution this year is to be such a crazy motherfucker at work that everyone has a story about me that people outside of work would have difficulty believing. Also, they'd fucking well better play "Don't You Forget About Me" at my memorial service, in case people don't get it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:59 AM on December 20, 2013 [15 favorites]

Jesus, that was bleak. I've had my fair share of work-related grievances this year, but this made me incredibly thankful to work in a small, close-knit group.
posted by coppermoss at 7:02 AM on December 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

That sounds about right. I worked in an office setting long enough to have several coworkers die, some slowly, one in a car wreck. What I took from it is that after awhile, hardly anyone remembers Gail in Documents or Del from Financial so enjoy the day but don't think you are leaving some huge legacy.
posted by ITravelMontana at 7:03 AM on December 20, 2013 [8 favorites]

Lovely? Did you read the end? Nothing changes. This was just a blip in the usual office deadness, where no one really knows each-other. They might remember that your grandmother died, or you had a principal in 7th grade who died in a car crash, but that's as close as anyone really got.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:04 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

You know, it is a very odd thing to have a coworker die who you kind of knew, but didn't really know. It's such an unsettling thing, because it's really sad, but you don't have the deep emotional attachment because it was someone in a different department or different part of the building or whatever, but you still feel as if you've lost one of your own.

It's like when a neighbor from 4 houses over dies. You saw them, you assumed they were nice people, and you're sad, but it's just barely part of your own life, really.
posted by xingcat at 7:05 AM on December 20, 2013 [10 favorites]

My out of office email failed to go through one day a couple of years ago, and my coworkers thought I was dead. This was a wake-up call, I guess.
posted by thelonius at 7:06 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's not that hard to be remembered for a long time afterwards. "Mike" in our engineering design group was an atrocious speller. His name is still invoked almost daily whenever we retrieve old documents off our design server; he died almost four years ago.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:07 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

this made me incredibly thankful to work in a small, close-knit group.

I was thinking about this. At my last job, I'd say the majority of people I worked with were fairly close - they would have social gatherings at people's houses, and most everyone talked about what was going on in their lives. But some people were mysterious, by choice or because no one really worked directly with them, and they weren't keen on sharing details. So they'd chat about sports, but everyone was surprised when they were going to be married, and no one knew the name of the guy's wife-to-be.

Now I work in a small group that is part of a much larger organization. It's big enough that we get mass-email death notices with vague frequency. I'd say in the last year I've received 10-15 emails that someone or someone's relative died. I don't know who these people are, because I've never worked directly with them, but my little group of co-workers are fairy close. Other departments are clearly more talkative and involved with each-other's lives.

I think any office can be close enough to know generalities about each-other, but only if people care enough to reach out, and others want their work-mates to be informed about their lives more broadly than you share with desktop photos or whatnot.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:12 AM on December 20, 2013

I was at a meeting once with a workaholic boss and three of us GIS mapping lackeys. He was going on about data standards, so 'if one of you gets hit by a bus I'll know where to find the files'.

There was an awkward pause as my co-lackey Donna raised an eyebrow and mouthed 'Dave?!' to him, through his concentration.

"Oh. Right. Um...the rest of us will be sad for a bit too."
posted by jimmythefish at 7:13 AM on December 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

Halloween Jack: my New Years resolution this year is to be such a crazy motherfucker at work that everyone has a story about me that people outside of work would have difficulty believing

Well, I've heard that to a guy in Kentucky, you're Mister Unlucky, and you're known throughout England and France. Or so that's I've heard it said.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:14 AM on December 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

At least I know when I pass I'll be roundly pilloried and slandered mercilessly by the people I really work with everyday... on :)
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:14 AM on December 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

On the other hand, several times over the past few years I've seen large numbers of employees donate their paid-time-off time to co-workers across the country who were undergoing cancer treatments or similar. It's a near certainty that the recipient was known well to just a handful of folks. If you knew the person at all, it was as a name on an occasional note from the home office about some bit of administrivia.
posted by jquinby at 7:15 AM on December 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

I once had a co-worker who was angry with me say, "Well, you're dead to me."

So I guess there's that.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:17 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

jimmythefish: "He was going on about data standards, so 'if one of you gets hit by a bus I'll know where to find the files'. "
It's mostly a figure of speech. There's even a reference to an ESRI paper in the wiki article.
posted by brokkr at 7:19 AM on December 20, 2013 [6 favorites]

In a previous job, I had a coworker named Roger who died. I had a late night shift, and suddenly I start hearing Roger's voice up in the front of the building.

His cat, adopted by someone else, had just happened to step on the button on the office manager's phone which dialed Roger's desk, and got his voicemail on speakerphone.
posted by Foosnark at 7:21 AM on December 20, 2013 [14 favorites]

I'm in a position where, if you move out of the main offices to work at a site location you may as well be dead. If there's no face time you don't exist anymore.

I work at a site. There are more than a dozen people that have been hired to my department since I moved here, and I don't know any of them. They don't know who I am. I don't know the names of most of the people that work in my building, and none of them know my name. Sometimes I meet people for the first time and it turns out we've been working on the same program for months or longer without ever speaking a word to each other. I can go literally for days without human contact in the office, despite having a cubicle on a very busy hallway.

I imagine that, were I to suddenly drop dead, the kind of remembrance described in the article would be the most I could hope for. I don't think anyone here would even know who to address a sympathy card to. Honestly, they'd probably just take my name plate off the cubicle wall and put someone else in here.

If I had the bad fortune to die suddenly at my desk I wouldn't be surprised if it took a couple days for anyone to notice. We don't have any trash service in the building, so it already smells pretty rank.

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about all of this. On the one hand, I have had jobs which were more tight-knit and I enjoyed making friends at work. On the other hand, I don't want to tie too much of my own self-worth into my job. I don't think I even want a going-away lunch if I quit.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:36 AM on December 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

That's just sad. I work at a company w/ over 1,000 employees. It's all how you put yourself out there too and find people receptive. I used to be a total wallflower and no one gave a shit about me at work except to swirl rumor and assumptions. Then I started reaching out w/ small talk and being funny helps breaks the ice as well as breaking barriers with people. When my mom died--I had an outpouring from my group. When my dad died, I even got outpouring from a different division--most who don't know me personally but when someone else mentions "you know stormpooper, she's the one who xyz" they go "oh yea." it was even nicer to know people actually know me.

I don't know Colin, what happened or why but it's sad that no one reached out to him, even in a way to make him laugh at least once a day.
posted by stormpooper at 7:38 AM on December 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

I got a series of text messages on a Friday morning. My mid-40s boss had been taken to the hospital, office probably closing for the morning. I text back to ask what happened, like, what was wrong? All I get back: "He didn't make it." I called in seriously thinking I'd misunderstood, trying to tell myself that it was some kind of awful autocorrect problem.

And we cried, and we cried, and we bitched about how we'd told him to take his baby aspirin, and for a few days my coworker and I were suddenly best friends. We were texting all the time, even outside work. There had been three of us; now there were two.

And then the consultant the widow brought in cut my hours. And then the widow closed the firm and sold the assets to a guy who spent two weeks telling me that they were going to take care of me, and then had someone call to lay me off at 9pm on a Sunday night. And then we weren't best friends anymore, because she had gone on and, in the aftermath, I had been ruled superfluous. Even when you know people, at the end of the day, I don't think it matters very much. Money dictates that you move on.
posted by Sequence at 7:42 AM on December 20, 2013 [22 favorites]

There are people who would miss me, people who would remember me. The people in my office are not those people nor I am one of those people to any of them. We work, we get paid, we live with others.

I don't know how it would affect people if someone in the office died here, I hope that we wouldn't go through some horrid play-act of mourning. Sadness and compassion but aside from the husband and wife who both work together actual mourning isn't something I would expect to see without actual camaraderie and inter-personal engagement.
posted by Slackermagee at 7:45 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

is this a new thing? Or has it always been like this?

Anonymity in the workplace has its trade offs. I think it's nice when you can make friends, but I'd rather be a nobody than have everybody know about the things they might not like about me.
posted by rebent at 7:48 AM on December 20, 2013

My colleague pointed this out when I left my last job:
Work is an ocean. Dip you finger in, pull it out, can you see the difference? The ocean just fills in around it and goes on.

Another friend pointed out something even more helpful.
Work is work, and that's all it is. It isn't family, or even chosen friends. It's just work. You can be fired or let go at any moment, and all the "employee of the month" plaques won't mean a thing.
posted by cccorlew at 7:50 AM on December 20, 2013 [21 favorites]

As a rule of thumb, I always use "winning the lottery" as a substitute to the bus thing. Mainly because I work in an office where I wonder how little money it would take for me to quit.

For reference, last week it was thirty five bucks, since that would have at least bought me lunch the rest of the week.
posted by Blue_Villain at 7:56 AM on December 20, 2013 [7 favorites]

Is this piece true, or a work of fiction? It's uncanny how much it sounds like Joshua Ferris's And Then We Came to the End
posted by Mchelly at 8:01 AM on December 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

> enjoy the day but don't think you are leaving some huge legacy.

I wasn't a fan of the film in general, but I sometimes think about the opening scene of About Schmidt; Jack Nicholson's character sitting in his featureless office with a bunch of boxes, counting out the final seconds of a career that no-one will remember. That's most jobs.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:05 AM on December 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

“She died like she lived -- surrounded by the people she answered phones for”/"She was born in 1898 in a barn. She died on the thirty-seventh floor of a skyscraper. She's an astronaut."
posted by oneironaut at 8:09 AM on December 20, 2013 [18 favorites]

I work for a large property management company so I don' know most of my coworkers (as we are spread across the state) but there are a few I chat with and so when there is gossip, it does get around.

Last year, one of the apartment managers died while on the job. (We are underpaid and our jobs are stressful. And this manager had an especially difficult property. Was job stress a factor in her heart attack?) A few months later, we had our annual employee meeting. While the president gave a tearful speech about the retirement of one of the corporate employees, no mention was made of our colleague who died while doing her damn job.

It made me sad and also angry because I realized that despite "we're a close family!" rhetoric, the corporate office doesn't even care enough about us as human beings to spend 1 minute to acknowledge that. At least this office acknowledged his death (and life) publicly for a moment.
posted by vespabelle at 8:10 AM on December 20, 2013 [6 favorites]

I was moved by the article, and I'd like to think that Colin from Marketing had a rich inner life that nobody at work knew about. Maybe he rescued kittens, or wrote fantastic fanfic, or took care of his grandmother.

But yeah, the article is a good reminder that none of us is as important or as irreplaceable at work as we'd like to think, and that the company will continue on just fine without us after we're gone. And really, who cares what Mark in HR or Tina from photos have to say about us in the company eulogy? (although if my boss can't even be bothered to get out of his hotel room bed when he records a video message for my memorial, well, I'll be coming back to haunt his ass for eternity).

Put your emotional energy where it matters: the people you love and the people who love you. And maybe they work with you, or maybe they live with you, but they are the ones who really matter, the ones who will love you and mourn you and carry a bit of you with them for the rest of their lives. And that's really all that we can hope for in death.

Now excuse me while I send some cat videos to my coworkers. Ha! They love those videos!
posted by math at 8:23 AM on December 20, 2013 [9 favorites]

One of the things that brought us back to Canada was a workplace death. About 3 months after we got to China, another expat Brit I worked with there by the name of Pete had a heart attack and died. Pete was a real bon viveur, smoked like a chimney, drank like a fish and loved his strong espresso. Oilfield trash like me, only older.We used to meet for coffee daily, a few beers, trade war stories and figure out how we were going to make operations better. He was good people and it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

He died because he ran out of medication and was waiting to go to Hong Kong at the weekend to see a doctor and get a new prescription. He didn't trust the local clinic, none of us did, we'd changed from the old, good clinic due to local management cost control.

His poor wife broke down, she'd only just arrived in country about a week earlier from France. The company did a good job of looking after her, more specifically, our division did. The corporate morons in Beijing did the bare minimum (c.f. the clinic).
We all attended the cremation in Shenzhen, and the idiot location manager insisted on doing the eulogy as it was a matter of face, rather than asking anyone from his team who'd known him to speak. It was awful. Pete's favourite song, Queen's "We will rock you" played about 15 times as the staff left the CD on repeat, which turned the funeral to some form of farce.

I swore then that I wouldn't be that guy who dies on location and some management drone does the eulogy. My wife and I talked, and it was time to come home and put roots down for the first time in 17 years. We've been back 20 months and it's good, I work in a close knit team and we actively care about each other - when you're expat, your friends become family, so we work and play together.

I think about Pete a lot still, despite it being 3 years since he died. I miss him.
posted by arcticseal at 8:24 AM on December 20, 2013 [18 favorites]

I really liked this. It gets at something I find fascinating: the dichotomy between your personal self and your professional self. I work in a small office which is somewhat close, but it's not entirely close-knit; there's this sense that it would be weird to tell people overly personal things, unwelcome somehow, as if it's somehow taboo to acknowledge that each of us are simultaneously people who do reports and budgets and also feel love and confusion and anxiety. I've shared things before while out with coworkers, rather generic but non-work-related human anxieties, and had the sense that I've crossed a line somehow. It's as though one can't be vulnerable--human--and also a person that works. I realize it may be a cultural thing (not even on a national or regional level, but on an office-to-office level), but I'm not interested in having a sanitized, plastic, corporate persona and also a hidden, human identity.

...which further convinces me that I won't be satisfied until I have a job where doing serious work while simultaneously having a personal, at times vulnerable identity is the norm.
posted by aintthattheway at 8:44 AM on December 20, 2013 [11 favorites]

I lost two staff members to unexpected early deaths this year. We had regular turnover with staff leaving, including one who had been very crucial, but it was nothing like death. We still talk about them, and it's hard because the staff who moved to another job are still there on facebook and often in person around the city.

The worst part as their colleague was having to close their email accounts. I couldn't quite do it and have left them permanently suspended instead.

I'm a little shocked that that isn't common - I would have thought the norm is to be close to people you work with, that their death would be a deep absence.
posted by viggorlijah at 9:05 AM on December 20, 2013

to aintthattheway:

I'm fascinated by your comment, and in particular your line, I'm not interested in having a sanitized, plastic, corporate persona and also a hidden, human identity.

I feel exactly the opposite. I like having a sanitized corporate persona because it keeps things professional at work; I don't want the people I work for to know that I have a fondness for saucy brunettes and a weakness for alcohol, and I don't want the people who work for me to know that I crumble when women cry and when babies snuggle with puppies. I've got to do performance reports and to talk about employee benefits, and I don't want people to say, "Heh, that's the guy who spikes his coffee, we certainly can't take him seriously."

So what I'm wondering is, doesn't having a personal and sometimes vulnerable identity at work just open yourself up for abuse?
posted by math at 9:06 AM on December 20, 2013 [9 favorites]

I write obituaries for our very large university. We've released pieces on everyone from the couple who met as students and walked to work together every day for 60 years, dying within two days of each other in their late 90s, to a student who had just transferred in and died in an accident before the semester had yet to start.

I always tell people that I hate to say this (in that "Oh, don't make me siiiing!" kind of way, but with care) but writing obituaries is FUN. Mainly because it really is a challenge. I've been affiliated with this school in one way or another since I was 10, but that means nothing when I'm writing about a chancellor whose tenure ended before I was born. And there's nothing worse than an obit that reads like a CV. Anyone can access a CV. Lots of people won this award, or chaired that department. Not everyone actually knew this person.

The fun part comes when you find the people who will talk to you long enough to go past the "he was a great administrator, always fair, always smoked a pipe" stage to the little stories. I think the little stories mean way more than the CV. The housing director died, and I learned about the student dining hall revolt in the 1970s, when someone made a misguided decision to switch from four-tined forks to three-tined ones (immediately renamed "threeks"). The groundbreaking researcher whose favorite karaoke song at departmental outings was "You Are So Beautiful To Me."

Those are the stories that make this place more than a collection of buildings and lectures.

But then we get the tough ones: a student who dies because of an incredibly poor decision, or a worker who dies on the job and it isn't apparent (nor my business) whether he'd missed some crucial safety step. Doesn't matter. I still call up their friends and hear stories about how much detail he put into laying the tile in his new bathroom.

The semester I transferred away from my first college, I heard about the death of a girl who'd played in our orchestra. She'd fallen off of a cliff on a geology trip, which horrified me to no end. I don't know why, but her death really affected me, even though we hadn't really done much together. So I wrote her parents a note, talking about the one time I remembered having dinner with her. I'd just gotten out of a late meeting and was one of the last people in the dining hall; she saw me eating alone and joined me, then started talking about something as if we were close friends just shooting the shit at the end of the day. It was a really simple moment, but very kind of her. Her mom wrote me back and said that they'd read my letter out loud at Christmas.

This is all to say that one of the best parts of my life is when I find out something about someone that I didn't otherwise know, or wouldn't expect... and am then able to pass that on to someone else. It's one of the things in my job that makes me the most proud.

Of course, when my former coworker Selma dies, I swear I am going to repeat the story about how she couldn't believe that someone put garbage in the hallway garbage can, it's disgusting, "would you BELIEVE THAT????" (yes I would, because GARBAGE GOES IN THE GARBAGE CAN), over and over and over and over again. Because seriously.
posted by Madamina at 9:08 AM on December 20, 2013 [27 favorites]

Except for one summer job where I befriended several of my coworkers, I've always tried to keep the "real me" and the "work me" separate. It's been a survival mechanism at jobs I've hated - if I don't get to know my coworkers, maybe I can convince myself that I'm better than them and belong somewhere else - but even at the jobs I've really liked, with colleagues I've liked, I don't open up completely. I burn out easily on socializing, so being pleasant but quiet helps keep my workday running smoothly.

I shudder to think about what my coworkers would say about me if I suddenly passed away; I doubt much of it would be accurate. And, in a way, imagining it makes me feel a little defensive. In a way, it feels wrong and invasive for them to mourn me, because they don't really know me. But however they react to it is about them, not me. What other people think of me is not my business, especially if I'm not even alive to hear it.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:11 AM on December 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

Huh! Where's the plan to deal with one of my employees not dying? Because that would be an exceptional week around here any more.
posted by Malory Archer at 9:16 AM on December 20, 2013 [4 favorites] 'if one of you gets hit by a bus I'll know where to find the files'.

I routinely hear this, or some variation, around my workplace. And (I guess unfortunately) it's never been followed by an awkward pause or someone checking to see if the speaker may want to add some sort of caveat. The conversation or meeting just pushes forward -- business as usual. In the last several years, I don't know how many people have been carted away from this place by emergency services or how many mass emails have been sent about someone passing away: car accidents, heart attacks, strokes, or more simply "sudden death" (for which rumors reveal a story about suicide or surgical mishaps). And the wheel just grinds on...

Recently, one of those mass emails was about a man (Tom) who worked directly with my office through a business community that joins various departments within the organization. I went to my managers' offices to inform them that Tom passed away and I asked them if they planned to briefly acknowledge his contributions at the next community meeting. My first manager asked, "Huh, he worked with us? Wow... [3-second pause]. Oh, do you realize how many people are being dropped from their healthcare plans because of this Affordable Care Act business!?" When I informed my other manager of Tom's passing he immediately asked me to get in touch with Tom's boss to find out who will replace him and to blank out Tom's name on the attendance sheet for the community meeting.

As I sent out community invites over the next several weeks, I only really noticed the changes to Tom's email account after the second or third week. In the first week, there was nothing from his account -- the second week was an out of office: "I no longer work in this organization." (of course it was an update made by a system admin) -- the third week was a message from the system that read, "You are not authorized to email this account." By the fourth week, someone in my office took a moment to update all our invites to remove his email. You look in people's eyes and it's as though Tom never existed or made any contributions to what we did professionally.

I'm ashamed to say that I find the comments for this FPP to be surreal. I'm envious that quite a few people here have business cultures in which someone's presence isn't scrubbed away like a bad smell after they pass on. I realize that everyone responds to death differently, but there's such a hollow sound when I hear management follow words like "dedication" and "sacrifice" with a statement about knowing where to find the files in case we all get hit by buses. Sure, it IS important to make sure that business can continue onward (usually with "same problems/different day" scenarios) after losing a team member. I hate to think of my co-workers having added stress because I didn't leave them any way to move ahead with a project I started. But it's kind of disgusting to see my managers guilt employees into giving hours beyond their schedule -- sacrificing time with family or people who actually WILL miss them -- in exchange for a 5-second moment of silence accorded to their memory by the professional community. I see so many people around here pause their lives for the "You need to do this now because BUSES" argument. That pause is barely reciprocated (if ever) so I'm aggravated when employees here let their managers hold them back from getting on with their own lives. Maybe it's just me.

However, it really gives me hope when I see that it can be different elsewhere. I didn't realize how close I was to being numb until I read the comments's scary.
posted by neitherly at 10:20 AM on December 20, 2013 [10 favorites]

I lost a coworker to suicide some years ago. He was a strange and difficult guy--everyone could tell he was a little off-kilter. But he shared some little jokes with me every now and then, and when I was leaving for a holiday in Japan, he sent me pictures of feudal era castles he had always wanted to visit there. When I got back from that vacation, I found a voicemail from my boss telling me that Robin had died. I hope he found a castle somewhere.

It made me think how little we know these people we spend so much time with, and how it would take such a small effort just to ask if they're ok. I felt a little guilt over it, but the logical part of me told me that I wouldn't have been friends Robin in any situation, and only interacted with him because we were forced into proximity.

Hell, I don't know.
posted by Kafkaesque at 11:34 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

The only time I have actually experienced this, it was a guy who used to work here, murdered in a mass shooting. That was pretty damn rough. He's very much remembered and missed.
posted by thelonius at 12:03 PM on December 20, 2013

For several years I worked in a very small office where I was one of seven staff. One of my coworkers had severe cerebral palsy, to the point where it took him more than a minute to get out a spoken sentence. As a result, though we worked a couple of desks over in the same room as me, I never got to know him very well. On the few occasions when we worked together on projects, however, it was easy to see his personality shining through in his emails. He was obviously an interesting man, and with a little effort, I;m sure we could have been great friends.

Then one day, in the winter, he went out for lunch and never came back. His crutches had slid out on a patch of ice on the sidewalk and he fell into the road just as a bus was passing.

I have lost friends and family members both suddenly and slowly, but the death of this coworker is among those that affected me most.
posted by 256 at 12:04 PM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was employee #7 at my current job. Employee #3 was a really good guy. Not the best engineer (due to lack of experience), but he was diligent - even when a task was going to be long and soul-sucking. He had a dry sense of humor and was a master at the long troll. We worked together for 5 years and during that time he suffered from migraine headaches. He would routinely take time off or work from home with all the lights out and the drapes drawn. Whenever he sent in an email that he couldn't make it in, I sent him a note back saying that if he needed anything, he just had to ask and I'd be happy to help (laundry, food, company). He was out a couple of days, which wasn't a surprise. Then our HR person came into my office a total wreck and told me that I needed to see the CEO right now (I honestly thought that I was being fired).

The police called us. The headaches had gotten so bad that he chose to put a bullet through his head. Nobody in the office had known that it was even close to that point. Should I have called? Should I have been more assertive in coming to see him? Ultimately it doesn't matter. What happened happened and I hadn't made his choice.

A grief counselor came in. Everyone had expressions like a deer in the headlights. We cleaned out his desk. He had checked in all his files. We sent a note to his family.

I drove past his condo every weekday that I picked up my son from daycare and I looked past the parking lot, looking at his abandoned car in the lot, until the day that it had been taken away.
posted by plinth at 1:12 PM on December 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

You could also mention in passing "if anything happens to me and you people don't cry, I'll HAUNT YOU."

Could work.
posted by stormpooper at 1:17 PM on December 20, 2013

math: So what I'm wondering is, doesn't having a personal and sometimes vulnerable identity at work just open yourself up for abuse?

In reality, it can. But it shouldn't, because that shit is proof you work in a bad place, where people would hamper your ability to do your job or get promoted due to petty personal grievances. And in reality, that already happens, regardless of how much people know about you. In fact, I'd bet it happens more when people think they know something about you. "Oh, math? That guy's a lush. Wouldn't trust him with anything serious." Whereas if someone really knew you, they'd know you are a responsible adult who also enjoys alcohol in responsible ways. And they might actually have a better working relationship with you, too, if they didn't secretly think you might be out to get them.

In my current office environment, the folks around me are great, and we can openly gripe about policies and decisions, but that's because we're all in it together, and there are significant communications issues that border on power struggles between departments. Now, if we knew the other departments on more personal terms, we could probably be less guarded and speak honestly to them, too, but we aren't, so we don't.

Of course, some people are just jerks, no matter how well you know them and they know you.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:00 PM on December 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

Madamina: But then we get the tough ones: a student who dies because of an incredibly poor decision, or a worker who dies on the job and it isn't apparent (nor my business) whether he'd missed some crucial safety step. Doesn't matter.

That's a tough job. Reminds me of one guy at my school who was kind of a bro (a couple of decades or so before that became a common term) who wrote for the school paper, and was hit by a train; the paper was pretty straightforward about reporting the fact that he'd been not only drunk but playing chicken with the train, but they did a decent job of eulogizing him regardless.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:38 PM on December 20, 2013

I worked in San Francisco in the late eighties for a large corporation [seven hundred of us locally] that did onsite outsourcing for other large corporations so I worked with hundreds of people. In San Francisco in the late eighties a lot of people were dying of AIDS. You worked with people that were dying. They knew it and you knew it but it wasn't talked about much. There would be a 'retirement' party for someone who was going to go away and die - like a wake but the deceased was alive and present. I never saw a lack of grace. You forget to breathe.
posted by vapidave at 4:03 PM on December 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

There's a reason we're not arguing about a movie titled Work, Actually.
posted by dhartung at 4:37 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

it's happened 4 times while i've worked at my factory

the first time was a person who was going through a rough divorce and killed himself with a shotgun - we shut the machines down for him for 10 minutes in rememberance and hung up the funeral program that his family had sent us, which had him in a hunting outfit smiling and holding a shotgun, perhaps the one he used

the second time was someone who just didn't wake up one morning - we held a west african ceremony in the production office in rememberance, led by other co workers from nigeria - (he was from liberia)

the third one was another person who didn't wake up - and so one of the bosses said a little eulogy about him being a hard worker and that was that

the last time was about a month or so ago - he was about a year from retirement and collapsed from a massive heart attack in the break room - the driveway filled with police cars and ambulances and they were an hour reviving him - he was close to several people here and they were openly crying and production just plain shut down while this was going on - there were meetings where his status was reported and a sign saying no more calls to the hospital because too many people were calling

he never woke up and his family was forced to let him go

life goes on, i guess, but i keep hearing people say stuff like, "i meant to get out when i'm 62, but he was 61 ..." - somehow, this guy's death affected people a lot more than the others and not just because a lot of people were friends with him

he clocked in, but he never clocked out

that's some scary shit right there
posted by pyramid termite at 5:15 PM on December 20, 2013 [6 favorites]

I remember when I first started working at the florist, and a few months in one of the designers didn't make it to work. We thought she had just decided to skip work. Finally one of the drivers went to check on her and found her dead. (Kids, if you get clean for a month with your substance abuse, you might wanna be careful. Your tolerance isn't the same when you relapse. Or at least that is what we assumed.)

I wasn't scheduled to work that day but I came in to help the other clerk, as it was corsage season.

Customers were waiting impatiently for the corsages they'd ordered and were getting snappy. I finally asked the owner if it were okay to share the reason we were running behind. It was amazing how quiet it got out front after that.

A few years after that the owner herself got sick with brain cancer and passed away a year later. She hadn't bothered to make a list of her passwords and such at work so when she became incapacitated suddenly about halfway through her illness, stuff got real.

Almost a year later I was still telling clueless salespeople and clients and business contacts that no, Carol can't come to the phone, she is deceased.

I don't work there anymore. I don't really miss the job but we really were family. In our case death kinda forced it to be.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:35 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I worked for several years for a soulless health insurance company and man, if someone died there you truly were a number. I saw it happen a few times and it was crushing. Moved on to a publishing company and while it was even larger, there was a small group of us that started together and gradually absorbed others as we drifted into other departments. At its height there must have been close to two dozen of us. A group lunch was delirious chaos. We had movie marathons together. It did help that most of us were total geeks and most conversations were so referential it made Community look like a three camera comedy.

The odd thing is, though at least two thirds of the group was eventually laid off and even though I am a state away from most of them, there are still gigantic group emails that, given a hot topic, will explode into a hundred replies in an hour. I like to think that we didn't let the bastards who laid us off end this. Some have drifted away but the core remains strong. If someone dies, though no one has, the trauma will be devastating.

My point is, you can make real friendships in the soulless cubicle wasteland. Put yourself out there. Give it a chance.
posted by Ber at 9:47 PM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

For some of us, it's not just our work. I sometimes think that if I should die tomorrow the only people who will mourn me are my two kids, and two of my brothers. It's not that I don't try to connect with people - I just fail at it. If I mentioned this to my friends, I'm sure they'd be vocal in their disagreement, but words are easy and love is rare, or maybe I'm just not very likeable. At least my death will cause very little angst, so I've got that going for me which is nice.
posted by b33j at 10:20 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

That comment about vulnerability really hit the nail on the head. It can be "dangerous" to be the only vulnerable person, but if everyone shares their vulnerability there is no power over others. I have about two hundred co-workers but about a dozen I am extremely close to. We are very entwined, visiting each other's houses, attending family funerals, bringing newborn babies in to show off. We cry openly in front of each other, sharing our hopes and our fears - getting strength from sharing our burdens among many shoulders. My workplace is almost exclusively female and the men that work with us tend to be empathetic and have very highly developed social skills. The people, mostly a couple of men, that avoid any appearance of vulnerability are the ones that appear most weak - their machiviallian schemes apparent to us all and their "strength" is really their weakness. Their careers have also completely stagnated as the "weak" females they derided promoted but still willing to genuinely say "I love you" to co-workers or the people they manage.

We had a co-worker die, just a couple of days after we threw her a baby shower for the baby she was going to deliver the next week. Even though it has been several years, she is very much talked about and remembered, and many of us have kept in contact with her husband.

I understand the impulse to keep work and private life separate, and in a workplace that isn't as inclusive as mine (welcoming GLTB/two-spirited, New Canadians, young and elder co-workers), that protection is necessary. But it is still sad to me, we spend so much time together, more than we spend with our best friends, it is really nice when colleagues become family.

On preview, oh b33j ~ I'd miss you terribly! It is great hearing about your life in Australia and I love your wit and your strength. Don't underestimate the impact you have had on others and the connection they feel, even if they don't speak of it. I love you!
posted by saucysault at 11:24 PM on December 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

The last thing that happens is Naomi quits. “I’m going back to my old job in Adelaide,” she says.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Colin's murderer.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:55 AM on December 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

One of my colleagues died earlier this year. He was well liked and well known and generally I think people's response was appropriate and moving. But one day about two weeks later, the department head sent an all-staff email to say that the guy's family didn't want the things from his office, so he was going to open it up and we could all go in and take his stuff. And that turned into a disturbing gleeful grab-fest, instead of the gentle selection of a memento to remember him by that our boss probably had in mind. So yeah, if you are ever in that situation, don't do that, okay?
posted by lollusc at 3:31 AM on December 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

filthy light thief: "Lovely? Did you read the end? Nothing changes. This was just a blip in the usual office deadness, where no one really knows each-other. They might remember that your grandmother died, or you had a principal in 7th grade who died in a car crash, but that's as close as anyone really got."

I think, filthy light thief, that the result of this thread -- the collective eulogizing and remembrance -- is where I was getting the idea that this was a lovely story.

The article had a bit of it, and I've seen more here. Beautiful things do not have to last forever; sometimes it's enough that they happened at all.
posted by ChrisR at 7:52 AM on December 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Firts time it happened to me, it was in an office with about 150 people. Everyone knew him, he was a great guy, early thirties. On a Friday everyone was going to a bar after work. A bar that was 2 blocks from the office. He waited outside the office for his girlfriend to pick him up, got in the car, fastened his seatbelt and died from a brain embolism. News got to the bar pretty quickly, it turned into a huge drunken wake. His mother came to town for the funeral, and spent two days at the office getting to know everyone and hearing stories about him. We declined a grief counselor. The official funeral was crowded. About 30 people from the office and more than a hundred others attended his viking funeral. A boat was built and placed on the water in the bay, gifts and his remains were placed on then boat and the boat was set on fire while people sang and danced and got drunk.

The second time it was in an office with about 500 people. A friend started missing deadlines and showing up late or not at all, saying he could not sleep because of heartburn. It was cancer in the esophagus metastasised all over his internal organs. He died in 2 months. He was 34. Nothing official was said, only his manager and friends knew. Eight of us went to the funeral. He left a wife and three girls under 4 years old. A couple of people from the office got together to make sure that the wife would get all the benefits. She was an immigrant with bad English. It it had not been by these coworkers she would have been deported, but they got her a 6 month stay and fought the insurance company until she got her money. Then she left the day before she was going to get deported. His name comes up once in a while, and if you search for him internally you will find his obituary.

The latest one, an email was sent saying that someone who worked closed to my team had died riding his motorcycle. The email only had his first name, and we mostly know each other by our made up ID. I spent all day walking around and checking on all the motorcycle commuters I know. They all were there. Turns out it was a new kid, it would have been his swcond day on the job. His desk was completely empty next morning, his email deleted, all traces of him gone. It was creepy, I can't even remember his name. This was in a company with tens of thousands of employees.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 11:24 AM on December 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Colin's murderer.

That's okay, she's going back to Adelaide. Punishment enough.
posted by crossoverman at 4:21 PM on December 22, 2013

A co-worker of mine passed away recently and it was a shock because it was sudden - and because much like this article, nothing much changed here. Oh, there were a few days of, "Who's going to do what James did now?" And a couple of conversations about why things weren't getting done or why some of our work slipped. We're not a big company (70 people), so everybody knew James even though none of us worked with him very closely - and none of us knew much about his life after work.

He didn't come in one Monday morning and I'm always concerned about people just not showing up to work. It's all very well to write it off as someone sleeping in or being hungover or having a sick day - or even having scheduled a day off, but nobody knowing except his supervisor. But I always wonder how long you should wait before calling an emergency contact. I'd want people to call my emergency contact by lunchtime because I live alone; if I haven't made it to work and I haven't called, something is wrong.

It's been a couple of months now and while we miss his eccentricities - and some of the work he did is still being reconciled because he's not here to remember exactly where he was up to - I guess all of us in the office have "moved on". Easy to do when you don't know much about the guy.

I separate work and the rest of my life because I essentially have a "paid job" and a "creative job" and the two worlds barely ever meet. Most people I work with know about my "creative job" and some of them have been audience members at my shows, but they don't know my family or my friends. But I've been doing this "paid job" long enough that I know they'd miss me, or at least notice I was missing.

One of the worst parts of James' passing was when someone said recently, "He worked here until the day he died." Unless you're doing something you really loved, who wants to work anywhere until the day they died?

My only comfort is that he passed away in his sleep one Sunday night. So at least he had the weekend to himself.
posted by crossoverman at 4:32 PM on December 22, 2013

This article and post reminded me of Orientation: A Short Story by Daniel Orozco, as featured on episode 37 of This American Life.
posted by blueberry at 4:08 AM on December 24, 2013

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