On Saturday morning, when I got to work, I found a strange memo from the store manager in my inbox:
"For staff who would like to talk to someone during this sad and difficult time, the following resources are available."
This was followed by a list of grief counselors. The memo continued:
"Also, everyone should feel free to talk to a manager or supervisor or to me, my door is always open to you, if you need to ask for time off, or need to talk, or have questions, or need someone to listen. This has been a shock to everyone, and a stressful event, and most of all a very sad thing to have happen. Please everyone take care of yourselves and each other during this time."
What in the world had happened? I had worked for a couple of hours on Friday morning and everything was fine. Clearly something terrible had happened later that day. I found the IT guy, who'd been there all day Friday, and asked him what was going on. He said that late Friday morning, a new seasonal hire in the customer service department had a seizure and passed out, and no one could revive her. The paramedics came and tried to revive her for 20 minutes but couldn't, so they took her to the hospital. She died. She was 21 years old and either no one knows the details of what happened, or they're all being professional and circumspect by not disclosing anything too personal about this girl. I asked the IT guy if her knew her name. When he told me, I drew a complete blank; I don't think I ever was introduced to her. I later learned that she had been employed for a week-and-a-half and that she'd only worked five shifts when she died. The store manager later said she doubted I had ever even seen her. Nobody at the store could have gotten to know her well in such a short time. She was surrounded by strangers when she died.
I couldn't help thinking about my poor co-worker, whoever it was, who had to call this girl's parents and tell them what had happened. I started wondering (because I am morbid, I admit it) what it would have been like if I had been the one who collapsed. Which poor soul would have had to call my loved ones and break the terrible news? I realized with a start that Sean had left his cell phone at home on Friday, and I know I haven't updated my contact information with his most recent work number, so no one here would have been able to reach him. Who was the next person on my contact list? Probably my sister Mary, for whom I also have not provided a current phone number. I didn't even know who I have listed after Mary. I decided to check in with our HR person this morning and update my emergency contacts.
When I looked at the form, it was worse than I'd thought. I had our old apartment number (where we haven't lived for 8+ years) and a cell phone number I didn't even recognize listed for Sean. For some reason, I'd listed my sister Susan instead of Mary, and her info was completely out of date. Worst of all, my number one contact was my dad. Dad died in 2001. When I handed the corrected form back to the HR person, she said that 3 other people had updated their contact information over the weekend, too.
The whole incident made me think of two things. The first was a Loudon Wainwright III song called "Donations," in which he tells a friend that he is an unmarried orphan who's estranged from his children, so can he list the friend as his emergency contact? On my new contact list, I listed my husband, then my sister, and then my best friend Norman; I feel now as if I have all my bases covered. The other thing I thought of was a particularly depressing episode of Six Feet Under, in which a woman who is utterly alone in the world dies. (She chokes to death while she's eating dinner alone in her apartment -- it's a secret fear of mine that the same thing will happen to me.) She has no parents, no siblings, and no friends to speak of. She works as a temp and none of her co-workers know her. Her neighbors don't know her. There's no one to take care of her worldly goods or attend her funeral. I got a little choked up filling out my contact information, thinking how lucky I am that at least three people would care and want to know if something bad happened to me.