Someone I considered a friend passed away Sunday. He was a coworker of mine and had been very ill in the hospital for a few weeks. Even though I was told his prospects of making a recovery were slim, it doesn't make hearing of his death any easier.
In some ways, it feels strange to admit how deeply I was affected by the news. I mean, I never really saw him outside of the office in the nearly three years we worked together and, yet, it feels like a huge loss to me.
Tom was just one of those people in life I clicked with. He was around retirement age, but I got the feeling he liked the challenge of the daily grind -- despite typical complaints about it. His job was to design ads as well as collect and inspect the film negatives for all of the newspaper pages at night and help ship them off to the press room. Although he was technically only responsible for making sure the ads were correct, he often caught mistakes on the news end. In fact, I think he saved my ass from having the wrong date published on more than one occasion.
One of the most memorable things about him was his taste in music. Whenever I went downstairs, I'd never know what genre he'd be playing. His collection ranged from opera to classic favorites like Dean Martin and Tony Bennett, instrumentals, swing, blues, Broadway musicals, and every once in awhile he'd surprise me by playing contemporary artists like Maroon 5 or Radiohead.
It was over that varying background music we'd catch up while I was waiting for the processors to spit out my pages.
Thinking back, I have sort of an incomplete picture of Tom. Granted, I don't think anyone can really get an all-encompassing understanding of even themselves, but he was a man of many hats. And despite having been given what I consider to be a rough lot in life, he had a great laugh and an appreciation for the little things.
I know his parents died when he was very young and he was forced to raise his younger sisters by himself. Because of that, he never went to college or even learned how to drive. He lived with his cat in an apartment in the city and walked to and from work every night. But on the few occasions the temperature dipped below freezing and I'd catch him attempting to trudge on foot, I made him get in my car.
The first time I drove him home, I couldn't believe how far he walked. He said it took him an hour each way, but the distance still shocked me. Eventually he got an apartment that was a little shorter of a commute, but I'll forever be inspired by his nonchalance about it. I know people with much younger and stronger bones who couldn't do that five days a week.
My biggest regret is that he didn't get to meet Allison. Throughout much of my pregnancy, I wasn't shipping too many pages. Even a flight of stairs winded me in the third trimester and I was concerned about all of the chemicals used to process the film, so the rest of my department was gracious enough to take care of the task.
Even though there were weeks I wouldn't see him, we always chatted on the phone when I needed to move an ad. He talked about his nieces and nephews often and I was surprised how much he could relate to a twentysomething pregnant woman. He always knew the right thing to say when I admitted to feeling my worst, and he was genuinely interested in hearing about Allison even before she had a name. I know he would've loved to have seen her. Unfortunately, I didn't bring her by in time.
His passing reminds me to appreciate the people I do have in my life and never to hesitate to tell them how I feel.
I know someone else will eventually take his shift at work, but they have some big shoes to fill. And even bigger radio speakers.