A woman I worked with passed away recently. It had been a year since I’d last seen her and we hadn’t really kept in touch. Early one morning my phone buzzed and buzzed until I awoke. Seeing a page of texts from my former employer I knew it had to be bad news. There wouldn’t be any other reason to contact me. My hunch was right. My former colleague was really ill.
A few weeks later Facebook announced she had passed. There was no shock but she has stayed in my thoughts and heart since that morning. But I could not be sad for her. Let me explain.
For two and a half years we worked together in a strange office. The building was a hundred year old house with second hand desks shoved in each bedroom as a make-do office. Cracks covered the walls and ceilings, black and deep. The paint in faded pastel pink and blue mourned for the eighties. Who knows what colour the carpet was. Less than ten people worked here. The odd aspects of our personalities were nourished and amplified. Day after day in here it became harder to tell if your behaviour was real or if it was just what the environment wrested from you.
She had been working here over fifteen years and she wasn’t happy. On my second day of the job I put forth a suggestion for a new process, a simple, automated computerised process. I had just entered this microcosm from the outside world and was about to learn that modernity was not welcome though the rusty iron gate. She hated my suggestion. Her reaction frightened me so much I only returned the next day because my friends convinced me I needed to pay the rent.
After two and a half years though, I understood. I understood the different ways that life didn’t deliver the happiness she deserved. She told me stories about violence, illness sand judgement and also about great friendships and family. In her lived an ardent, fighting soul. I can’t help but think if she had been born a man instead she would have lived a different life. As a man she wouldn’t have felt disheartened if one or two people didn’t pay attention to her ideas. She would have known that what she had to say was not only worth saying but worth following. I think she would have been a politician, a successful, principled politician with a penchant for creative one-liners.
Where my parents won’t even go near a Smartphone, she was the exact same age and organically grew a sizeable twitter following for her unique perspectives on #auspol. She campaigned for local MP’s and Julia Gillard knew her by name. She was an advocate for women’s shelters and women’s rights. My goodness, if we could all see the huge, direct impact they had on her life we wouldn’t hesitate in supporting them.
She was also a writer, she was inspired and could have done anything she wanted if we had all believed in her more and had she believed more in herself.
For two and a half years she told me how much she wanted to die. She was not joking. She was serious. She had her death planned and had weighed up all the pros and cons of aging. It was incredibly difficult to hear this so much. I was not able to distance myself from it, fighting a similar thought pattern myself. But for all this dwelling on death no one appreciated life more. The sun, the wind, the sea. Early sunrises watching race horses as they trained. She would send me photos of her morning walks at her local beach. She was a skilled thrift shopper with a deep love of Chanel.
She is gone but I cannot be sad for her. When we die I have no idea if there is something or nothing. And no matter what anyone else says, they don’t know either. I can only dream that she is reborn in a fairer universe where she becomes the best version of herself, celebrated for her bright and shining mind.