The Place Between Shock and Grief

I thought about death today.

I know it might feel a little cliché that the last time I wrote on my blog, I was also dealing with grief, but there is something so different yet similar when faced with the loss of someone that you used to know. 

Today I found out someone I hadn’t seen in three years had passed away, someone I had worked with once upon a time. 

While we weren’t close after my time there, nor did we keep in touch, I can’t help but think back on our last interaction; how he had given me a hug because he hadn’t seen me in a year at that point… how even through his stoic facade, he cracked a smile and kissed the top of my head.

It felt like a simple interaction. Nothing more, nothing less. But for me, it felt like my pseudo-uncle in his subtle way letting me know he was proud.

Looking back on it, it mattered more than I know.

For some he was a mentor, for others a dad. But, for most he was a beacon of steadfastness on the hectic summer days.

I may not have known his last name or anything outside of work, but I knew how driven and passionate he was about his craft, how underneath his hardened exterior was a soft heart who’d keep an eye out for me or let me hide out in the kitchen especially on days when shit hit the fan.

He was tough. He was intimidating. Sometimes he’d yell. Other times he’d just glare. But through it all, he was also the guy who’d make you a free off-menu meal when you were starving on your shift.

The one who brought homemade ice cream for us to try.

The one who knew exactly what he was doing and was always willing to share.

I met him in a summer when I was struggling in the in-between: in-between my grief for a grandmother I lost and the crossroads for a career I couldn’t navigate.

And although that period of time is only six months of my history, it’s funny how much of it creeps into my memory as sit and reflect.

It’s been a while since I’ve interacted with the previous people I’ve worked with, but today, in our collective grief, it was obvious he in someway connected us all. 

Because he was always there—and even when he physically wasn’t, he was always known.

While most are grieving their mentor and best friend, others like me are stuck in this surreal haze of, “There’s no way this can be real.”

Because while it’s been years since I’ve seen him, since I’d felt his presence when he’d enter a room, today I was reminded of the impact he made—the big and the small and all the in-between.

I thought about death today. I thought about the grief people must feel, the memories and impact one leaves behind, and everything else in-between.

While he didn’t drastically change my life, he, even in the smallest of ways, made it possible to survive an emotional period when I was hoping to float instead of sink.

He may have never given me philosophical advice, nor did he help me find a new job—but on a hot, humid, and busy summer day, he put extra work in to make me a large salad with sliced strawberries and a special dressing on top (a classic he had made for my roommate-slash-co-worker that year).

And for the girl exhausted from her shift, from walking up and down, up and down, seven flights of stairs, from carrying trays of drinks and food, and, most importantly, from a year that beat her down time and time again, that salad would eventually mean more than even she would know.

So, thank you Chef. 86 came too soon.

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