J. N., our receptionist for 13 years, died on April 19, 2008, at the age of 61. She had been on medical leave for some time, but most of us did not know she had cancer. Being the private person she was, she preferred that nobody knew about her condition or visited her, and did not even want a funeral. Her mother arranged a celebration of life instead.
I wonder what made this woman, who apparently had a colorful, international life, finally settle down in another country all by herself, in an entry-level job making a meager salary, and seem to be happy about it. Her myth is sealed to us forever. I’m very patient at developing friendships, yet with her, we never had a chance, and we never will.
I will remember you, how you crossed the street going home in your stylish winter coat, how you sat at the front desk, how you held high a sign at the assembly site during an evacuation due to a false fire alarm, your frank face, your bright red lipstick, your big earrings. I should have done more for you, talked more to you, but I didn’t. I was selfish and always in a hurry, and you were private. Therefore our lives remain disconnected. But we’ll remember you, and miss you. Your life is worth celebrating.
I recall J. with a smile, imagining her enjoying the last puffs of cigarette, even with a deadly tumor in her throat. I was worried about her losing her livelihood since she lost her voice because of the tumor. How silly! It was her end. But I trust she enjoyed this life, and in her own way despised superficial human connections and rejected all pities. Rest well, J. You have character. You have style.
May 18, 2008, postscript after having learned more about her life:
So J. had really lived. When she sat behind the reception desk, cheerfully handling her tasks, calmly watching us going in and out, she must have pitied us poor saps who were bound in a rigid hierarchy and struggling for nothing close to life itself, and had never lived. In her heart she knew she had. This is why she passed away with grace and wanted not a funeral but a celebration.