Warning: this is an extremely sad post so read with caution.
A cloud of darkness rests over me and I have all these distracting thoughts and emotions racing through my head. I find that writing about them helps me to feel them completely and gives me a little release. I also want to speak about and pay tribute to a really great guy that I was fortunate enough to know. Its taken me a couple weeks to complete this post because at times it was just too much and I had to stop and come back to it a few days later. Its my feelings and raw emotions, so take it as you will.
The rest of this post is all about Chaz. He wasn’t just a co-worker, he had become a friend. I am still in shock and disbelief that he is really gone. The circumstances of his death are tragic and I won’t dwell on that. I’ll just briefly say that he developed bacterial meningitis and even after being hospitalized, went very quickly.
What I would rather talk about is Chaz and who he was, not about what happened to him.
I met Chaz shortly after I started my new job. I interacted with him briefly in my previous position but really got to know him in the role I’ve had the last couple years. He was the Customer Service/Account Manager on one of my larger accounts. When we started working together his wife was pregnant with twins. I can still remember him complaining about the cost of daycare, and also the huge twinkle he got in his eyes at the thought of becoming a father.
When you work with someone, you get little tidbits about their lives here and there and over time can piece them all together and know the person as a whole. Think about it. We spend more time at work than we do at home. Some people you work with you never really get to know because all the interactions are very short and polite. Other people can overshare and you may feel like you know too much about the person a few cubicles over. And then there are people like Chaz that you develop a nice relationship with and never fully appreciate how special it was until they’re gone. Then you wish you would have known them even better.
I know that Chaz and his wife had a great relationship. I’ve never met his wife, I just know that from the way he talked about her, from the pictures they both posted on facebook, and from the loving way they joked with one another. I knew they met in college and were friends before they ever started dating. I knew they liked to have bonfires and frequently socialized with their neighbors. I knew that Chaz, like my husband, was a huge Bears fan. Most of all, I knew he was a family guy in the purest sense of the word. I know what his family did for holidays and all the traditions he hoped to start with his kids.
When his wife had the twins, he took 3 weeks off of work to be home with her. I remember thinking that was really awesome. His wife sent pictures of their girls to him all the time and we were always happy to look at the darling babes with him. He seemed to roll right into new parenthood like he was just meant for it. While other new parents (myself included) feel frazzled and look totally sleep deprived, I can’t think of him complaining about much, if anything.
Chaz wasn’t a runner, but he always took an interest in my running and often asked me about it. I don’t really try to talk about it at work because I know its not for everyone and I’m really not that person that tries to get everyone on board with what I like to do. I always remember thinking it was really nice that he thought enough to ask me about it. I would post photos on facebook of a road race we did over the weekend and he would ask me about it the next week. I was interviewed recently in the local newspaper along with my friend Val and another runner from our running club for a story about running and motherhood. I remember thinking even then that Chaz would probably see it and talk to me about it. He was just thoughtful like that.
When I announced my pregnancy, he sent me an email telling me that I was going to love being a parent. Here’s his exact quote because I saved that email. Why? I have a certain file where I save emails that mean something to me. This one did.
“That’s awesome!!! Now you can share in the baby picture club!! See attached.” (he sent a pic of his darling girls)
“PS: Your baby has already ran more marathons than me”
“You’re going to love it. Lots of work, but it puts things in a different perspective. Totally makes you serve a higher purpose in life.”
That was truly the way that he felt. I was completely shocked when, about a month later he sent out an email announcing that his wife was pregnant again. I couldn’t possibly imagine having a third child with twins still in diapers. When I talked to him about it though, he was very happy and excited. I would have been scared out of my mind and I didn’t even KNOW the amount of work that comes along with a baby then. He just rolled with it and counted it as one of life’s blessings.
Yep, Chaz really had it figured out and knew how to live. Our Sales department frequently brought in lunches for meetings and customers and there would always be leftovers. He asked me to let him know whenever there was food in my area so I would send him an email. He liked it all; pizza, sandwiches, taco bars, etc. I’d see him pop his head in and he was like a kid on Christmas. Some days I still keep waiting for him to pop his head into my cubicle with a smile and a nod and either say “Hey, is there any food around here?” or “I’m just trying to avoid this meeting I’m supposed to be in that I don’t want to go to.” I will miss that. It was always such a nice little break from what I was doing and we would chat for just a few minutes, usually about our kids.
I will also surely always think about him on my drive home. Since returning from my maternity leave I am pretty much always walking out the door at 5:01. Most days Chaz and I would end up walking out at the same time. With a lot of people I’d just wave and say “have a nice night” or something like that but I waited for Chaz and he waited for me. We would walk together, again always talking about our kids and then when we got to the parking lot he’d always say “Race ya home” since we both drove home along the same long stretch of road. He always teased me for having a lead foot. One evening while driving home I thought I saw him behind me and when we got to the road that I turn left on and he normally goes straight, he turned left. I kept looking back, wondering if it really was him and what he was doing. The next day in our account team meeting he told everyone how he “followed me” the whole way home just to see what it was like to drive that fast and said he got home really fast! It cracked me up because I usually drive 65 on the 55 mph back country roads but it made it sound like I was just flying.
We always kicked off one of our account team meetings with a “question of the day”. It was sort of a way to break the tension in the meetings and honestly I mostly thought it was a huge waste of time. I’m very much a “let’s get down to business, no fluff” kind of person and I think that Chaz was a little bit too. Looking back, I’m so glad we had those questions because I realized just how much I learned about him. We had a question once about what you would do if you found out you had a year to live. I remember Chaz’s response. He said he wouldn’t tell anyone and would work as long as he could to provide for his family. That’s just the kind of guy he was. The way that Chaz went so quickly makes it feel so unreal and after I heard about it I just kept wanting to go back and say more. Do more. Remembering Chaz’s answer to that question lets me know that it was just as he wanted, though much, much too soon.
My husband met Chaz just once. They were both doing drop off at daycare and Chaz went up to my husband and said “Hey Tim, I know you from facebook.” Tim told me that even though he didn’t know Chaz and only had that one interaction with him, he could just tell that he was a happy guy that was very much at peace with life. He just acted very much like a proud papa and Tim said that he seemed like the kind of a father that Tim aspired to be. I felt the same way. Its funny that I was sometimes even jealous of the way he handled life’s stresses so well. I felt like I was barely keeping it together with one baby and he seemed completely zen with three!
Since hearing the news of his passing, one phrase from a song has been running through my head over and over and over again. Macklemore’s “Same Love” is a great song though it seemed odd that one single phrase from it kept playing over and over again in my head. “Press play, don’t press pause”. Whatever you believe or don’t believe about messages and faith, I feel like maybe it’s a message I’m supposed to receive. I felt like in a way I just wanted to stop time or rewind and go back because the truth hurt so bad. I knew Chaz was in serious danger when I heard of his illness and I kept praying for him and asking my friends in his department for updates. When I was pumping at the end of the day I got a text from a co-worker asking if I was still at work. When I replied I was and asked if she heard any updates, I knew something was really wrong when she just told me to come out when I was done. My heart sank and I suddenly felt nauseous. I said a very desperate prayer that it wasn’t what I knew in my heart that it was. I told myself it couldn’t be. I just wanted to stay inside that room and keep holding onto the hope that he was ok. As soon as I walked out of the room and saw her crying it confirmed my fears and I remember just saying “NO!” After the immediate disbelief, the question forms itself in your head without you even really putting it there. Why? I thought about his wife, I thought about his babies. Why? This question will never be answered and sometimes that’s hard to accept. “Press play, don’t press pause.” Its too late to go back and you can’t stop living. Press play, live your life and remember that each and every single day is a gift.
Yes, its been hard dealing with the lack of sleep that we’ve been going through with our daughter. Each day with her is an absolute gift and I think about that now with every single interaction. After I heard the news there were serious moments when I just wanted to be alone to grieve and collect my thoughts. When you have a 5.5 month old you just can’t do that. She picks up on every single emotion that I exhibit. So I had to put on a smiley face and do my best to press on and be a good mother to her. I think about his wife so often and how she will have to be strong for her babies when she just wants to grieve. I let it all sink in and wonder if my daughter can see the sadness hiding behind my smiles. Its easy to dwell because it hits you so hard and fast. When you care deeply and have empathy for another you desperately want to do something to help. It makes you feel like at least you are doing something to ease their burden just a little bit. People have been doing a great deal of that for his family and its been so nice to be a part of that. I find its been helpful to feel a part of this community and its also been helpful to go to work and talk about him with my co-workers.
At the end of the day when our house is quiet and its time to settle down for the night my mind just goes there still and I want so badly to be able to help more. These are the things that I’m feeling. Its not always easy to talk about. People that didn’t know him don’t know what to say and I feel awkward bringing him up with them so I keep a lot of it to myself. It doesn’t mean that he hasn’t been on my mind every day. Its helped so much for me to just be able to get this out. This is a much different post and I will get back to running and babies soon.
Chaz, I hope you know how much you’re missed. You touched a lot of people’s lives in a big way and you will always be remembered fondly. We will also do our best to make sure your family is taken care of. We all celebrated with you in the birth of your children and now we all grieve for you. I hope you enjoyed our luncheon in your honor and the fries that someone brought just for you. Rest in peace my friend.