For the last two years I have been blessed with a wonderful manager at work. He was intelligent and hard working, and he was a man of integrity. He challenged me to step out of my comfort zone - to tackle big projects, to apply to grad school, to speak up for myself - and always had an encouraging word when things got tough. He was also charming, funny, and most importantly, knew when to laugh at himself. He was my mentor; he was my friend.
In March he was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. In spite of facing a bleak prognosis, he was most concerned with how his absence was going to affect the team's workload. He took a few days off after the initial diagnosis to undergo surgery and then was back at work for a few days before being forced to take a leave of absence due to the ravaging effects of the aggressive chemo treatment.
Here is an exerpt from our electronic conversation on his last day of work:
Him: Alright, don't let this swell your head, but among all people you impress me the most in how you rise to the occasion. You have taken up much of my slack single-handedly and done so with grace and humor. This is in addition to working your butt off outside of [work] to get your degree. I am truly impressed and feel quite fortunate to have you on the team and have made [dept director] aware, though she already seemed to be aware. I will forever be truly grateful and hope you haven't grown to despise me or the job before I get back.
Me: head swelling in 3, 2, 1...
Him: I do mean it in all sincerity.
Me: Well thanks, I appreciate that. I hope you know that you are one of my very favorite people here and a main reason why I like this job. I have learned so much from working with you. If I handle things with grace and humor, it's because I've learned how to do it from watching you. You are not only my supervisor and mentor but also my friend. But there is no way I am capable of filling your shoes, so you need to hurry up and get better before this place burns down without you.
Him: head swelling in 3, 2, 1...
I attended his funeral last week - 7 short weeks after his diagnosis. The service was filled with lots of tears for a life too short but mixed with smiles and laughter over shared stories of how this man touched so many lives in one way or another.
Work is not the same for me these days. Life goes on, of course, as it should, and I am trying to honor his memory by handling things with grace and humor. But I often find myself listening for one of his trademark remarks: "Can I get a whoop whoop!" was a favorite of his on good days or "Son of a biscuit!" when things weren't going so smoothly.
Rest in peace, Carl. You are missed.