A Death Reminded Me Of What Is Lost When We WFH

I lost a friend last week. It should not have come as a surprise. Just over a year ago, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Still, when I got the news I sat clouded in shock and disbelief, the kind that happens when you learn of someone’s death and even when you know the news is true in your head, your body refuses to catch up. You want to cry, but you can’t. Not yet. You know you will and you know when the tears start you will welcome them because that will be your signal that the grief is moving out of your head and into your body and you can begin the process of grieving.

But until then you wonder. How can it be? How is it that one moment someone is alive and breathing and the next they have passed on to the next realm?

My friend was part of one of my work tribes, my Time Warner/ NY1 News crew. Amidst a crazy and often stressful workplace, one in which HR would have a field day in today’s environment, many great friendships formed there. Friendships of the kind that people are worried about becoming a thing of the past as WFH becomes more commonplace.

Twenty-four years ago when we first became friends, you did not text message or email a colleague to see if they were free for lunch. You walked down the hall and popped your head in their office and asked the question. When the heat in the office got too hot, you vented. In the case of my friend, you laughed, because that was his gift, getting you to laugh. He was the guy whose mission in life was to bring joy to all those he came in contact with and he would not rest until he achieved that. He was the guy who in one of our last conversations when I asked how he was quipped, “Not bad for someone whose been given a death sentence.” Dark humor, yes, but when you are given the diagnosis he had, even dark humor is hard to come by. Unless of course, you were my friend.

When I got the news on Friday, I spent the rest of the day mired in group texts and phone calls with that tightly connected tribe, a tribe who even after all of us have long since left that place and gone our separate work ways have stayed in touch. That community of friendships was collectively trying to process our sadness, this cruelty of life, a life cut too short.

Sunday I went to the funeral service for my friend. I sat in a row with other friends from that era, people who knew not just our friend, but each other so well from those years of working together, right down to our eating habits. Work-family that extended beyond work. Something that can easily be lost or taken for granted in a world in which WFH is the latest trend.

Would I have known my friend as well if we had Zoomed our meetings and had virtual lunches instead of in-person ones? Would we have gotten each other through births and deaths, marriages and divorces, sample sales, client parties, and 9/11 if we had not shown up in the same office every day for years? Would I have laughed between the tears that finally came as each of his family and friends shared stories and eulogized him and the mark he made on those lucky enough to know him?

Would I have had the kind of friendship I had with my friend where just a look on our respective faces and we would be able to know what kind of a day we were each having? I don’t believe that would have been possible and what a loss that would have been for me and for all the other lives he touched.

I have my own brand of WFH that I created long before it became fashionable. A combination of NYU, my writing, and my clients. While I have made many friendships with NYU colleagues and clients during this time, it wasn’t until I sat there at my friend’s funeral service that I realized that what I have gained in time and freedom was at the expense of the depth of friendships I had made in the past when WFH was not an option.

Rest In Peace Mikey.

Originally published at https://joannetombrakos.com on August 2, 2022.

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Joanne Tombrakos

Calling myself a Storyteller since before it was trendy. I use story to teach, pitch, think and escape. Podcaster. Writer. NYU Prof. Follow@joannetombrakos