So we're short handed at the jewelry counter, and it started when one of my fellow associates died. Okay, that's not completely accurate. It started when she got sick. Until then there had been five of us, four full-time associates and myself working part-time. I have been made to understand that they were understaffed for a long time before I arrived, but I had not really witnessed it until Karin (the one who's dead now) started having hernia problems. She called in sick the day after Thanksgiving. At Wal-Mart we call it "Blitz Day". Yeah. They named it after the Blitzkrieg. How special is that? The busiest day of the year, and we were short-staffed at jewelry.
Karin came back some before and after Christmas, but in January she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. By the time they figured this out, the tumor was larger than a softball. She could barely eat any food (as there was no room in her gut), and she found it painful to move around. She was in for a few days, then out for the long haul. She spent some time in hospitals, and some time at home. By the time the doctors had figured out what was going on, she was in no shape for an operation. She had infections, lung problems, and very little strength. Then one day at work I got a call that she had died early that morning.
Karin wasn't my friend. I knew very little about her outside of her work habits. She wasn't great with customers (I thought she always sounded a bit artificial, which was probably suitable for Wal-Mart), but she was really good at the merchandising side of the job. She was one of those people who could remember UPC numbers. Not just the last few digits, but entire numbers. I also found out that she liked to gamble. No doubt there was some connection there. And she had at least one brother and sister, but wasn't in close contact with them. Her brother came into the store once, and our coworker, Julianna, picked him out of the crowd. Julianna made Karin go over and talk to him. This was before she got sick. I hope that they stayed in better touch after that.
I never really found out much about her from sitting down and talking with her, as we never sat down and talked. I learned a fair amount about my job from her, as she was always willing to lecture. She wasn't a particularly good teacher, as she tended to throw out too much information too quickly. But she was always willing to answer questions. And if she sometimes came across as condescending, she had some cause to be proud of how she did her job.
But as I said, she wasn't my friend.
So when I got the call that she had died, I called management and passed the news on. A short while later they called a meeting in the back for all associates. I went back, even though I knew what the meeting was for. It just seemed like I should be there. They made the announcement, told us that it was okay if any of us needed to step into the back during the day. They offered to let me go home if I wanted. They wrote the number for the free grief counseling on the board, and encouraged us to call if we needed it. They thanked me for letting them know. Then management left the room.
I decided that perhaps it would be good if I sat for a few minutes. I was a bit surprised to find that tears were running down my face. As I've said, Karin wasn't my friend. We had disagreements on how to organize things, and we simply did not find each others' jokes to be amusing. Come to think of it, I'm not sure if she actually told stories that were supposed to be funny. She rarely laughed (that I heard), though she chuckled over a few of her own stories, and had an awkward chuckle that reminded me of how Koreans laugh when they are embarrassed.
So I sat there just crying in front of everybody. A few people came over and hugged me. One woman said something to me along the lines of, "She was a pretty special person." I couldn't help it. I laughed just a bit. Not an out-loud, sarcastic, nasty laugh. Just a small laugh that I quickly got under control. She didn't mean it to be the slightest bit funny or ironic. She meant it, the way people who use the word "special" a lot mean it.
It's just kind of funny how completely removing one person from your picture of the world can have a deeper effect than you expected.