Not long ago, I was asked to share a special memory about working for RIMS. Instantly, I recalled the vacation to Cape Cod my family and I took this summer. We go there every year, but this time, as we were ordering breakfast in a diner in Provincetown, I looked up to see my co-worker Samantha walk through the door. She was the last person I expected to see while on vacation, but as a senior event planner for our Meetings & Events department, she had been in Boston that week, visiting the city in preparation for our conference there in 2010. Over the weekend, she decided to hit P’town and, by chance, we ran into each other. What struck me about the whole thing afterward was that my gut reaction wasn’t to sour at seeing a colleague while on vacation–I was just genuinely happy to see my friend from the office. It told me a lot about my career here with this magazine and, more importantly, with RIMS itself. I work with some really great people. Which is why what came later hurt so badly.
Samantha passed away unexpectedly from pneumonia on September 19, at the age of 31. She had been out sick for about two weeks beforehand, but I did not know she was ill as her absence did not seem unusual since she seemed to travel a lot on business. So when the news came around that she was gone, it was a giant shock. I have lost colleagues before, but not while I was still working with them and none so young. That day, I kept going by Samantha’s desk, looking at her many photos, industry awards and personal mementos. The accumulation of small things that make a workplace somebody’s home. The reminders that RIMS didn’t just lose one of its own, but somebody’s friend was gone. Somebody’s aunt. Somebody’s daughter.
Attending Samantha’s funeral was a harrowing experience, listening to her family and her many, many friends share their feelings on why her death was such a great loss to them. It reminded me of the lessons I learned the hard way earlier this year; that when you suffer such a deep loss, you question your sense of wholeness, you reckon with how little control you have over the universe, and you take stock of what really matters to you. Amid suffering, you find clarity. Revelation. It is a weak consolation, but still an important one.
I don’t have much of a risk management story to tell you regarding Samantha. It’s not like the way she died has a lesson built in for those willing to see it. She was, in all honesty, a sunny, ebullient and relentlessly positive person in a world sorely lacking all three of those characteristics. For many of the cynical bastards in the office (myself included), Samantha’s brightness sometimes felt a bit off-putting. Didn’t she know she was in Manhattan? You don’t walk around smiling in this town. You poke people in the eye and denigrate their favorite sports team. That’s what you do. What you don’t do is constantly support everyone around you and try to make things better. And yet, Samantha did.
Perhaps that is why so many people were there to mourn her as she was committed to the earth. Perhaps that’s why even as I write this column, her desk remains unemptied. It is not like she resigned; her absence is more final. And for the rest of us in the office, it seems like we cannot simply clear out her space and call it a day. I’m actually grateful for that. Because if we find a way to carry on as if nothing has happened, we don’t just risk our own sense of mental well-being or even our memory of Samantha. By pretending she was never there, we hazard our souls. How good it is to see that none of us are willing to do so.
Goodbye, Sam. You made the world easier to live in. And anybody who knew you will remember that always.