Saturday, September 6, 2014

Three Weddings and a Funeral

A strange thing happened last week.  I learned that a dear woman passed away at the age of only 45, and then spent hours in a group chat message on Facebook, occasionally crying-- from laughter.    The next day, I attended her funeral service, and left with a light heart and a smile on my face.  Now, before you start calling me Chuckles Inappropriate or Jerky McAwfullyrude (both names you can save for this guy who, I'm so glad to say, was the guy I punched for giving me a wet willie years ago) please let me explain.

Deresha "Dee"
Dee was my manager for the 5 years that I worked at Hops Restaurant, Bar & Brewery starting in 2001.  She was a really good boss, but more than that, she was a caring, generous, kind, funny, direct, hard-working person.  I cannot recall a time when she was late to work or missed a shift.  She was a single mom of three daughters, and yet still managed to be utterly dependable as an employee, which is very rare, from my experience.  She was promoted to General Manager of the restaurant, and worked diligently to ensure quality food and service every single day until the bankrupt parent company closed our doors for good.  I remember her being really good at staying just enough involved in the personal lives of those of us who worked for her.  She always knew who was dating whom, who was mad and why, who was having problems at home, so nothing we did ever seemed to surprise her.  However, unlike every other almost every other restaurant manager I've known, she didn't cross the line.  Her relationships with her employees were always appropriate; she didn't hang out with us outside of work or blur the lines between boss & friend.  Dee was remarkably forgiving, except of laziness.  She had a fantastic sense of humor, a sharp wit, and was a true, rabid fan of wrestling.
This picture makes me wonder if there are things I enjoy that are as mind-boggling to others as wrestling is to me.  I just don't get it.
After a friend broke the news of her death to me, I sent a message on Facebook to a few other Hops friends with a link to her online obituary.  Within a few minutes, several of us on the group message contacted other former co-workers and added them to the conversation.  By the end of the day, there were more than 30 people chatting, reminiscing, sharing stories about Dee, and remembering all the time we spent together.  The activity sidebar on my page was filled with old friends becoming Facebook friends, having just found each other after years.  The Facebook conversation even included updates about former coworkers who don't have Facebook accounts, but who were thought of and phoned by friends who had been silent for months or years.  It was a truly happy, fun, LOL conversation, and one unlike any I've had before.

I was glad to be able to attend her funeral service, and saw there the Hops kitchen manager and his wife.  I have no idea what the average number of funerals attended is for someone my age, but I would venture to guess that the 6 or 7 services I've been to is pretty normal.  Every funeral is different, of course, but Dee's was different in new-to-me ways.  Her family and many other attendees wore all white, for one thing.  The change from dark attire was not mentioned, but I feel that they must have chosen to wear white in order to remember that they were celebrating her life and focusing not on grief, but on her peace and freedom from pain and sickness.  One of Dee's daughters sang a beautiful solo, unaccompanied by any music or fanfare.  I got goosebumps when she broke into tears in the middle of the song and the crowd picked up singing right where she had left off.  Her voice was passionate and rich and I could have listened to song after song.  A granddaughter of Dee's, about age 7, wrote and recited a short poem that was completely heartfelt and managed to be funny without being the least bit disrespectful.  Others stood and spoke about Dee, reflecting on her love for God and family, her stubbornness, wit, kindness, and strength.  More than one person remarked on how she never complained of pain or suffering, despite having been wheelchair bound or bedridden for 4 years before her death.  It was a beautiful service, and a loving remembrance of an influential woman.

By my count, Hops produced three weddings, six bridesmaids, six children, and hundreds of lasting, true friendships.  Working at Hops may have also been the catalyst for a few divorces and some criminal activity, but I chose not to count those.  I realize that Dee was not Hops in a literal sense, but for those of us that worked with her there, there's no talking about one without the other.

Former Hops employees have circled heads.  Just sometimes, though.
Met each other and her maid of honor at Hops.  Incidentally, Dee died owing me $100 for a bet I won about whether or not these two would stay together.
I realized something rather profound about Dee.  She changed the world.  She was born about 20 miles from where she lived and died, and her time was relatively short.  She worked in restaurants all her adult life.  She didn't earn a doctorate degree or run for political office or donate gobs of money to charities.  She didn't travel the world, invent new technologies, or cure disease.  Yet, she changed the lives of so many people who knew her, and she used the talents and gifts she had to make her world better.  Obviously, I can only speak of her life changing influence for myself, but I can attest that she challenged me, encouraged me, made me work hard, and ultimately helped make me who I am today.  She had the unique gift of being able to give someone advice in a roundabout way that made the person think they knew what they should do all along.  She could also seem mean and sharp tongued.  As one of my friends put it, "I always thought she was mad or hated me, but then she would secretly be doing something nice for me behind my back."  Dee didn't want credit for her kindness, and she was too good of a manager to be sweet all the time.  She did what needed to be done, and complaining about the hard things or applauding herself for the remarkable kindnesses were both a waste of time.

Speaking of wasting time, she would probably have stopped reading this post wayyyyy up there, and rolled her eyes about my going on and on for so long.  The thing is, it's hard to say good-bye when there's so much else to say.  I'll conclude with this:  Helen would have wanted random acts of kindness done in her memory.  I believe Dee would want us to get to work, and to work hard at everything, no matter how insignificant it might seem.  You might not realize whose world you're changing, just by being in it.