A few days ago, I learned that a man I’ve known (very casually) is dying of a brain tumor. Let’s call him Tom (not his real name).
When I left one corporate job (right around the time I started this blog), a friend and mentor recommended I network with Tom. We set up a coffee appointment, talked about my experience, what opportunities or possibilities he saw based on his connections, and networking groups I should attend. Tom was excited for me, positive about my very broad skill set and encouraged me to think big.
We saw each other a few more times for coffee over the past couple of years: the last time would have been over two years ago when he had left a job and asked me to return the favor. I shared some connections and helped him understand the organizational structure of the company I work for and see where there might be opportunities that aligned with his passions. He told me he’d take me out to dinner to thank me as soon as he’d landed the next job.
It was a year before I ran into him again, this time in our corporate cafeteria, where he was clearly having an interview lunch and didn’t have an opportunity to talk. And it was late autumn: buzz of a hiring freeze meant he wouldn’t be hired until at least the new year. What I didn’t know was that, in the meantime, he’d been diagnosed with and treated for a brain tumor.
Fast forward to this past fall, when I realized we were now working at the same company. In fact, Tom had the same role and leader as the object of my affections that I wrote about a couple of posts ago — you know, the one I haven’t managed to get over in two years… I reached out to Tom and suggested coffee or a happy hour, and he told me he’d been having some medical issues and would be back after the new year, at which point he’d reconnect.
Over the past few months, I checked every so often to see if Tom was online, but he wasn’t. I tried texting and social media, with no response. So I reached out to my unrequited love interest — you know, the one whose contact information I deleted for the sake of self preservation — who told me Tom had been out for awhile; that his tumor had come back, he was being treated and expected to be back in February. We vowed to let each other know if we heard news. Tom was the strong, athletic, vibrant type we knew would come back!
Except that he’s not. A few days ago, I heard from the same friend and mentor who’d introduced me to Tom in the first place that he’s declined rapidly and in hospice. I’ve felt gutted and raw and unsure how to grieve someone with whom I was never really very close; Tom was little more than a casual acquaintance and possibility to me. Now, not only did I have to share what I’d learned with my old flame, but the two of them are linked in my mind.
And that’s how I found myself grieving both of them last night: I grieved for Tom, who I’ll never get to truly know, and for the man for whom I fell so hard and who didn’t return those feelings. Once again, I found myself wondering when I’ll be able to release that energy, that longing, that heartache and move on… I cried over it for the first time and, suddenly, I realized something: this man, for whom I still care a great deal, was a near daily presence in my life for two years: he was like a best friend. And I realized that the loss I feel is not for the love that never was, but the loss of my best friend.
It was a cathartic release and realization. I am still unsure what to do with this new perspective, but I am now confident that I can properly grieve these loses for what they were and are.
The other thing about perspective is how well it plays as a cartoon: There’s me, with this huge thought bubble filled with everything you’ve read in this post and several others about the guy who should probably have a nickname or even a category on this blog because he’s played such a big part in my consciousness about men since we met. And then there’s him, with a thought bubble over his head that says something like, “Huh. Yeah, I know her…”