Your name was Devin

in #health4 months ago (edited)


Photo by NOTAVANDAL on Unsplash

Your name was Devin (not your real name).

You loved your partner, and he loved you back.

You were highly-respected and much-adored in your job as Staff Writer at the ___________________________, a Canadian Crown corporation. When you died, you were surrounded by friends and family. Your workplace vowed to host a life celebration here in Ottawa--time, date, and location TBA. Mourners at your funeral were encouraged to make donations in your memory to the Coronary Care Unit where you had breathed your last.

You were remembered as having a quick sense of humor, and had been known to cite Shakespeare in that regard: "Brevity is the soul of wit".

This is the extent of my knowledge of your life, as I was never fortunate enough to have known you while you were alive. I'm the guy who replaced you in your job, about four or five months after you died. At the time, my contact at the recruitment agency had told me that I was replacing you and that it had taken a while for your colleagues to entertain the idea of seeing anyone other than you sitting at what had been your desk.

The last bit of business to take care of before I started was to sign my employment contract. And there it was, the clause that has haunted me to this day, approximated below from memory:

I acknowledge that this position is inherently stressful, and may put me at risk for heart disease or death. I, therefore, agree that neither I nor my survivors will hold the ___________________________ liable in the event of illness or death.

At the time I was young and naive and was still in the process of developing a sense of my rights as a worker. Also, I was focused on building a career, and up until then this particular opportunity was the closest thing I'd gotten to a Big Break, so I had been all too willing to swallow misgivings I'd had about that clause.

Since then, however, I've never stopped asking myself why any organization, especially one that is a creature of the Government of Canada, would ask one of its office workers to defy death on its behalf, as well as take steps to cover its ass in the event of illness or death. If your own death was even remotely suspected to have been caused by job-related stress in any way, shouldn't our mutual former employer have figured out how to reduce the inherent stress level of the position for the next person, rather than resort to creating legal leeway for putting more human life at risk?

All that for a fucking office job?

The first time I remember asking myself that very question was on Day One, as I was settling into my new desk, and found myself searching through various drawers to see what goodies were there. In the first one I pulled open, there was a small stack of business cards with your name and job title on them.

Devin _________
Staff Writer

Suddenly I could feel it in my bones that I'd done the wrong thing by agreeing not to sue our mutual former employer in the event of me meeting a similar fate as you, in sickness or in death.

Months after the contract was signed, I took part in a team meeting with our mutual former colleagues, including our mutual former manager, _____________ (not her real name). At the end of the meeting, once official team business was out of the way, _____________ looked at us all very earnestly and said that after all these months, the organization would finally start to plan its 'life celebration' for you. As she then shifted to speaking about how much everyone missed you, my mind started fixating on that clause in my employment contract, and it made me want to bark at _____________ like an angry dog.

Unfortunately, I can't just blame the organization for being so callous--in me, they found a willing partner in the contractual desecration of your memory. You deserved better from our mutual former employer, and you certainly deserved better from me as your successor. All of humanity deserved better from me in that one small moment, a mishandled moment that will forever remain a rock in my spiritual shoe.

My name is James.

I let your memory down, and for that, I will be forever sorry.


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