My dad joked when my daughter was born “Facebook has replaced the newspaper for announcements”

It was a statement I couldn’t help think and laugh about (perhaps inappropriately) when I read about the premature death of a former work colleague.

The Internet is supposed to bring us closer together, I can read hundreds of unsolicited opinions on the President across the pond paying off a hooker; yet it took over a year for someone who I knew, someone who lived about 20 miles away was no longer of this Earth.

A part of me can’t believe that not one person said to me “James were you aware…”

I only realised after another ex-colleagues, made a one-year anniversary reflection post.  I had been living my life to miss the news first time around and I thought what I was doing to miss this; I think I was worrying about some problem at work… insignificant in the scheme of life.

I couldn’t help see the bitter irony that as one family mourned the end of a life, my wife and myself were overjoyed and preparing for the baby scheduled to come into our life.

As a reflex I texted a dozen friends and family members sending my love and asking how they were doing.  It’s funny how death sucker punches you in the face making you appreciate who you do have.

The disappointing thing about not knowing was it came off like I did not cared, I cared…

Helen was the person I got the closest to during my time working in Child Protection.  It started off the same way most work relationships do – you start making small talk and you get more comfortable.  Soon you start to find what you have in common, most work relationships are built on frustrations with the job and group support for an incompetent boss.

We built up a bit more, firstly going out for lunches and then doing things outside of work time.  Someone once insinuated we were having an affair, as she was about 30 years my senior, we both laughed at that.  I would have settled to call her a friend.

Like friends we even had a short-term falling out over something stupid, some stupid joke I made that I was too proud to admit I was wrong… straight away anyway.  Even with an apology its something I live with regret about to this day.

Despite this, she was one of the people to pick me up when my bully boss drove me over the edge.  I was ready to run, I thought about throwing my resignation in and leaving it all behind, worst case I said to her “I want to throw myself in a canal and leave it to fate to decide whether I would float or sink to the bottom”

Helen supported me and told me to take sick leave for stress – “at least you could think about your options first…”

She was right, I decided I would focus on keeping my head down in my current job and find the next one, which soon after my return from sick, I did.

To my own error, I left this as a work place friendship and when I left, our contact fizzled out after a few text messages… I never spoke to her again.

Now I sit and write this – distraught?..  Probably more guilt-ridden that I wasn’t there at least to pay my last respects.  I wanted to tell her daughters, how their mother had supported me in my darkest hour; a hollow substitute to the thank you that she deserved for saving me.

I could say that I wrote this post to highlight the importance of being there for someone, whether a close friend or simple work colleague, but that would be a lie.  This is simply a eulogy to our short friendship.

Helen you made all the difference in my life when I needed that support the most.  You helped a broken man when he was down and gave him hope for the future.

Thank you Helen.

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