Monday, July 27, 2009

magical memories - birthday party for a one-year-old

Today marks the 14th anniversary of my employment with the company I currently work for.

I met Liza when I joined the company. It was a bit of an adjustment, getting used to a new company, where I barely knew anyone in the company and no one in my new department. Most people weren't particularly outgoing to meet the newbie in the department, and I'm not good at that sort of thing myself. Circumstances were such that for the first several weeks, I was in a completely different building than the rest of the department, so it was even a bit more isolating. Liza was the first person to make it a point of saying hello to me and trying to make me feel welcome. I remember one day, I was fairly swamped with work, trying to get up to speed on things. Liza came by and asked if I was going to lunch. I told her that I was really busy, and I'd try to run out and get something later. She told me that she was going to get lunch and if I wanted, she'd bring me back something. At this point, we didn't know each other very well and probably hadn't had much time to talk to each other, so I was really amazed at how nice she was to even make the offer. Over the next few months, we got to know each other better, as she would stop by to chat periodically, and we discovered that we had a lot in common. That's why I was really sad when she came in one day about three months later to tell me that she was moving to the Bay Area because her husband's job had transferred him there. I'd just begun to make a new friend, and it seemed like our friendship wouldn't be going any further.

I was glad that I was able to see Liza and meet her husband on one of my trips to the Bay Area. They were both so incredibly nice to me, and it was so much
fun getting to know both of them better, and they introduced me to a great restaurant (Crustacean), which has a branch in Beverly Hills. The few times that I've been to the Beverly Hills location, I make it a point of telling my dinner companions about the two people who introduced me to such a great place.

They moved to another state shortly thereafter, so we didn't see each other again, though we exchanged Christmas cards and occasional emails. I knew she'd had a hard time getting pregnant because there were various complications, so I was so happy when she told me at one point that she was expecting. Because they still had family in Southern California, they decided to have a first birthday party for their daughter out here, and the husband and I were invited. I was a bit apprehensive about going - this was someone I'd known for only three months many years ago - how would we get along now and what on earth would we talk about? I am so glad we went. It was a fairly large dinner party held in a restaurant in Koreatown, and we had the best time. Though she was busy as hostess, we were able to spend a few minutes here and there catching up, and it was like nothing had changed - we just chatted about everything, one of those friendships where you just immediately pick right up again. I was glad that the husband was able to meet her and her husband. We ended up sitting at a table with her husband's boss and his family, so we had a good time getting to know them as well, and I was also able to spend some time playing with their beautiful and fearless little girl, Sophie.

I was so pleased to see how happy they all were, how much Liza and her husband and their extended family obviously loved and adored Sophie, and what a darling Sophie had already become. I remember at one point near the end of dinner, I was accompanying Sophie as she was puttering around. She was basically holding my fingers to keep herself upright, but she was doing all the steering. We were kind of walking around the restaurant, and then at one point, when she saw Liza, she headed straight for her. I told so many people what a wonderful time I had and how great it was to see all of them.

A couple years later, I came home from work fairly late one February night and decided to check my email before heading off to bed. I could tell from the sender and subject matter of one email that something was not right. Liza's husband had sent me an email, with apologies that it had taken him so long to send the note, but he'd just found a bunch of addresses in her PDA. She died about a month prior as a result of a rare form of cancer. She and I usually exchanged Christmas cards, but I didn't think anything of not having gotten one the previous year. I didn't normally get them Christmas gifts, but for some reason, I'd stumbled on something that I thought they might like, so I'd bought and sent it. I thought it was a bit odd that she hadn't emailed me to let me know that she'd received it, but I just figured she was busy and would get around to it sometime. It never occurred to me that her silence meant something was wrong. She was hospitalized the previous November from a stroke, and that's how they eventually found the cancer. The cancer was extremely aggressive and had already done a lot of damage, and Liza died in January.

Even though it was late, I ran upstairs in tears and woke up the husband, who was alarmed at my disposition, and I told him what had happened. I'm tearing up now thinking about it all again.

It might seem weird that her death hit me like that. Liza definitely held a unique position in my life. I'm not one to lightly use the word "friend" to describe someone, but even though I'd only seen her literally twice in a period of 9 years, and had only occasional email contact, it was a friendship that I can't even find the words to describe.

I also finally realized why the news was even worse in my mind. I had forgotten that her daughter was born early in the year. That means that Liza died shortly after her daughter's third birthday. Sophie was old enough to know that her mom was gone, but not old enough to understand why, and Liza's husband would be raising her alone. It wasn't supposed to be that way. Liza wanted a child, and she went through a lot to have one, and she and her husband were blessed with a beautiful baby girl. They were supposed to have a happy life together, and Liza was going to be there to watch her daughter grow up and guide her through her teenage years and her adult years - Liza was a great mother and would continue to be so as Sophie grew up and needed a mother's helping hand. She wasn't supposed to only have 3 years with Sophie, and Sophie wasn't supposed to lose her mother at the tender age of 3. A lot of people talk about how this thing and that thing is unfair. None of that comes close to touching this. Losing Liza so early was definitely unfair.

At the suggestion of friends, I sent Liza's husband a letter, expressing my condolences and telling him the stories I've included above. I told him that I couldn't imagine what he and Sophie must be going through, but that if there was anything I could do, to let me know. I know, they sound like empty words, but I didn't know what to offer them. What could I possibly do to help, especially with the distance since they lived in another state? He sent back a very nice note, which was very sweet of him. I have kept up exchanging Christmas cards with him, and he's been nice enough to include pictures of her, so I've seen how Sophie has grown. We don't keep in touch otherwise, just the Christmas card once a year. Normally, with that little contact, I probably would have stopped the Christmas cards by now in any other case. But it's my only connection to Liza. This all happened about four years ago. I don't know that I'll ever see Sophie again or even know anything about her, but I'm not ready to give up Liza yet. Sounds silly, doesn't it?

As I recognize that it's my 14th anniversary at my job, I also remember one of the best things that has come out of working there. And that's my friendship with Liza, and the wonderful birthday party for Sophie that we attended. The husband and I took a lot of pictures during the dinner, and we made a webpage out of the pictures so that Liza could share it with whomever she wanted. I later sent the link to her husband, and he said he was going to print everything out for Sophie to see when she got older.

Here's the webpage that we made with pictures of the party. They followed some traditional Korean traditions, which accounts for the table of goodies at the front of the room. Sophie was put down amongst the goodies, and the tradition stated that depending on what she chose to go for, that would determine if she would be blessed more with talent or riches or long life or other good things. I can't remember what it ended up being that she chose or what it meant. And I really don't remember what the last two pictures were about. I think that was Liza's husband's boss, and that was the boss' daughter, and somehow, it turned into a wrapped-like-a-mummy thing. It was pretty funny at the time.

Relatively speaking, Liza occupied a very short time in my life, but I'm never going to forget her.

1 comment:

Dodie said...

What a loving tribute! We never know how much a simple act, such as offering to pick up lunch, will effect another person. I'm right behind you on the 14 years.