I seldom write about such solemn topics, but this has been on my mind for the past couple of days, and I can’t seem to stop thinking about it. Writing helps me sort of my thoughts, and as I write, I find out what I really want. So here we go with writing therapy.
Last week was my last week of work at Line Maintenance, and starting this week, I’m back in the office for the next two years of my trainee program. I was already feeling quite sad, not wanting to leave my friends at Line Maintenance. I remember checking the roster just a few days ago, and seeing that my last week of day shifts would be spent with my favourite engineer.
He’s a very open and funny guy. He’s from Xiamen and has worked in Hong Kong for long enough to know how to speak Cantonese, but he still carries a heavy accent. We all love it; it’s especially funny because he’s the type of person to rush things and wants to get everything done, but the more rushed he is, the hardest it is for us to understand what he’s trying to say. He knows people are laughing at him, and he’s generous to laugh along with us, at himself. Sometimes, he sounds like a naggy grandfather, because he will repeat the same things over and over again. It does get annoying, but nobody ever gets angry; rather, people mostly think it’s funny that he says the same thing every few minutes.
He is extremely educated in terms of technical knowledge. The choices that he makes with regards to engineering are very confident. He knows what will break the plane and what he definitely cannot do. There are also cases where he knows what is wrong right away, when I’m still trying to figure out what the problem is. He is not a proactive teacher – in the sense that he won’t stop and slowly explain to you, he will just rush through with the job. But when you ask him about it, he won’t hesitate to explain. He won’t feel like answering simple questions is a waste of time, and he won’t make you feel dumb for it either.
He is a really nice person. Before he transferred to my team, I would often see him alone working on a plane late at night. When you ask him why there’s just him alone and no mechanics helping him, he won’t say anything negative – but you can tell that his team of mechanics is just taking advantage of him, knowing that he will finish everything by himself. I’ve experienced it myself. Just last week, he told me to take some rest while he finished replacing a component in the cockpit. He knew I had lunch plans the next day, immediately after that night shift. We always ask him to treat us – buy a round of Starbucks, whatever – and he never does. But two weeks ago, super randomly, he just put down $300 and told us to have a better meal today. He does these things when others aren’t watching.
Last week I had to work on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Wednesday was my birthday, so I made sure I was off for that. When I got off on Tuesday, he even let me off a bit early.
I went back in on Thursday morning, expecting to see him. Instead, I heard that he was in the hospital in a coma. That is quite serious I suppose. But I didn’t think too much of it. I even said to my coworkers, let’s go visit him on the weekend if we have some free time. I know his family is in Xiamen, and he doesn’t have that many friends in Hong Kong aside from a few good coworkers.
On Friday morning, the first thing I heard at work was “I heard he’s gone”. I wanted to laugh. What?! I know he’s in a coma, but I never imagined it was that serious. The idea of it was ridiculous. My friend told me that it’s still rumors right now; nobody knows if it’s true. And so I took that statement as just a rumor.
In the afternoon, my friend came to me again and said that there’s more and more people confirming this rumor. There’s no official announcement, but it had already spread out of our company and now the rumor is circling back into our company from other parties. I chose to continue holding onto my belief, that this wasn’t true. I was already planning out my weekend, and what time would be best to go visit.
I will never forget that afternoon. We went up to the tail of the airplane to replace a logo light. It was my last day at Line Maintenance, and I knew probably my last job as well. In the car on the way back to the office, my supervisor pulled over to a random spot, and asked us if we knew how this engineer was doing. We were a bit shocked. We assumed that if he was the supervisor, he should know more details than us. Nevertheless, we answered him that we heard a few things, and these were all things I didn’t want to hear.
He took a long pause. I knew what was about to come, but I didn’t want to hear it. I could feel tears rushing to my eyes before he even said the words. “He passed last night. I was there in the hospital with him.”
My supervisor said a lot of things. He said that he hesitated to tell us because he knows there is a lot of gossip going on, and he doesn’t want this to be “just a piece of gossip”, but he believes that each one of us in the car truly cares about this man. He told us his wife was by his side when it happened, and it was painless. He saw how sad we all were, and he said that our friend was a very happy person and full of laughter; he wouldn’t want us to be sad. He said that since he’s such a nice person, he would go to heaven. The last thing he said was that our work really is dangerous, and that we should not take safety precautions lightly.
He told us to take as much time as we needed to recompose, and come back to the office with a smile and some positive energy. I went up to the terminal and just sat there for two hours.
This is the first time someone so relevant in my daily life had passed away, and I was full of emotion. I was shocked. I could not believe I had just seen this person two days ago, fully alive and well and telling me to leave early, and all of a sudden he’s gone. I was angry. I could hear the rumors going around in the office as well. I know a lot of people know who he is, but they don’t really know. They never worked with him. They see his rash behavior, but they don’t see his kind soul. I was sad every time I forced myself to face the fact that he was gone. And the honest truth was, it was hard to feel sad, because it was so hard to accept the truth. During those first 24 hours of knowing the news, I kept having these intermittent thoughts of “there’s no way he can be gone”. The sadness went away, even though I knew I was really just lying to myself. I was confused. I didn’t understand how someone so young, so experienced, so kind, could pass away at such a young age. And the fall he took wasn’t really from that high up – around 3 or 4 m. Someone else could have took the exact same fall and survived with barely a scratch, or maybe just a few broken bones. He deserves so much more than this. I felt helpless. As a human being, we are so limited to what we have control over.
Today is the sixth day of knowing the news, and even though I’m not feeling as sad as I was on the first day, it doesn’t make the mix of emotions any less complicated. I have accepted that he’s gone, and that he won’t be coming back. I wish this weren’t the case, but there is nothing I can do to change this fact. I’m starting to recover. I no longer burst into tears every time I see a reference to him (although I still do sometimes). And it makes me feel guilty. Tears are my way of letting him know that his life is cherished and that he is missed. For me to feel emotionless after just a few days scares me. I feel myself clinging on to grief and sadness even though I could let it go, because I don’t want his memories to fade so soon. I am extremely conflicted. When can I finally let go? When should I let go? Or is it something that could easily pass, but really it’s just me that doesn’t want to let go?
I will be okay. I know I’m strong enough to take it. I can keep my composure and go to work as usual without people seeing the feelings inside. But when I’m alone, I do make the effort to give him a silent thought. I try to think of the happy memories, and it feels bittersweet. It’s the least I can do for him.
In the end, all you can really do is cherish the people that you have in your life. You never knew if it might be the last time you see them.