Let me start by saying that I’m not proud of my feelings right now. But they are real and they are mine, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who has felt this way. In fact, according to Hello Grief and its post on “Grieving the Difficult Relationship”, I am not. The same post notes that:
It is human to feel ambivalent. The people that we lose often had very human problems – addictions, incarceration, gambling, infidelity. These problems are real and are prevalent, yet the unwritten rule of grief is “You don’t speak ill of the dead.”
However, if you can’t speak about it, where does it go? The body remembers everything.
So I will write. A colleague of mine has died suddenly, leaving a spouse and children. That alone is cause for sadness. They are devastated, understandably so, and I feel so sorry for them. Here is the ambivalence: this was a powerful colleague who spent the last few years openly bullying and undermining me at work.
When this colleague first arrived, in an important role, others perceived and treated her as a threat. I was the only person at our level who shared information she needed to do her job. We were friendly for a while — in hindsight, for the time when she needed me and the help I was very willing to offer, because that’s how I roll. Then she allied herself with the colleagues who had initially undercut her. Power seeks to ally itself with power.
I don’t play power games at work. My deceased colleague was very charismatic and had a forceful personality. She used her charisma against me, as I am quiet and introverted, and used her attacks against me to bond with others whom she saw — and knew — as wielding real power in our workplace. Toward me and some others, she was a very unpleasant colleague and not just in style: she openly attacked my work, my team, my demeanor — in the face of actual facts to the contrary and proven results. She helped plan a reorganization that dismantled part of my successful team, to boost the career of one of her allies. Her office was near mine, and she was a loud, grating presence whenever more important people weren’t around — screaming at staff in the most abusive way, loudly complaining about customers, shouting over the phone, viciously haranguing vendors. I witnessed her encouraging a junior colleague to undertake a cruel impersonation of an older female colleague at an office social event. She was manic. She was a bully. And like many bullies, she had followers. Trying to be somewhat charitable, many of them probably never saw what I saw and heard on a weekly basis, though I never understood why they didn’t realize the reasons she had constant staff turnover on her team.
So now our workplace is awash in statements, live and posted on social media, about how wonderful this person was, using words like “kind, wise, warm, giving.” I do understand that to many people, she was those things. She was exactly the opposite toward me for the last few years. Her behavior contributed to actual depression, anxiety and illness on my part for which I had to take medication. I feel some relief that she won’t be able to make my daily work experience miserable any more. I’m not proud of that, and I will pray about it.